Shakespeare, William (15641616)

Shakespeare, William, great world-poet and dramatist, born in Stratford-on-Avon, in Warwickshire; his father, John Shakespeare, a respected burgess; his mother, Mary Arden, the daughter of a well-to-do farmer, through whom the family acquired some property; was at school at Stratford, married Anne Hathaway, a yeoman's daughter, at 18, she eight years older, and had by her three daughters; left for London somewhere between 1585 and 1587, in consequence, it is said, of some deer-stealing frolic; took charge of horses at the theatre door, and by-and-by became an actor. His first work, “Venus and Adonis,” appeared in 1593, and “Lucrece” the year after; became connected with different theatres, and a shareholder in certain of them, in some of which he took part as actor, with the result, in a pecuniary point of view, that he bought a house in his native place, extended it afterwards, where he chiefly resided for the ten years preceding his death. Not much more than this is known of the poet's external history, and what there is contributes nothing towards accounting for either him or the genius revealed in his dramas. Of the man, says Carlyle, “the best judgment not of this country, but of Europe at large, is slowly pointing to the conclusion that he is the chief of all poets hitherto—the greatest intellect, in our recorded world, that has left record of himself in the way of literature. On the whole, I know not such a power of vision, such a faculty of thought, if we take all the characters of it, in any other man—such a calmness of depth, placid, joyous strength, all things in that great soul of his so true and clear, as in a tranquil, unfathomable sea.... It is not a transitory glance of insight that will suffice; it is a deliberate illumination of the whole matter; it is a calmly seeing eye—a great intellect, in short.... It is in delineating of men and things, especially of men, that Shakespeare is great.... The thing he looks at reveals not this or that face, but its inmost heart, its generic secret; it dissolves itself as in light before him, so that he discerns the perfect structure of it.... It is a perfectly level mirror we have here; no twisted, poor convex-concave mirror reflecting all objects with its own convexities and concavities, that is to say, withal a man justly related to all things and men, a good man.... And his intellect is an unconscious intellect; there is more virtue in it than he himself is aware of.... His art is not artifice; the noblest worth of it is not there by plan or pre-contrivance. It grows up from the deeps of Nature, through this noble sincere soul, who is a voice of Nature.... It is Nature's highest reward to a true, simple, great soul that he got thus to be part of herself.” Of his works nothing can or need be said here; enough to add, as Carlyle further says, “His works are so many windows through which we see a glimpse of the world that was in him.... Alas! Shakespeare had to write for the Globe Playhouse; his great soul had to crush itself, as it could, into that and no other mould. It was with him, then, as it is with us all. No man works save under conditions. The sculptor cannot set his own free thought before us, but his thought as he could translate into the stone that was given, with the tools that were given. Disjecta membra are all that we find of any poet, or of any man.” Shakespeare's plays, with the order of their publication, are as follows: “Love's Labour's Lost,” 1590; “Comedy of Errors,” 1591; 1, 2, 3 “Henry VI.,” 1590-1592; “Two Gentlemen of Verona,” 1592-1593; “Midsummer-Night's Dream,” 1593-1594; “Richard III.,” 1593; “Romeo and Juliet,” 1591-1596 (?); “Richard II.,” 1594; “King John,” 1595; “Merchant of Venice,” 1596; 1 and 2 “Henry IV.,” 1597-1598; “Henry V.,” 1599; “Taming of the Shrew,” 1597 (?); “Merry Wives of Windsor,” 1598; “Much Ado about Nothing,” 1598; “As You Like It,” 1599; “Twelfth Night,” 1600-1601; “Julius Cæsar,” 1601; “All's Well,” 1601-1602 (?); “Hamlet,” 1602, “Measure for Measure,” 1603; “Troilus and Cressida,” 1603-1607 (?); “Othello,” 1604; “Lear,” 1605; “Macbeth,” 1606; “Antony and Cleopatra,” 1607; “Coriolanus,” 1608; “Timon,” 1608; “Pericles,” 1608; “Cymbeline,” 1609; “Tempest,” 1610; “Winter's Tale,” 1610-1611; “Henry VIII.,” 1612-1613 (15641616).

Definition taken from The Nuttall Encyclopædia, edited by the Reverend James Wood (1907)

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