The Mysterious Life of William Shakespeare: the Man Behind the Work

Conosciamo bene l’opera del maestro inglese e l’impatto che ha avuto sulla letteratura universale ma poco sappiamo della sua vita. Possiamo trovare indizi di genialità nella sua biografia? Chi fu veramente William Shakespeare?

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William Shakespeare is the world’s most influential dramatist. His work has inspired people across the globe and shaped the English language we use today. However, what we know about him, apart from his work, has been pieced together from a few official records and accounts of his character from contemporary authors. Four centuries after his death, some aspects of his life still remain a mystery.

Son of Stratford

Shakespeare was born in April 1564 in the town of Stratford-upon-Avon, England. His father was a city official and glove maker and his mother came from a landowning family. They were middle class but not wealthy. It’s likely that William attended the local grammar school where he would have studied Latin and rhetoric. But he didn’t go to university and was seen by some in the literary world as an outsider because of this.

Aged eighteen, William married Anne Hathaway of Stratford. They had three children, Susanna, born in 1583 (very soon after the wedding) and twins Judith and Hamnet in 1585. Hamnet died aged eleven and some scholars suggest that the boy’s tragic death influenced some of Shakespeare’s work, especially Hamlet. We know little about the Shakespeares’ marriage except that in his will, William left Anne the household’s “second-best bed”!

Life in London

In 1585 Shakespeare disappeared from the records for about seven years, the so-called ‘lost years’ that frustrate Shakespeare scholars so much. Then, in 1592, with Queen Elizabeth I on the throne, he reappeared in London. It was a city alive with commerce and culture until the following year, when disaster struck and bubonic plague spread through London. The theatres had to close for over a year.

When theatres reopened in 1594, Shakespeare joined the top theatrical company in Elizabethan England, known as Lord Chamberlain’s Men. The group were very successful, and in 1599 built the Globe Theatre on London’s South Bank. Today, a reconstruction called The Globe stands near the original site. Not only did Shakespeare write plays for the Globe Theatre but he directed and even acted in them, so he knew from personal experience what made drama work on stage. In 1603, James I became king of England. The new king was passionate about the theatre and gave his patronage to Shakespeare’s theatre company, which became known as The King’s Men. 

Shakespeare died in Stratford-upon-Avon aged fifty-two on April 23rd 1616. He had written some thirty-seven plays as well as sonnets and prose. The collected edition of his plays, known as the First Folio, was published posthumously in 1623. His work has never been off the stage since.

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