William Shakespeare’s Life

Shakespeare, William Shakespeare

Shakespeare: Resources on the Man and His Work

“He was not for an age but for all time,” Ben Jonson declared in the dedication to the 1623 First Folio of the plays of William Shakespeare. His poetry and plays are still published, produced, discussed, translated and analyzed in the 21st century, but Shakespeare himself remains the subject of speculation and mystery. Use this Web Guide to Shakespeare to examine the man and the controversies, as well as his work and its central place in English-speaking culture today.

William Shakespeare’s Life

Considering the scope of his fame, little is known about William Shakespeare's life. Although the world, particularly the English-speaking world, is well-acquainted with Shakespeare's works, we can only guess about his personal comedies and tragedies. Fortunately, the Internet is filled with the fruits of such guesswork, as well as a good amount of diligent historical research. Use this section of the guide to get better acquainted with the man known as William Shakespeare.

Insights for William Shakespeare's Life

  • The surprising shortage of information on William Shakespeare’s life hasn’t stopped countless authors from having another go at his biography. Even his wife, about whom there exists even less information, warrants her own 416-page biography, aptly named “Shakespeare’s Wife.”
  • To learn where to find more books on Shakespeare and by Shakespeare, see the findingDulcinea Books Web Guide. The guide shows you where to find book clubs, book news and reviews, and literary events of all kinds.

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Shakespeare’s Works

Shakespeare has more books written about him than any other writer, he’s the most produced playwright and there are more films based on Shakespeare's works than on any other writer, including ones you might not immediately recognize, like “10 Things I Hate About You” and “The Lion King.” It’s safe to say that Shakespeare is one of the most influential writers of all time. The Web sites below take you on a whirlwind tour of Shakespeare’s huge body of work, including the plays and the sonnets.

Insights for Shakespeare’s Works

  • Shakespeare’s canon (works accepted as authentic) consists of 37 plays, 154 sonnets and two long narrative poems—“Venus and Adonis” and “The Rape of Lucrece”—with many others attributed to him. Access it all through Bartleby’s online version of W.J. Craig’s 1914 Oxford edition of the “Complete Works of William Shakespeare,” considered one of the best.

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Shakespeare’s Authorship

Not only do Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets exhibit broad knowledge of the works of classical authors, law and medicine—some of them not yet translated into English at that time—they also exhibit an intimacy with foreign lands and their customs. How could a man that left school by the age of 16 be capable of writing such works? The apparent discrepancy between Shakespeare’s life and his work has resulted in an authorship debate. Examine Shakespeare's authorship debate more closely with the Web sites below.

Insights for Shakespeare’s Authorship

  • Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, has emerged as the leading contender for Shakespeare authorship simply because of the weight of circumstantial evidence. Contemporaries cited De Vere’s plays as “the best for comedy,” although his plays have never come to light. He was an acknowledged poet, and a devout patron of the arts with his own acting company. Read his biography at the De Vere Society and see what you think.
  • The authorship debate is intriguing and will probably never reach a conclusion, but don’t let it color your appreciation of the texts themselves! Whoever William Shakespeare was or wasn’t, and whichever pieces did or did not come from the pen of William of Stratford, the words speak for themselves.

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The Age of Shakespeare

Shakespeare lived and worked between 1564 and 1616, placing him squarely in the long and important reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603). The period—the age of Shakespeare—was shaped by Queen Elizabeth’s indomitable spirit, and is considered something of a golden age for English literature. Shakespeare is often at the forefront of our minds as an example of and great influence on Elizabethan England; read on to learn how his era influenced him in turn.

Insights for the Age of Shakespeare

  • Reading Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets almost 400 years after they were written can be an alienating experience. But learning a little about the tastes, expectations, opinions, politics and society of the time can make Shakespeare’s deeper truths much more accessible.

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Shakespeare’s Plays

Like learning a second language, learning to love Shakespeare's plays can sometimes require a little more than the written word. After all, the plays were meant to be performed, and there’s no better way to comprehend the meaning than to see actors on stage that know how to make those words come alive. Use this section of the guide to find out where to see the finest performances of Shakespeare’s plays, and where to visit some of Shakespeare’s historic locales.

Insights for Shakespeare's Plays

  • Seeing Shakespeare's plays doesn’t have to mean starched ruffles! His plays provide such rich material and are performed so frequently that they’re often interpreted through a huge variety of styles, often with wildly imaginative costumes, sets or conceits that just may redefine your idea of Shakespeare.

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Shakespeare and the English Language

Shakespeare is called the greatest author in the English language not only because his works are in English, but also for his profound and lasting impact on the language itself. Of the 25,000 words in the canon, roughly 1,500 were coined by Shakespeare himself. Read the information we've gathered on Shakespeare and the English Language to discover how his words have made a lasting contribution.

Insights for Shakespeare and the English Language

  • Considering how fast our language changes, and how long ago Shakespeare’s works were written, it’s not surprising that his plays and sonnets can seem unintelligible. Most editions of Shakespeare provide a glossary alongside the text for the trickiest words, but it’s often useful to read with a good dictionary at hand. Try the Absolute Shakespeare Glossary on Absolute Shakespeare next time you get stumped.

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