Life of great dramatist William Shakespeare: History Part-2


Shakespeare & the London Theatre

William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare

● In London, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (also called Lord Strange’s Men) performed his plays, and also probably the Queen’s Men.
● Shakespeare owned shares in the Second Blackfriars Theatre, an indoor theatre built by James Burbage, and later, the Globe.
● In the 1590s, the London theatre scene was unsettled
● Actors’ companies were forming and disbanding themselves under the pressure of the plague.
● All London theatres were closed from 1592 to 94 due to the plague.
● Shakespeare seems to have turned to non-dramatic poetry at this time

The Sonnets:

Writing and Publication
● Circulated in manuscripts before 1598
● In 1598, Francis Meres praised Shakespeare’s “sugared sonnets” in his Palladis Tamia, or Wit’s Treasury
● First publication of sonnets
● In 1609, the sonnets were first published in quarto format by Thomas Thorpe, probably without the
author’s knowledge
● The quarto edition has a mysterious dedication from the publisher to “Mr. W.H.” as “the only begetter of these poems”

The Globe
● At first the Lord Chamberlain’s Men performed in The Theatre built by James Burbage in 1576
● In 1597, after a dispute with the Puritan landlord over the terms of lease, the players moved to the nearby Curtain playhouse
● On the night of 28 December 1597, when the landlord was out of town, Burbage and his friends dismantled The Theatre timber by timber
● The wood was used to build The Globe on the Bankside, where the Rose playhouse was already achieving great success
● The first recorded performance at the Globe was of Julius Caesar on 21 September 1599 In the early 17th century
● Shakespeare secured a coat-of-arms, which granted him the status of a gentleman
● A coat-of-arms is a heraldic shield with a unique design granted by the monarch to an individual or
family as a recognition of social rank
● Wrote most of the Great Tragedies, Dark Comedies and Romances
● Recognized as a genius in his own time
● Queen Elizabeth dies in 1603
● King James’s accession to the throne

Not without
Not without

The Mermaid Tavern
● Was probably a member of the “Fraternity of Sireniacal Gentlemen” who met at the Mermaid Tavern in Cheapside
● Ben Jonson
● John Donne
● John Fletcher and Francis Beaumont
● Thomas Coryat
● John Selden
● Robert Bruce Cotton
● Richard Carew
● Richard Martin
● William Strachey

Grave of Shakespeare
Grave of Shakespeare

● 1610 retired from theatre
● Moved into the big house New Place at Stratford
● 1613 Globe theatre burns down
● Lost money but still wealthy; helps rebuild Globe
● Dies on April 23, 1616 at age 52
● Buried in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford
● Left his property to the male heirs of his eldest daughter, Susanna
● Bequeathed his “second-best bed” to his wife
● The couple had lived apart for 20 years of their marriage

Also read Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) – Preface to Shakespeare, Neo-classical Criticism: John Dryden, Alexander Pope

Shakespeare Photos

The Chandos Portrait
The Chandos Portrait
Painted probably by John Taylor (1610)
The Cobbe Portrait
The Cobbe Portrait
Unknown artist (c.1610)
The Flower Portrait
The Flower Portrait
Unknown artist (dated 1610)
Proven in 2005 to be a forged artwork painted in the 19th c.
The Droeshout Engraving on the title page of First Folio
The Droeshout Engraving on the title page of First Folio
The Flower Portrait is a copy of this engraving

The Works
● 37 plays
● Recently, another play The Double Falsehood, added to the canon
● 154 sonnets
● 2 (4) long poems
● Shakespeare authorship question

Classification of Plays

● First Period — Apprenticeship (Age 26-30)
● Second Period — Mastered his art!
● Favourite “Romantic Comedy”
● Third Period — Problem of Evil in the World
● Fourth Period — Creates a new drama form
● “Tragicomedy” or the dramatic romance

Early Comedies
● Plots less original
● Characters less finished
● Style lacks power
● Set in exotic locations
● Emphasis is on situation rather than character
● Strong heroines; clever servants
● Multiple plots
● Amorous love & friendship, mistaken identity, disguise
● Women steadfast in love; men are fickle
● Wit and word play, quibbling, slapstick

English Histories

● Shaped the genre of the history play that hitherto did not exist
● 10 plays:
● Minor Tetralogy
● Henry VI 3 Parts and Richard III
● Major Tetralogy
● Richard II, Henry IV 2 Parts and Henry V
● King John
● Henry VIII

Histories in the First Folio
● In the First Folio, plays were categorized into 3
groups: tragedies, comedies and histories
● British History Plays recognized as a genre in the Folio
● Roman, Greek and Scottish history excluded
● Histories were categorized according to the time depicted
● 1st play King John (13th century)
● Last play Henry VIII (16th century)
● Histories based on chronicle matter (similar to legends) excluded, for eg.
King Lear, Cymbeline

English Histories

● Neither tragedy nor comedy; a combination of both
● Based on Edward Hall’s Chronicles (of the Wars of the Roses and establishment of the Tudor dynasty)
and Raphael Holinshed’s the incomplete Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland
● Written throughout his career; show rapid maturation; characters are more developed
● Did not insist on unadorned historical fact— addressed not only “history”, but also “historiography”; hence these plays are superior to the lifeless chronicle plays of the age

General Themes
● Empire, statehood, nationality
● Competition to the crown
● Clash of ethical and political concerns
● Role of women in politics
● Question of whether nobility is derived from birth or behaviour
● Monarch’s duty to the people
● As against the medieval theory of Divine Right of Kings
● Neither monarch nor the Parliament is an independent authority
● The dual body of the king: the individual body & the body politic (the conflict between the two may lead to tragedy)

Minor Tetralogy
● Early histories
● Deal with the recent Wars of the Roses between the Lancastrians and the Yorkists (15th century)
● Depict the issue of emergent nationhood
● Tendency to identify villains (Richard III) and heroes (Lord Talbot in Henry VI Part 1, Humphrey in Henry VI Part 2, Henry Tudor in Richard III)
● Henry VI 3 Parts and Richard III
● Minor Tetralogy reflects England’s new sense of national identity and power (under the Tudor dynasty,
and following the defeat of the Spanish Armada)

● Minor Tetralogy followed by King John (13th century)

Major Tetralogy
● On the earlier Plantagenets of the late 14th and early 15th centuries)
● Richard II (printed in1597, is usually dated 1595), Henry IV 2 Parts (1600) and Henry V (written in 1599, printed in 1600)
● Written at the same time as the romantic comedies—both have complementary coming-of-age themes, one in love and marriage, the other in a young man growing up to be a worthy king
● Throne as important; desire for stable government
● Mixing low life with history (as in John Falstaff)
● Use of excellent blank verse

Other Sources:

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