Shakespeare: The king of Bookland
The undisputed king of literature is the ‘Sweet Swan of Avon’, William Shakespeare (April 1564 - 23 April 1616), about whom Ben Jonson says, “He was not of an age, but for all time!”
Shakespeare and literature seem to be synonymous! It is strange how literature, even now, pays homage to that man of average education, who is said to have held horses of royal gentry outside the theatre. The playwright wrote plays mainly for performances and never thought that his works will rule generation-after-generation – a fact evident from the unavailability of his original manuscripts. Shakespeare is said to have a vocabulary of over 29,000 words (The average American`s vocabulary is around 10,000 words).
Little is known about the bard’s personal life, but too much is said. The poet (eighteen at the time of marriage) was unhappily married to Anne Hathaway (twenty-six), abandoned his family, and left Stratford-on-Avon to earn his living. He joined a traveling company of actors and went to London. Another story goes that he fled his birthplace to avoid arrest after stealing Sir Thomas Lacy`s deer. But there is little or no proof for any of these suppositions. However, contemporary records establish the facts on his baptism, marriage, parentage and his life after the year 1594.
Comparatively, an insight into the psyche of Shakespeare-the-dramatist is easier because of the massive body of work, which the gifted genius left behind for generations that followed. The dramatist completed at least 38 plays with well over 100,000 lines of dialogue – an unbeaten record in the history of English literature for beauty of thought and expression. It is surprising how the master wrote about trivial people, who mused and thundered in such lovely language. Leave aside the protagonists; even his minor characters articulate timeless philosophies, unfound wisdom and sublime thoughts with panache.
"All the world `s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts," says the philosophical Jaques in ‘As You Like It’. History, romances and tragedies
Extensive vocabulary (the writer also coined words whenever required) combined with Shakespeare’s innate ability to present persons, places, and events with precision, exalted his plays. His works can roughly be divided into four groups. From 1590 to 1594 (the experimental period) he produced the early historical plays like ‘War of the Roses: Henry VI’ (parts 1, 2, and 3), ‘Richard III’, ‘Henry IV’, and others like ‘Titus Andronicus’, ‘Love`s Labour`s Lost’, ‘The Two Gentlemen of Verona’, ‘The Comedy of Errors’ and ‘The Taming of the Shrew’.
The second period ends around 1601, and marks the establishment of Shakespeare as a playwright. This period includes the timeless romantic tragedies like ‘Romeo and Juliet’, and the most staged comedy ‘The Merchant of Venice’. Others include ‘A Midsummer-Night`s Dream’, ‘Much Ado about Nothing’, ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’ and the historical plays like ‘Henry IV, Parts I and II’, ‘Henry V’, ‘Richard II’, ‘King John’ and ‘Julius Caesar’.
The third period that ends around 1610 is the most important phase of Shakespeare`s career, when he wrote the four unparalleled tragedies – ‘Hamlet’, ‘Othello’, ‘Macbeth’, and ‘King Lear’. Simultaneously, he also created such comedies as ‘Twelfth Night’, ‘All`s Well that Ends Well’ and the epic historical – ‘Antony and Cleopatra’.
The final period ends around 1611 with interesting plays like ‘Cymbeline’, ‘Henry VIII’ and romances such as ‘The Tempest’ and ‘The Winter`s Tale’. ‘Dark Lady’ and more
In the Elizabethan age, it was fashionable to write sonnets. Shakespeare composed 154 sonnets in his lifetime and it is believed that he started writing in 1593 at the age of 29. According to scholars, the sonnets can be divided into three groups.
Shakespeare wrote twenty-six sonnets, mostly to a young man, and 17 of them urged him to get married.
Another One hundred and one sonnets have been written to a nobleman (probably the same young man as in the first 26) on diverse themes like beauty, rivalry and despair. The remaining 27 sonnets are written mainly to a lady, popularly known as ‘The Dark Lady’ in literature. Scholars believe that the poet was in love with the mysterious lady. He talks of love in the beautiful lines from one of his love sonnets.
“Let me not to the marriage of true minds, admit impediments. Love is not love, which alters when it alteration finds.”
Even after so many years, Shakespeare survives through his works. We salute the great master!