"William Shakespeare takes credit for being the only playwright to have no less than five of his plays simultaneously appearing on Broadway."
— The New York TimesThe Bard of Avon. England's national poet. Possibly the greatest writer in the history of his language.William Shakespeare (baptized 26 April 1564 - died 23 April 1616), the only playwright most people can name, has been a major influence on English language fiction for 400 years. While most only know his plays through Popcultural Osmosis, the tropes he invented or popularized (to say nothing of a significant portion of the English language) are still with us today.Many of his plays and plots are traceable back to older sources, but he made them his own. Trace back most of The Oldest Ones in the Book and you will find Shakespeare, and before him no one anyone much has heard of.Many series have parodied Shakespeare's plays, or staged them, and there have been innumerable film adaptations. Indeed, one contestant on the first series of Big Brother in Germany was lampooned for believing Shakespeare to be a film director like Tarantino, based on the sheer number of films around with his name in the title...Shakespeare's late tragedies, Hamlet, and King Lear, are widely considered to be among the greatest plays ever written, while such other works as Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and Othello have profoundly influenced Anglophone culture. Shakespeare holds the record of having five of his plays running on Broadway simultaneously.Incidentally, he left his wife Anne his "second-best bed" in his will, which has had historians scratching their heads for centuries. The most normal sounding explanation was that the second-best bed was the one he and his wife slept in, the best bed was reserved for guests. Unfortunately, muddying up the water is the fact that Shakespeare was quite cool with his much older wife, spending most of his life away from home. He only married her in the first place because he got her pregnant. Maybe. We don't know much about the man's personal history, and the gaps have been filled with a lot of patchwork speculation over the decades. (See Authorship Question below.)Due to Shakespeare's wide-ranging influence and extremely high renown, any time you want to establish a character as smart and classy, just have him quote a couple of apropos lines from a Shakespeare play. It works every time, hero or villain. This is quite the irony considering his plays were not exactly high-brow entertainment in their day.Every generation seems to see Shakespeare as one of theirs, and attribute to him whatever attitudes or beliefs are considered "proper", "cool", or "intelligent" at the time. The Georgians saw him as a natural man whose brilliance was completely innate, while the Victorians and Edwardians saw him as a proper Whig gentleman with proper Whig opinions on women, foreigners, war, etc. Most notably, in the past thirty years he's been turned into a rebel who was 'forced' to work for those nasty royals and aristocrats because he had no other choice. Even on this very wiki, Shakespeare is said to have "had" to write his plays in a certain way for James or Elizabeth or Essex, with the unspoken assumption that he would have done things very differently had those evil meddling Kings, Queens, and Dukes not been controlling and censoring him. Admittedly, the nobility did have the power to do just that to anyone less in rank than they were note , such as Queen Elizabeth I chopping off the right hands of a writer, John Stubbsnote , his printer, and his publisher, William Page, for writings she found offensive to her. Shakespeare's plays were staged frequently for the upper crust, so they were a crowd he desired to impress.He's also become a popular fictional character in his own right. Perhaps you want to emulate this esteemed fellow?The Authorship QuestionSince the early 18th century some have speculated that "William Shakespeare" was just a pen name for one or more other individuals. People who believe this hypothesis are generally called anti-stratfordians; those who hold to the view of Shakespearian authorship that William Shakespeare, of Stratford-on-Avon, did in fact write the works attributed to him are dubbed stratfordians. With entire books and websites dedicated to arguing one way or the other, this is clearly Serious Business to some.Most of the anti-Stratfordians come from the position that, since there are no records of William Shakespeare of Stratford-on-Avon having received any education at allnote and as Shakespeare's only handwriting samples include six signaturesnote ; therefore the successful Stratford businessmannote was not well versed with poetry, history, mythology, law, medicine, geography, sailing, and the upper echelons of politics to write so well about these subjects. Hence the alternative authors proposed by anti-Stratfordians are generally highly connected members of the government, lifelong academics, or commoners with documented ties to noblemen, such as Christopher Marlowe, Francis Bacon, Edward De Vere (the 17th Earl of Oxford), or William Stanley (the Earl of Derby). (Some Stratfordians suggest that the discrepancy between Shakespeare the artist and Shakespeare the business man could be explained by the possibility that Anne Hathaway, his wife back in Stratford, was the real business head of the family, and conducted Will's financial affairs in his name.)Notably, the theory has attracted many high profile supporters, including such luminaries like Walt Whitman, Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mark Twain, Sigmund Freud, Derek Jacobi, Orson Welles, Charlie Chaplin, etc. The Authorship question has a few adherents from Shakespeare scholarship, such as Roger Stritmatter and Oxfordian Shakespeare scholar Felicia Londre. Shakespeare scholars who adhere to the Stratfordian perspective completely reject the authorship question, and there are far more Stratfordian scholars than anti-Stratfordian scholars. Writers such as Bill Bryson have noted that there appears to be a strain of snobbery in the anti-Stratfordians, when they question how a commoner managed to achieve a level of playwright expertise not attained even by college graduates of his day. Many of the alternate candidates proposed for authorship are earls and noblemen, as opposed to Shakespeare the commoner from the countryside. Of course, Christopher Marlowe, another Authorship candidate, was a commoner as well.
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Widespread Shakespearean tropes include:
The plays, their individual tropes, and well-known adaptations include:
Tropes found in Shakespeare's sonnets and poems include:
Sonnets and Poems