What was it like to be alive during William Shakespeare's era? How did these times affect the writer?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Life during the second half of the sixteenth century was difficult for most.  Perhaps the only part of the population who had a somewhat easier time of it, was the nobility.  Shakespeare's life as a playwright and actor is indicative of this.  He certainly was not wealthy, and he did not enjoy the notoriety or fame during his own life that he does now. 

That being said, much of what Shakespeare incorporates into his plays deal with matters beyond the realm of most commoners.  He does relatively little to address the concerns of those other than the nobility or politically active.  His plays often reflect political intrigue, the family life of the wealthy, and sometimes a combination of both.  In Richard III, his depiction of the title character is a direct reaction to the political realities of the Elizabethan era.  As the granddaughter of Henry VII, the founder of the Tudor line and the man who killed Richard III at Bosworth field in 1485, Shakespeare certainly realized that depicting Richard III as anything other than an evil usurper would have been out of the question.  He would not dare cast doubt on the legitimacy of the Tudor line (and Elizabeth I's rule specifically).

In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare addresses the issue of life for, as well as the practices of aristocratic families.  Romeo and Juliet, two lovers who come from competing houses, spark the rivalry and mutual disdain the two families have for one another.  In addition, the idea that marriages happened at 14 and 16 years of age would not have been a stretch during the sixteenth century.

As with any writer, Shakespeare did not write in a vacuum.  All of his writing, to varying extents, reflect the period in which he lived.  Some of the influences, however, are a bit more apparent than others.

Without a doubt, Shakespeare examines more transcendent themes relating to human psychology and human nature.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

For a writer living in the time of Shakespeare, some challenges were very different to today's, and some were similar. For example, there was no television in Shakespeare's time so, to enjoy a good drama, citizens would have to either wait for travelling players to come round to their village, or townies could go to the theatre. This was surprisingly popular among rich and poor alike - those too poor to pay for a good view would simply crowd together in the pits. A writer would need to have enough money to learn to read and write of course (a given in today's society) and he would need to be well connected (same as now!) to have his plays and enterprises supported. Even then, the plague could shut down his show and he would have to write sonnets indoors instead!

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial