This is a very good question indeed; who is William Shakespeare? Some historians do not believe the writer we know of as Shakespeare truly wrote all of the works that are attributed to him or that he lived the life we ascribe* to him, but since some of these facts are still debated I will present to you the story and information that is most widely agreed upon.
William Shakespeare was born in England in 1564 and died in 1616. He was an English poet and playwright**, who is considered by many to be the greatest writer in the English language. His written works include 38 plays, 154 sonnets, and a number of poems. Shakespeare wrote most of his plays and poems between 1589 and 1613. His early plays were often comedies and historical in nature. He later wrote more tragedies, which are often considered to be his better plays. His plays have been translated into every major language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright. His sonnets, poems, and plays are taught in schools all over the English speaking world. (I remember having to memorize a Shakespearean sonnet in one of my high school English classes, sadly I have long since forgotten what I memorized.) Performing Shakespeare plays in parks during the summertime is a common tradition in the United States and most major cities have a “Shakespeare in the Park” series that is often free for people to attend.
Here are some of Shakespeare’s most famous plays:
Comedies: Twelfth Night, The Merchant of Venice, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, and The Two Gentlemen of Verona
Tragedies: Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, Hamlet, Othello, Anthony and Cleopatra, and King Lear
Even though Shakespeare’s plays and poems are famous, often quoted, and well read, they are not always easy to read! For one, Shakespeare wrote in the English of his day, the 1500s and 1600s, which is very different from the English of today. Also, he had some very interesting writing techniques, which one has to learn to better understand his writing. Tomorrow, I will go over a few tricks to better understanding Shakespeare and present a few passages from his works so you can have a better idea of the writing of this very important English writer. For today though, here is an except from the 1999 movie version of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, so you can have an idea of what his writing sounds like in spoken English and for what is it is worth, below is the transcription of what is said in this video. You may want to try to understand the general meaning of what is said and not focus on trying to understand every word that is spoken.
Ill met by moonlight, proud Titania.
What, jealous Oberon? Fairies, skip hence.
I have forsworn his bed and company.
Tarry, rash wanton. Am not I thy lord?
Then I must be thy lady. Why art thou here,
Come from the farthest step of India?
But that, forsooth, the bouncing Amazon,
Your buskined mistress and your warrior love,
To Theseus must be wedded, and you come
To give their bed joy and prosperity.
How canst thou thus for shame, Titania,
Glance at my credit with Hippolyta,
Knowing I know thy love to Theseus?
These are the forgeries of jealousy.
And never, since the middle summer’s spring,
Met we on hill, in dale, forest, or mead,
By paved fountain, or by rushy brook,
But with thy brawls thou hast disturbed our sport.
Therefore the winds, piping to us in vain,
As in revenge, have sucked up from the sea
Contagious fogs, which falling in the land
Have every pelting river made so proud
That they have overborne their continents.
And this same progeny of evils comes
From our debate, from our dissension.
We are their parents and original.
*ascribe = to attribute to
** playwright = a writer of plays