Shakespeare FAQ answers some of the more popular questions about the Great Bard.
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Shakespeare FAQ

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Shakespeare FAQ answers some of the more popular questions about the Great Bard. From Shakespeare's love-life to his famous will, Shakespeare FAQ explains them all...

Was Shakespeare ever in love?

Yes, at age 18, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway, a woman 8 years his senior. They stayed married the rest of Shakespeare’s life for some 34 years until Shakespeare died in 1616, age 52.

Is it true nobody knows Shakespeare’s birthday?

It is true we don’t know Shakespeare’s date of birth. We know it was in 1564 but our only record at this time was of his baptism at the Holy Trinity Church on April the 26th. By convention and some guesswork, Shakespeare’s birthday is by tradition celebrated three days earlier on April the 23rd.

At what age did Shakespeare write his first play?

It is believed that Shakespeare penned his first play Henry VI, Part One, between 1589 and 1590. Shakespeare would have been 25 at the time. This play is believed to have been performed at The Rose Theatre in London.

Which are Shakespeare’s most popular plays?

With 37 plays under his belt, it is hard to place some plays above others. Nonetheless, most academics and readers alike would agree that Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, King Henry V, King Lear, Macbeth , Othello and Antony and Cleopatra are amongst Shakespeare’s most recognizable and hence most popular plays.

Was Shakespeare a victim of "breech of copyright"?

In 1609, Shakespeare’s sonnets were published without the Bard’s permission. Many academics considered it unlikely that Shakespeare wanted many of his deeply personal poems to be revealed to the outside world. It was not however the first time; in 1599, in a collection entitled "The Passionate Pilgrim", two of Shakespeare’s poems had been printed without the Bard’s permission.

What Plays did Shakespeare write?

The list is extensive. In the best chronological order available, Shakespeare wrote Henry VI, Part One, Henry VI, Part Two. The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Henry VI, Part Three, Richard III, The Comedy of Errors, Love’s Labour’s Lost, Titus Andronicus, The Taming of the Shrew, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer-Night’s Dream, Richard II, King John, The Merchant of Venice, Henry IV, Part One, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Henry IV, Part Two, Much Ado About Nothing, Henry V, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Twelfth Night Or What You Will, Troilus and Cressida, All’s Well That Ends Well, As You Like It, Othello, Measure for Measure, Timon of Athens, King Lear, Macbeth, Pericles, Prince of Tyre, Coriolanus, Antony and Cleopatra, Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale, The Tempest, The Two Noble Kinsmen, Cardenio Henry VIII.

Are any of Shakespeare’s poems especially famous?

Perhaps one poem is more famous than the other 154 sonnets for the shear number of times, popular movies (Clueless for example), books, TV programs (The Darling Buds of May) and reviews have used it’s lines.

Sonnet 18 begins with the opening lines, " Shall I compare thee (you) to a summer’s day? Thou (you) art (are) more lovely and more temperate: Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, And Summer’s lease hath all too short a date..."

Did Shakespeare "lose" a play?

Yes. He did not literally lose it in a park or on his travels. The play Cardenio, though written and performed in Shakespeare’s time has not been recorded in the First Folio of 1623 as were Shakespeare’s other plays. Cardenio has been lost to time for the modern reader.

Did Shakespeare have any children?

Eight, including twins Judith and Hamnet. Hamnet did not survive to adulthood. Susanna his first daughter lived a very ripe 66 years and Judith lived a very respectable 77 years. Shakespeare only lived to 52.

What events happened in Shakespeare’s time?

Quite a few important historical occurrences. Shakespeare lived through the defeat of the Spanish Armada of 1588 (Shakespeare was 24 at the time), the discovery of the remains of Pompeii buried by Mount Vesuvius (Shakespeare was 28), Rembrandt was born, The Gunpowder plot was foiled with Guy Fawkes being executed (1605 &1606)and Shakespeare lived in the reigns of both Queen Elizabeth and the reign of James I.

How can I read Shakespeare online?

Yes, quite simply here at Absolute

What are Shakespeare’s lost years?

This is the time when William Shakespeare is said to have left his family inn Stratford whilst he pursued a career in acting and Theatre in London. Shakespeare is said to have returned to his family in Stratford at least once a year.

How many plays did Shakespeare write?

Thirty seven plays and 154 sonnets.

What was the Globe?

This was a Theatre, Shakespeare and his fellow actors (The Lord Chamberlain’s Men later renamed The King’s Men) performed the majority of their plays at. It was built for The Lord Chamberlain’s Men expressly as a theatre on land leased from a Nicholas Brend. Opening in 1599, it was later burned to the ground in 1613 reopening a year later in 1614.

What is Shakespeare’s most famous play?

Most academics would argue Hamlet is Shakespeare’s greatest and most famous work. In popular culture, it would probably be considered Romeo and Juliet.

Is it true Shakespeare didn’t write any of his plays?

A major controversy today is brewing over this very contentious issue. The traditional camp maintains that William Shakespeare was indeed a poet, playwright and an actor. Critics known as "Oxfordians" argue that a more likely contender may have been Edward de Ver (1550-1604) whom T.J. Looney in 1920, claimed authored Shakespeare's plays, Christopher Marlowe or even Queen Elizabeth herself! A problem for the Edward de Vere line is that many of Shakespeare’s plays were said to have been written after Edward de Vere’s death in 1604. Shakespeare died in 1616.

The Oxfordians argue quite reasonably, that proof of Shakespeare’s authorship is largely circumstantial and sketchy at best. These scholars argue that Shakespeare was better known in Stratford as a businessman not a playwright. However despite putting up some plausible contenders for Shakespeare’s throne, Shakespeare remains the most likely evidence wise. For now at least, it is still safe to say Shakespeare did indeed write the 37 plays and 154 sonnets credited to him.

Was Shakespeare really a successful businessman?

Yes, so much so that in 1597, he bought one of the most prestigious properties in all of Stratford, The New Place. Later, Shakespeare bought a considerable amount of land in Stratford, doubling his investment.

Was Romeo and Juliet based on a true story?

Yes but this was not "Shakespeare in Love". Romeo and Juliet was in fact based on the life of two real lovers who both died for each other and lived in Verona, Italy in 1303. Both the Capulets and Montagues existed in Verona at this time and Shakespeare is reckoned to have discovered this tragic love story in Arthur Brooke's 1562 poem entitled "The Tragical Historye of Romeus and Juliet" .

Where was Shakespeare born?

We assume it was in Stratford upon Avon since he was baptized in 1564 at The Holy Trinity Church in Stratford on April the 26th.

What is The First Folio?

The First Folio of 1623, complied by Shakespeare’s fellow actors John Hemminges and Henry Condell was the first ever publication of Shakespeare’s plays. It contains all 36 plays that we can read today. All publications of Shakespeare’s play’s are derived from this Folio. Only 250 original copies are said to exist today, each worth roughly just 1 Pound in 1623. Today each Folio would fetch nearly 3 million dollars (US). Unfortunately Cardenio was not included and so this play has been lost to time for the present day reader.

Are there film adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays?

Quite a few. Over 300 adaptations dating from as early as the 1930s have been recorded as being adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays. Recently both Hamlet, A Midsummer’s Night and Romeo and Juliet have been successfully adapted to film.

Was "Shakespeare in Love" a true story?

Not really. First, there is no historical record of such a love affair ever having taken place. Second, the film is a work of plausible fiction. Third, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway at age 18 and penned Romeo and Juliet which features in the film in 1595 at the age of 31. Thus any depiction of such a love affair during the writing of Romeo and Juliet would have to have meant Shakespeare was cheating on Anne. Finally the depiction that Shakespeare was short on cash around 1595 simply doesn’t wash; just two years later, he bought one of the largest properties in Stratford called The New Place and is considered to have penned 9 plays by 1595.

Was Shakespeare a "property developer" in Stratford?

Indeed Shakespeare was, purchasing both the new place and a large holding of land in the Stratford area. He was also a co-owner of the Globe Theatre with the other members of The Lord Chamberlain’s Men in 1599.

Was Shakespeare recognized in his own time?

Unlike many famous poets and artists, Shakespeare not only did not die penniless but was a frequent performer before the Court Queen Elizabeth I (The Merry Wives of Windsor in 1596, A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream in 1603) and King James I who commended The King’s Men‘s two performances of The Merchant of Venice in 1605.

Was Shakespeare an actor as well as a playwright?

Few people realize that aside from writing 37 plays and 154 sonnets, Shakespeare was an actor as well. Besides performing many of his own plays with his theatre company The Lord Chamberlain’s Men (changed to The King’s men to honour James I in 1603), Shakespeare acted in Ben Jonson’s play Sejanus in 1603.

Did Shakespeare ever collaborate in the writing of his plays?

Surprisingly, Shakespeare is said to have penned Henry VIII with the likely help of noted dramatist John Fletcher between 1612 and 1613. The Two Noble Kinsmen, composed in 1613 is credited in a 1634 Stationer’s Registry entry as being the work of both William Shakespeare and John Fletcher.

Did Shakespeare have any critics?

Described by First Folio publishers John Hemminges and Henry Condell who said "His mind and hand went together and what he thought, he uttered with that easiness that we have scarce received from him a blot in his papers.", there were many who did not like Shakespeare’s work. Robert Greene really got the ball rolling by calling Shakespeare "an upstart crow" in his 1592 pamphlet entitled "Greene’s Groatsworth of Wit" whilst Samuel Pepys ruthlessly described the 1595 "A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream" as "the most insipid, ridiculous play that I ever saw in my life." Even Voltaire stepped into the ring by saying that "Shakespeare is a drunken savage with some imagination whose plays please only in London and Canada," before adding that "Shakespeare is the Corneille of London, but everywhere else he is a great fool".

Did Shakespeare invent words?

Yes, among them the word "assassination". Furthermore, Shakespeare is said to have had a vocabulary of some 29,066 words. An average person’s today might use just 2000 words used in everyday conversation. With a vocabulary like that, who needs a dictionary?

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