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Sunday, 16 February 2014

William Shakespeare and His Works


William Shakespeare died nearly 400 years ago, and today he is more famous than ever.
He lived in a very different world, but the characters he created and the stories he told have held people’s attention for the last four centuries.
We know very little about Shakespeare’s life.
He was the third of the eight children of John and Mary Shakespeare.   He was born in 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon. His father was a glove maker who held many local public positions and was quite rich. We can’t be sure, but we think that he attended the local grammar school.

We know that at the age of eighteen he married a twenty-six years old farmer's daughter, Anne Hathaway. They had three children, Susanna and twins, Judith and Hamnet. The boy did not survive, but Anne and the two girls outlived Shakespeare.
Shakespeare left Stratford in 1585. Seven years later he was in London. Nobody knows what happened in this period of time, but in 1592 he was already famous as an actor and playwright. He earned good money doing that, because he bought New Place, one of the biggest houses in Stratford. He returned to live permanently in Stratford in 1610 and he continued to write plays until his retirement in 1614. During his last years he lived as a rich country gentleman.
The most fascinating fact of Shakespeare's life is that during his working years he wrote a lot: 2 plays a year! During that time he also worked as an actor, lived partly in Stratford and partly in London, he was a theatre director, he was co-owner of the Globe Theatre, wrote several important poems and a large number of sonnets, conducted a family life and a social life, and read widely. He was extremely active!

Shakespeare died on his fifty-second birthday, in 1616. We do not know the cause of his death but we know that in his last days he suffered from a fever. Shakespeare was buried on 25th April, 1616, in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford.

Shakespeare's life: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kOHM7DhqTpE
and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pw-J7GbwNV4

The Globe Theatre: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P0SBg-KG4C4,
and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YYfM0RFZ5cs

The Plays

We know of 39 plays by William Shakespeare, including a few collaborations with other playwrights. Shakespeare’s plays are traditionally divided into the three categories: comedies, histories and tragedies.
Some of the most famous historical plays are: Antony and CleopatraJulius Caesar, Richard III and Henry V


Written in 1601, it is set in Denmark, at Elsinore Castle. It is the tragedy of revenge. The ghost of Hamlet’s father appeared and told Hamlet that he was murdered by his brother, Claudius, Hamlet’s uncle. Hamlet was shocked to know this and vowed revenge. Claudius took the throne and married Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, on the same day of his father’s funeral. Hamlet started to behave as if he was mad, and rejected his fiancée, Ophelia.
A group of travelling actors came to Elsinore, and Hamlet wanted to test his uncle’s guilt. He asked the players to perform a scene like the murder of his father, to see Claudius’s reaction. When the moment arrived, Claudius, upset, jumped up and left the theatre. Hamlet was sure that Claudius was guilty.
 Hamlet went to talk to his mother in her bedroom. Polonius, Ophelia’s father, was hidden there to spy on Hamlet. Hearing a noise, Hamlet believed that it was the king. He took his sword and stabbed through a curtain, killing Polonius. 

For this crime, he was immediately sent to England. In a letter, Claudius asked the King of England to kill Hamlet because he was afraid of him.
After her father’s death, and after Hamlet left her, Ophelia went mad with desperation and drowned in a river. 

Her brother Laertes was in a rage. Claudius convinced him that Hamlet was responsible for his father’s and sister’s deaths. Hamlet didn’t arrive to England: he survived to a pirate’s attack to his ship and returned to Denmark. Claudius used Laertes’ desire for revenge to kill Hamlet. Laertes had to fence with Hamlet in an innocent sport, but Claudius decided to poison Laertes’s blade so that Hamlet would die, when wounded. As a second plan, the king also decided to poison a goblet of wine, which Hamlet had to drink in case of victory.
Hamlet returned to Elsinore during Ophelia’s funeral. He was desperate, and he attacked Laertes, who was there. At the castle, the fencing match between Hamlet and Laertes took place. Hamlet was winning: the king offered him wine, but he didn’t want to drink. Instead, Gertrude took a drink from the goblet and was killed by the poison. 

Laertes wounded Hamlet, but Hamlet didn’t die immediately. Laertes was cut by his own sword; he revealed to Hamlet that Claudius was responsible for the queen’s death, then he died from the poison. 

So Hamlet stabbed Claudius with the poisoned sword and forced him to drink down the rest of the wine. 

Claudius died, and Hamlet died too. At this moment, a Norwegian prince named Fortinbras entered with ambassadors from England. He was astonished by the sight of the entire royal family  dead on the floor. 

He took power of the kingdom and ordered that Hamlet should have a funeral as a hero.

Hamlet cartoon: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xVqJNudczhs
and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t0CqUTmwKiM
Hamlet monologue (in Italian): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AwLY2rdoXcQ


Written in 1604, it is set in Venice. It is a play of love and jealousy.
Othello was an African general in the Venetian army. Othello and his young, beautiful and white wife Desdemona were very different — there were differences of race, of age, of cultural background — but they loved each other very much.
Othello upset his friend Iago by passing him over for promotion. Iago sweared revenge: he planted the idea in Othello’s mind that his wife was having a love affair with another man. She was innocent, but Othello trusted Jago, and he became so jealous that he killed Desdemona. 

Only after this terrible fact, Othello came to know that Jago didn’t tell the truth, so he killed Jago and then committed suicide.

Othello cartoon: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bp6LqSgukOU
and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tX2u5ZTyLWA


This is a play full of supernatural apparitions and bloody battles. It is the play of ambition and downfall. It is set in Scotland in the 11th Century.
  Three witches met the great Scottish general Macbeth on his victorious return from a war.  They predicted that one day he would become king.   He decided to murder King Duncan to speed things up. Macbeth's wife, a very ambitious woman too, agreed to his plan. So he murdered Duncan, assisted by his wife, who smeared the blood of the king on the daggers of the sleeping guards. A nobleman called Macduff discovered Duncan’s body. Macbeth killed the guards insisting that their daggers smeared with the king's blood were proof that they committed the murder. The crown passed to Macbeth, but he had to commit other murders to cover up his crime. After killing also his friend Banquo, the bloodied ghost of this nobleman appeared to him. 

Macbeth started to become mad. Lady Macbeth's conscience now began to torture her and she became mad too. She always tried to wash her hands of blood that wasn’t there. The killing of Duncan haunted her until she committed suicide.
At the end, Macduff killed Macbeth and became king.


In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare creates a world of violence and conflict in which two young people fall in love and die because of that love. This play is set in Verona.
Two families, the Montagues and the Capulets, hated each other. A Montague boy, Romeo, fell in love with a Capulet girl, Juliet. The families disapproved this love, so they got married in secret. Romeo killed one of the Capulets in a duel, so he had to go away from Verona. Juliet’s father promised her to another man. The only way in which Juliet could avoid this marriage was to take a potion that apparently killed her. The priest who married them helped her. The plan was to send a message to Romeo and inform him to come and take her away two days later, when she would wake up from the effect of the potion. But Romeo didn’t get the letter. He came to know that Juliet was dead instead. He returned to Verona with a very strong potion and drank it when he saw her in her tomb, killing himself. And when Juliet woke up, she took Romeo’s dagger and committed suicide as well. 

Romeo and Juliet cartoon: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dRrvQ1vZxcg


Some pictures:

Shakespeare's birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon

probable aspect of New Place, Shakespeare's house in Stratford

Shakespeare's grave, Holy Trinity Church, Stratford

The Globe Theatre

the wonderful film about Hamlet by Kenneth Branagh

The film about Othello by Tim Blake Nelson

The film about Macbeth by Geoffery Wright

a modern version of Romeo and Juliet by Baz Luhrmann

Al Pacino is King Lear

William Shakespeare quotes: