“The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.” — William Shakespeare
Today is William Shakespeare’s 450th birthday.
William Shakespeare, England’s national poet, is known throughout the world as an English poet, playwright and actor. He is widely regarded as the world’s preeminent dramatist and as the greatest English writer. He is often called the “Bard of Avon,” “Swan of Avon” or plainly “The Bard“.
Shakespeare’s plays have been translated into almost every language around the world, and his plays have been performed for more than 400 years in countless metropolises, cities, towns, villages, and hamlets in almost every country.
The bard’s works have outlived him. Significant number of English phrases coined by William Shakespeare are still in vogue and are in use every day. Here are some:
- “Made of sterner stuff” in Julius Caesar.
- “To the manner born” in Hamlet.
- “To your heart’s content” in The Merchant of Venice.
- “Green-eyed monster” in Othello.
- “The milk of human kindness” in Macbeth.
- “Salad days” in Antony and Cleopatra.
- “Sea change” in The Tempest.
However, the personal life of William Shakespeare somewhat remains a mystery.Two sources provide historians with a basic outline of his life. The primary source is his work — the plays, poems and sonnets. The other source is the official documentation such as church and court records. These sources give only brief sketches of specific events in Shakespeare’s life, but nothing much about the person he was.
William Shakespeare’s birth record does not exist. A church record mentions that on April 26, 1564, a William Shakespeare was baptized at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon, a market town, located 103 miles west of London, bisected by a country road and the River Avon. From this, scholars have deduced and acknowledged that William Shakespeare was born on or around April 23, 1564.
William was the third child of John Shakespeare, a leather merchant, and Mary Arden, a local landed heiress. William had two older sisters, Joan and Judith, and three younger brothers, Gilbert, Richard and Edmund.
Before William’s birth, his father, John Shakespeare, a successful leather merchant, held the office of alderman and bailiff, somewhat akin to a mayor. William was the third child of John Shakespeare and Mary Arden, a local landed heiress. William had two older sisters, Joan and Judith, and three younger brothers, Gilbert, Richard and Edmund. After William was born, John Shakespeare’s fortunes declined in the late 1570s.
Childhood records of William are sparse and nothing about his education. Scholars believe that he most likely learned to read, write, and studied the classics at the King’s New School, in Stratford, and would have undoubtedly qualified for free tuition since he was a child of a public official.
The uncertainty about his education has led some to raise questions about the authorship of his work. Some allude his works to several writers and nobles of his time that includes Francis Bacon, Edward de Vere, and Christopher Marlowe.
The Baconian hypothesis of Shakespearean authorship, first proposed in the mid 19th century, contends that Francis Bacon wrote some or all the plays conventionally attributed to William Shakespeare.
Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford was an English peer and courtier of the Elizabethan era. He was a court favourite for a time. He was a patron of the arts, a lyric poet, and a playwright. Since the 1920s he has been the most popular alternative candidate proposed for the authorship of Shakespeare’s works.
Christopher Marlowe was an English dramatist, poet and translator of the Elizabethan era. He was born in the same year as William Shakespeare. Marlowe was the foremost Elizabethan tragedian of his day. After Marlowe’s mysterious early death on May 30, 1593, Shakespeare rose to become the pre-eminent Elizabethan playwright.
Various accounts of Marlowe’s death were current over the next few years. Francis Meres, in his Palladis Tamia, published in 1598, says Marlowe was “stabbed to death by a bawdy serving-man, a rival of his in his lewd love” as punishment for his “epicurism and atheism.” In 1917, Sir Sidney Lee wrote in the Dictionary of National Biography, that Marlowe was killed in a drunken fight, and this is still often stated as fact today.
Given the inconsistencies concerning the account of Marlowe’s death, a theory has arisen centered on the notion that Marlowe may have faked his death and then continued to write under the assumed name of William Shakespeare.
In August 1819 an anonymous writer turned the table by asking in The Monthly Review: “Can Christopher Marlowe be a nom de guerre assumed for a time by Shakespeare?“
Above all, doubts have been raised about whether or not a person named William Shakespeare ever existed.
- William Shakespeare Biography (biography.com)
- William Shakespeare (en.wikipedia.org)
- Francis Bacon (en.wikipedia.org)
- Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (en.wikipedia.org)
- Christopher Marlowe (en.wikipedia.org)
- Jude Morgan: 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Shakespeare (huffingtonpost.com)
- William Shakespeare’s 450th birthday: Will we ever get bored of the Bard? (metro.co.uk)