yrmusic.comartistsbiosWilliam Shakespeare

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

Very little is known about William Shakespeare, though he is recognized as one of literature's greatest influences. Born in 1564 to a middle-class family in Stratford-upon-Avon, Oxfordshire, England, William married at 18, had three kids, and then left his family to pursue a career as an actor, playwright, and poet in the great city of London. The 37 plays and 154 sonnets attributed to him were written and performed between 1589 and 1613. Shakespeare died in 1616, and his works were published in one volume known as 'The First Folio' in 1623. There is no proof, however, that Shakespeare was their author; he may have simply been a good businessman that supervised their authorship. This subject has kept scholars in a furious debate spanning five centuries.

Contemporary (and rival) Ben Johnson described the Bard's works as "not of an age, but for all time". Since his death Shakespeare's plays have been almost continually performed, in English and in translation; they are quoted more than the works of any other single author. Critics have tried to explain the perennial appeal of his writings, which do not hold to any consistent philosophy, religion, or ideology. The strength of Shakespeare's plays lies in the absorbing stories they tell, in their wealth of complex characters, and in the eloquent speechóvivid, forceful, and at the same time lyricóthat the playwright puts on his characters' lips. Shakespeare's characters are neither wholly good nor wholly evil, and it is their flawed, inconsistent nature that makes them memorable. Finally, the plays are distinguished by an unparalleled use of language. Shakespeare had a tremendous vocabulary (over 29,000 words!) and a powerful grasp of every literary nuance imaginable.

Contributed by Daniel Singer, founder, Reduced Shakespeare Company

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