Shakespeare background

The Man That Would Be
 1564-1616
 Stratford-on-Avon,
 He wrote 37 plays &
154 sonnets
 He started out as an actor
Background of the Bard
Born April, 1564 in Stratford on Avon
Parents John & Mary Shakespeare
Educated at Stratford Grammar School
Learned business as an apprentice for his father
Married Anne Hathaway November 28, 1582
She was 8 years his senior and 3 months pregnant
when they married
Well-known Facts about Will
• Great writer of England
• Plays translated into all
languages, musicals,
• Born Stratford-uponAvon
• Well-to-do, affluent
while alive
• Most quoted, other than
the Bible
Lesser-known Facts
• Teen father: married
pregnant 26 year old
Anne Hathaway when
he was 18
• Deadbeat dad: Left wife
and children for London
stage career
• Father of twins
• Elizabethan rapper:
uses rhythm and rhyme
• “Plagiarism” ?
Queen Elizabeth I –
( 1558-1603 )
 Ruled England for 45 years.
 Nicknamed “the Virgin Queen”
and produced no heir to the throne
 Restored Protestantism and formalized the
Church of England
 During her reign, the economy was weakened by
inflation, food shortages, and high rent.
 Outbreak of the black plague, food riots,
Catholic conspiracies, threats of invasion, etc.
 During the Elizabethan Period, hundreds of
people were convicted as witches and executed
King James I – ( 1603-1628 )
 Renamed Shakespeare’’s acting troupe “The
King’s Men”
 Believed in the supernatural and interested in
 Religious and believed in the existence of
supernatural evil
 Commissioned a translation of the bible from
Latin to English
 Published a book about witchcraft called
“Demonologie“ in 1597
The Renaissance
• 1500-1650
• “Rebirth” of arts,
culture, science
• Discovery of “New
• Copernicus: Suncentered Universe
• King Henry VIII =
renaissance man (ideal)
• Reformation of Catholic
 Witches and witchcraft were a morbid fascination
 Between 1560-1603, hundreds of people (nearly all
women) were convicted as witches and executed
 Witches could predict the future, bring on daytime
and nighttime, cause fogs and storms, and change
into animals
 If convicted, people would be subjected to torture
and death by hanging or burning at the stake
 King James I was fascinated by witchcraft
 Signs of possession were: trance, change of
appearance, inability to pray, visions, disturbed
behavior, lack of fear, indifference to life, and
invitations to evil spirits to possess one’s body.
 Shakespeare’s audience were religious Christians
who believed in heaven and hell
Conditions in London-BAD!
• Thames River
polluted with raw
• Trees used up for
• Poverty
Personal hygiene/health
Bathing considered dangerous
Body odor strong
Childhood diseases
Children often died before 5 years
Small Pox
Bubonic Plague
Living Conditions
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• No running
• Chamber Pots
• Open Sewers
• Crowded
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• One set used all
year long, rarely
• Underclothing slept
in, infrequently
• Clothes handed
down from rich to
When in a play...
 Only men were permitted
to perform
 Boys or effeminate men
were used to play the
 Costumes were often the
company’s most valuable
 Costumes were made by
the company, bought in
London, or donated by
Staging Areas
 Stage -- platform that extended into
the pit
 Dressing & storage rooms in galleries
behind & above stage
 Second-level gallery & upper stage --
famous balcony scene in R & J
 Trap door -ghosts
 “Heavens”- angelic beings
English Theater
Plays were most often performed in
outdoor theaters
Performances took place during the
day so that the stage would be
illuminated by natural light
The Globe Theater
 Built in 1599
 The most magnificent theater in London
 Shakespeare was 1/5 owner
 He earned 10% of the total profit,
approximately £200-250 a year
 The Bard retired to Stratford and lived on
the profits he earned from the Globe
June 19, 1613 the Globe burned to the
ground during a performance of Henry VIII
The Globe Theater –
 Many of Shakespeare’s plays were performed
 The stage was a large, rectangle that jutted out
into the yard
 Held 2,000-3,000 people tightly packed
 An open playhouse with a wooden structure
three stories high
 It was shaped like a 16 sided polygon
 General admission = 1 Penny entitled a
spectator to be a “groundling”-someone who
could stand in the yard.
 More expensive seats were in the roofed
galleries and most expensive seats were chairs
set right on the stage along its two sides
 Rebuilt in 1900’s
 Aristocrats
 The Queen/King
 The Groundlings!
 Only men and boys allowed onstage
 Young boys whose voices had not
changed play women’s roles
 It would have been considered indecent
for a woman to appear on stage
 No scenery
 Settings > references in dialogue
 Elaborate costumes
 Plenty of props
 Fast-paced, colorful>2 hours!
 Wealthy got benches
 “Groundlings”>poorer people stood
and watched from the courtyard (“pit”)
 All but wealthy were
 Much more interaction than today
The Cost of a Show
 1 shilling to stand
 2 shillings to sit in the
 1 shilling was 10% of
their weekly income
 Broadway Today:
$85 Orchestra
$60 Balcony
10% of a teacher’s
weekly salary
The Plays
 Early plays, 1590’s, were mainly comedy
Comedy (and this could be extended to most
of Shakespeare's history plays as well) is
social--leading to a happy resolution (usually
a marriage or marriages) and social
 Shakespeare began to focus on
tragedy/dramatic themes in the early 1600’s
Tragedy is individual, concentrating on the
suffering of a single, remarkable hero-leading to individual torment, waste and
1608 marks a change in tone from tragedy to
romance, light, magic, and reconciliation
Comedy of Errors 1592
The Taming of the Shrew 1592-94
Love's Labor's Lost 1594-95
Two Gentlemen of Verona 1594-95
A Midsummer Night's Dream 1595-96
The Merchant of Venice 1596-97
Much Ado About Nothing 1598-99
As You Like It 1599-1600
Twelfth Night 1599-1600
Merry Wives of Windsor 1601-02
Troilus and Cressida 1601-02
All's Well That Ends Well 1602-03
Measure for Measure 1604-05
Titus Andronicus 1593-94
Romeo and Juliet 1594-95
Hamlet 1600-01
Othello 1604-05
The Tragedy of King Lear 1605-06
Macbeth 1605-06
Timon of Athens 1607-(?)
Cymbeline 1609-10
The Winter's Tale 1610-11
Tempest 1611-12
Henry VI parts I, II, III 1590-92
Richard III 1590-92
King John 1594-96
Richard II 1597-(?)
King Henry IV part I, part II 1597-98
Henry V (1599) 1598-99
Julius Caesar 1599-1600
Henry VIII 1613-(?)
Antony and Cleopatra 1606-07
Coriolanus 1607-08
Aristotle’s Definition of trAgeDy
A man of high standard who falls from that
high because of a tragic flaw that has affected
***Macbeth is one of the most famous examples of
the tragic hero.
 Ordinary writing that is not poetry,
drama, or song
 Only characters in the lower social
classes speak this way in Shakespeare’s
 Why do you suppose that is?
Did people really talk this way?
Prose- language without metrical structure
Verse- poetic language and style
Blank Verse: unrhymed iambic pentameter.
Iambic Pentameter: five beats of alternating
unstressed and stressed syllables; ten syllables per
'So fair / and foul / a day / I have / not seen'
Shakespeare will be some of the most difficult
reading you will ever attempt. BE PATIENT!
Middle English vs. Modern English
Reading Tips
1. Read the Introduction
2. Read everything twice
3. First time- try reading without looking at footnotes, mark any
interesting or difficult items
4. Try reading aloud
5. Look up words you don’t know
6. Keep a list of characters
 Set in Scotland
 Written for King James I
(formerly of Scotland, now
 Queen of Denmark
(James’s sister) was visiting
 Shakespeare researched
The Chronicles –
Banquo is an ancestor of
King James I
“The Scottish Play”
 It is believed to be bad luck to even squeak the word
‘Macbeth’ in a theatre
 Legend has it you will lose all your friends involved in
the production—horribly.
 Since 1606, hundreds of actors, stage crew, etc. have
been hurt or have died during the production of this
 It is believed that Shakespeare included black magic
spells in the incantations of the weird sisters.
 People refer to this play as “the Scottish Play”
 The only remedy to get rid of this curse is that the
offender must step outside, turn around three times,
spit, and whisper a foul word, and wait for permission
to re-enter the theater.