ESSAY ON WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

 

INTRODUCTION : Little is known definitely about Shakespeare, one of the greatest names in the dramatic literature of all times. So far as his biography is concerned, everything seems to have been shrouded in a mystery. There is hardly any clear fact given about his childhood, his school life and what occupation he did . In fact, people are more or less in an atmosphere of guess work about his life and activity. Nothing more than a probable account can be constructed about his life story out of some occasional flashes of history here and there. There is, however, no controversy about the uniqueness of his creative art – of his plays and poems.

ESSAY ON WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE :

LIFE : From the register of the little parish church at Stratford – on – Avon we learn that William Shakespeare was baptized there on the twenty sixth of April, 1564.As it was customary to baptize children on the third day after birth, the twenty third of April is generally accepted as the poet’s birthday. His father, John Shakespeare, was a farmer’s son from the neighbouring village of Snitterfield, who came to Stratford about 1551. His mother Mary Arden, was the daughter of a prosperous farmer descended from an old Warwickshire family of mixed Anglo Saxon and Anglo Norman blood.

Much is not known about Shakespeare’s education, except that for a few years he probably attended the endowed grammar school at Stratford. Stratford is a charming little village in beautiful Warwickshire, and near it were the Forest of Arden, the old castles of Warwick and Kenilworth, and the old Roman camps and military roads, which appealed powerfully to the boy’s lively imagination. Every aspect of the natural beauty if this exquisite region is reflected in Shakespeare’s poetry.

It was when Shakespeare was approximately of fourteen years of age his father lost his little property and fell into debt, and it is supposed the boy Shakespeare left school to help support his family of younger children. It is a matter of speculation that what occupation he followed for the next eight years of his life. According to William J. Long, it can be concluded from some strong evidence found in his plays, that he was a country school master and a lawyer’s clerk. The character of Holofernes, in Love’s Labour’s Lost, supplies with sufficient proof for  one, and for the other Shakespeare’s knowledge of law terms is hold sufficient for warranty. But now if such characters from his plays are considered as evidence, then Shakespeare must have been a botanist, because of his knowledge of wild flowers; a sailor, because of his extraordinary facility in quips and compliments and courtly language; a clown, because no one else is so dull and foolish; even a king, since Henry and Richard are very true to life; a womanbecause he has sounded the depths of a woman’s feelings; and surely a Roman, because in Coriolanus and Julius Caesarhe has shown us the Roman spiritbetter than have the Roman writers themselves. Shakespeare was everything, in his imagination, and to form a clear opinion about his early occupation  from a study of his scenes and characters is impossible.

Shakespeare tied into the nuptial bond with Anne Hathaway in the year 1582. She was eight years older than Shakespeare, who was a mere boy then. From a number of sardonic references to marriage made by the characters in his plays, and also from the fact that he soon left his wife and family and went to London, it is generally alleged that the marriage was a hasty and unhappy one; but here again the evidence is entirety untrustworthy.

Shakespeare passed away probably  on the anniversary of his birth, April 23, 1616. He was given a tomb in the chancel of the parish church, not because in his preeminence in literature, but because of his interest in the affairs of a country village.

WORKS :  A careful reading of the plays and poems leaves us with an impression of four different periods of work, probably corresponding with the growth and experience of the poet’s life.

THE FIRST PERIOD (1588 – 1595) : A PERIOD OF EARLY EXPERIMENTATION.

During this period, Shakespeare with his youthful exuberance, tried his hand at every form of dramatic literature – history, comedy, or tragedy. To this period belong the Henry VI plays, written in collaboration with another playwright;Richard ll and Richard lll, both inspired by Marlowe;Titus Andronicus, “a rather rickety undergraduate effort”;  A Comedy of Errors, which can be termed  rather  as a farce comedy; Love’s Labour’s  Lost, which is a boisterous farce; Two Gentlemen of Verona, is again a comedy of manners, and here Shakespeare for the first time shows that he had begun to master the  stratagem of showmanship. The only tragedy Titus Andronicus of this period has been characterized as “essentially a young man’s tragedy”; more wordy than thoughtful, and inspire of its strong lyrical beauty, altogether lacking the breadth of vision and profundity of thought of his later tragedies.

THE SECOND PERIOD (1595 – 1601) : A PERIOD OF RAPID GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT.

This is a period marked by the absence of tragedy, and is therefore often called the ‘Comic Period’. To this period belongs his greatest comedies and historical plays. The Taming of the Shrew, and The Merry Wives of Cast, are no doubt in the early farcical vein, bear the unmistakable impression of a maturer hand. To this period also belongsA Midsummer Night’s Dream, which is “one of the most charming exercises of imagination, ever visualized on the stage. On a higher plane of wit rests Much Ado About Nothing, while in As You Like It and Twelfth Night humour and romance blend in perfect proportion. The Merchant of Venice, inspite of its puerile story, is a tragicomedy, that stands apart from Shakespeare’s other plays. King John is the first of the historical plays that shows that Shakespeare is no longer under the tutelage of the earlier masters but now has found himself. Of the other historical plays of this period, the Henry IV plays are lively with his sense of humour and psychological power.  Henry V however is a more showy one. Shakespeare’s poems Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucree are also attributed  to this period.

THE THIRD PERIOD (1601 – 1608) : A PERIOD OF GLOOM AND DEPRESSION.

This is preeminently the tragic period. Even the comedies of this period, such as All’s Well that Ends Well, Troillus and Cressida, and Measure for Measure, though rich in poverty, are tragedies set in a key of forced comedy. All the four great tragedies – Hamlet, Othello, King Lear and Macbeth – besides the Roman play, Julius Caesar (also a tragedy), and the other lesser tragedy, Timon of Athens, belong to this period. It is in this period that Shakespeare is seen at the height of his dramatic power.

THE FOURTH PERIOD (1608 – 1612) : A PERIOD OF RESTORED SERENITY AND CALM.

Though the last period opens with tragedy in Antony and Cleopatra, which is followed by Coriolanus, another tragedy, they are not generally taken to be the representative productions of this period.Coriolanus is definitely inferior in quality , while Antony and Cleopatra, though quite mature in the point of characterization, is weaker in the dramatic power. Perhaps, these weaker pieces show that Shakespeare was recovering his benignity before his death. A new mood of optimism, of satisfaction in the fact and sight of young and tender love comes into  Pericles and continues through Cymbeline, A Winter’s Tale and The Tempest. The only real historical play of this period, Henry Vlll, is, perhaps, Shakespearean only in parts.

Shakespeare’s immortal Sonnets, though written long before at different times, were published in 1609.

SHAKESPEARE’S DRAMATIC GENIUS : Shakespeare’s masterly drawn situations life – like characters and enchanting poetry capture all hearts, old and young. His plays have stood the test of time. More than three hundred years have passed since the death of their author but they have still remained the dearest friends to men. As the wonderful creations of great art, they have retained their appeal to all ages and all people.

The universality of Shakespeare’s appeal remarkably comes out in his power of characterization. The secret of the human heart is nowhere studied with so much sincerity and accuracy. With a wonderful mastery, he has revealed the dark corridors of the human mind. He has given life to characters, that have stood the wreck of time and has become immortal.

The charm of his poetry is irresistible. Feelings are aroused and thoughts suppliedby the exquisite melody of his lines. And there is his blank verse. Perhaps, no one, except Milton, has ever been able to bend the bow of blank verse in a more effective and harmonising manner.

The literary genius of Shakespeare, still seems to be a great riddle. It is so vast, comprehensive and profound that nothing has yet been exactly scrutinized and analyzed about it. In fact, the secret, of his dramatic genius is still a mystery unsolved. Yet, this mysterious greatness of Shakespeare has stood as an imperishable beauty in the world of art. Indeed age can not wear out nor customs stale his infinite variety.

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