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Life & Leagacy of The Bard

By John Mulligan

William Shakespeare lived through one of the most turbulent yet thrilling era’s of English history

Facts can be deceiving. We know, for example, that William’s father, John Shakespeare, was a glove-maker, cotton dealer and businessman; his mother, Mary, was from a farming family. In attempting to discover the life of William, we often make the mistake of attaining only shreds of information from his parents life. It is a mistake because, especially with John Shakespeare, it tells us more about the world Shakespeare was brought up in than is often thought. If we dig, we learn that John became town councillor and mayor. But we also learn how he made his fortune: by dealing illegally in wool, and then losing it, to the point of even fearing to leave his home for fear of arrest. We know this because he was ordered to pay a fine for his illicit activities. Later on, his fortune began to collapse, he sold properties, pulled William out of school, which is significant. He took William out of school denying him the chance to further his studies; to go to university, William also lost his grandfather’s inheritance. William Shakespeare was lucky: a year before his birth, in 1563, the Plague returned, killing seven per cent of Stratford’s population, but when Shakespeare was born, it was almost over. Unlike Shakespeare’s two younger siblings, William survived infancy. Another piece of luck for young William was John’s position as town councillor, when William was only four. Because of his father’s role, William was able to attend school, read the classics such as Ovid’s Metamorphosis, which became his favourite book. The hours were long for the boy. In the summer, he would have to be up as early as three o’clock in the morning. In school he and other children would translate Latin texts into English and vice versa. At age 14, as his parents position took a turn for the worst, he was pulled out of school, denying him the chance of his passion as a youngster: the pursuit of literature and poetry. He met Anne Hathaway, his future wife, married her at 18; she was at least eight years his senior. We then have the famous seven years, from 1585-92, what we refer to as the lost years. Shakespeare disappears for seven years, arrives in London writing play after play, writing comedy, history and tragedy; the theatre houses would often be full performing the plays of Shakespeare. As always, however, in our lives, there is conflict and tragedy, and the worst thing that could happen to any father, happened to Shakespeare. Hamnet, his son, died, on August 11, 1596, aged just 11.

Despite the best efforts of scholars and academics, there is nothing in Shakespeare’s work following the death of his son that Shakespeare seems to write about. He wrote, during that time, comedies and a few histories. By the time Hamnet died, he had been in London for four years and had written and produced at least 10 plays, perhaps 12. It was only four years before that, the year Shakespeare arrived in London that Robert Greene, Shakespeare’s contemporary, labelled him ‘an upstart crow,’ owing to Shakespeare’s current success at the time, and Greene’s lack of it, we can safely assume the diatribe was out of jealousy.

Shakespeare’s greatest plays were performed at the Globe Theatre. The Globe Theatre was rebuilt in 1599, until a fire destroyed it in 1613. Some of these plays are Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear, Othello, Julius Caesar, and others of course. Shakespeare, along with five others, including Richard Burbage and his brother, Cuthbert, were shareholders in the theatre. Shakespeare’s legacy is not only that he was the greatest writer of his time but of all time. There have been, over a period of many, many years, attempts to discredit Shakespeare of his authorship. It is claimed Christopher Marlowe wrote his plays by some, but Marlowe died when Shakespeare was only 29. Others say Edward de Vere was the real author of his plays, but he died nine years before Shakespeare retired from writing. Mark Antony’s eulogy of Brutus in Julius Caesar may well be applied to the author of these lines himself.

'His life was gentle, and the elements So mixed in him that Nature might stand up And say to all the world, ‘This was a man.’


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