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This document’s first episode begins while looking at the London Gate Bridge and London as a whole. The narrator begins by describing William Shakespeare as the greatest author of all time and how we know so little of his life.
Michael Wood (the narrator) begins by walking up an ancient road towards where Shakespeare grew up. He heads into an archive of English history to learn more of Shakespeare from the policed state of England that he grew up in. He describes what he intends to describe, for instance where Shakespeare’s company did its original plays and his summons for grievance and bodily harm.
Shakespeare’s life began in Stratford England, and the tale begins with William Shakespeare’s (son of John and Mary Shakespeare) baptism record in the parish register at Stratford-on-Avon. He had two deceased siblings, and was his parent’s first child to grow to adolescence. He was born in the mid 16th century during religious conflict, when the religion of the nation had changed numerous times by the Tudors whom ruled England. It changed by Henry to Protestant from Catholic, back to Catholic with his daughter Mary and then back to protestant by his next daughter Elizabeth, all in the matter of twelve years. Shakespeare was born at the beginning of Elizabeth’s reign.
The Shakespeare’s were originally country farmers, some of the lingo that Shakespeare used in his plays originated from these beginnings. He was not a peasant, his mother had a long standing family history, and in fact his maternal grandfather was a rich farmer whom had passed away before Elizabeth came to the throne. His family had initially been loyal to the old faith (Catholicism). However, his father was ambitious and thus moved from the country. John Shakespeare was a glove maker with a modern middle class home with the latest in designs. William Shakespeare was raised in a fairly well to do home. John Shakespeare was elected a town counselor when William was one. John Shakespeare was required to maintain Elizabeth’s will and was forced to deface with whitewash the medieval Catholic paintings in their local perish. John was then elected mayor when William was four.
William started school at the age of seven, when over one hundred and sixty new schools were opened. William was taught six days a week, by teachers chosen by the town council in the local school, primarily religion and Latin. He fell in love with the theatre here, and may have partaken in the play Ralph Roister Doister.
John Shakespeare had clients all around England and made a lot of money, not all was legal. John was an illegal wool dealer (brogger); wool was monopolized by the government. He had also done illegal activities in the form of lending money for profit.
William later fell in love with the mystery plays that told old stories from the bible. William used them as inspiration in his own plays.
William went onto a further school at age nine where he was introduced to poetry.
However, at the age of twelve William’s parents began losing their money and John’s business was faltering. First, the government was cracking down on illegal wool dealers and second, John stops going to council meetings possibly due to his religious reasons and withdraws William from school. William was forced to work for his father’s leather business.
Around this time Catholics and Protestants are virtually forced into a figurative battle for the soul of England. Many people were hauled in by Elizabeth, including William’s father John, for natural security. He is eventually released.
At this time, William was eighteen (in 1582) and he fell in love with an older woman named Ann Hathaway who was the daughter of his father’s business partner. He was married to Ann Wately under the name of William Shaxspeare on November 30th 1582 because Ann was pregnant. People often speculate that Ann Hathaway and Ann Wately were different people; however it is believed that it is actually a clerical error. He gained his marriage license on November 27th, 1582. William composed a sonnet for his wedding, a poem addressed to his new wife Ann Hathaway. Ann gave birth five months later to a daughter, Susanna and lived with William’s parents and younger siblings.
Under legend, William apparently later poached a dear that belonged to a local lord. Apparently William was beaten and banned from town. The narrator then gives us another theory as to why William was banished from the town when he was nineteen. On the 26th of October that year, Shakespeare’s cousin Summerville announced that Queen Elizabeth was a heretic and that he planned on murdering her. Elizabeth turned to the local lord whom had William’s mother’s family arrested. William’s cousin, his family, and his relative Edward Ardin (the head of William’s mother’s family) and his family were sentenced to death.
Episode two begins by analyzing Shakespeare’s lost ten years in which little information is known. The current theory is that William changed his name to William Shakeshaft and found a job in Lancasier. It is theorized based on the word of one of the actors of Shakespeare’s playhouse whom said that Shakespeare once worked as a teacher in the country that William may have taught in Lancasier.
It is known that William was in Stratford-upon-Avon on February 2nd, 1585 when his twins were baptized, Hamlet and Judith which were named after their catholic god parents. He was the main source of income for the family and he lived in a small house with his wife, children, siblings and parents. On September 6th 1586, John Shakespeare is removed as an alderman of the town for no longer attending the sessions.
In the summer of 1587, good news came to William. The queen’s royal company came to Stratford-upon-Avon for political and propaganda purposes. Two of the actors, William Nell and John Town, got into an argument in which William Nell attempted to kill John Town. Instead Town stabbed him in apparent self defense and Nell passed away. So the company was one man short and missing a young male actor. It is believed that William Shakespeare joined the Queen’s men (company) at this point and left his family.
After the war with the Spanish armada, William comes to London with the Queen’s men. At this point, he breaks off to become a writer. He lived in a middle class section of town. His company first performed at the first amphitheatre ever built. At this point, a theatre revolution was underway, lead by the University educated Christopher Marlowe who is believed to have been “gay, hip, iconoclastic”.
William’s first play was the tragedy Titus Andronicus.
Meanwhile, Marlowe had been hired as a spy. He was not secretive. Marlowe spoke of joining the Catholic side and counterfeited money.
On March 3rd, 1592 Harry the sixth was Shakespeare’s first “boxoffice” number one. This is when he becomes bigger than Marlowe. Shakespeare however received a bad review for being an uneducated play write, rather than a “university wit”.
However, in early 1593 many play writes and printers were executed or tortured for treason or heresy. Marlow himself was murdered, it was claimed to have been in self defense according to three witnesses. Shakespeare however did not believe it. It was shortly after this that Shakespeare added to his trilogy in the form of Richard III.
The next episode entitled The Duty of Poets begins by claiming that the stage was dominated for the next twenty years by Shakespeare. The question for the narrator was what made him the most popular play write of the time, rather than the other young play writes of the time?
In 1593 plague strikes the streets of London and the play houses are closed. At this time, Shakespeare’s distant cousin whom was loyal to Catholicism writes the new manifesto of English poetry which was a challenge to Shakespeare. This challenge states that poetry is not for the purpose of love or entertainment, but rather to glorify God. Shakespeare had no interest in this, however when the plague struck he was forced to seek other forms of income. He seeks employment as a published author of a poem Venos and Adonis which became a best seller. This poem did not focus on God, but rather on love. This poem was dedicated to Henry Earl of Southampton in order to gain money and prestige.
In 1594, Shakespeare began a new acting company. His cousin whom had written for him the challenge of writing for God was killed shortly after for being a supporter of Catholicism. It is said that his friends visited Queen Elizabeth after his death and gave her a book as a gift, inside of it contained his letter to Shakespeare. It apparently moved the queen and struck her to grief.
Shortly after this incident, Shakespeare wrote his first great Tragedy, Romeo and Juliet.
Shortly thereafter, Hamlet, Shakespeare’s only son, died at the age of eleven. Shakespeare underwent a period of grief, but bought the second largest house in Stratford-upon-Avon, but it was in disarray. He also applied for a coat of arms for his father, in order to make his father a gentleman. It is believed these acts were a form of apology for not being there when his family needed him the most. His father’s coat of arms was approved and William became a gentleman. William is also known to have written numerous sonnets for a boy, it is widely debated but it is believed that they are autobiographical and about his own son. Sonnet 33 clearly emphasizes this.
In 1597 the theaters, under the direction of the government for sedition, were closed. William was also under penalty of the government because of tax evasion. Later in that year he is in trouble for threatening mutilation and murder because he got into the middle of battles between landlords.
In this time of darkness for William, he fell in love with a dark skinned musical married woman while he was still married to Ann. She became his mistress and she wrote of her in sonnets, such as sonnet 128. She is believed to have been a dark skinned Venetian Jew by the name of Amelia. He writes in his sonnets that he was struck with grief and desire; however despite this painful time in his life he wrote three new plays and numerous poems.
In 1598, Shakespeare moved his theatre and company to the Southbank. It was called The Globe and opened in 1599. In 1600, the Earl of Essex was aware of the power of the theatre. He wished to overtake the queen, and requested Shakespeare to perform Richard II with a very dangerous scene on the overthrowing of the King. Unfortunately for Essex he spent too much time picking a clean shirt and thus was late for his own event. His revolt failed, and he and his men were arrested. Shakespeare’s company was interrogated at this time. None were punished; however they were commanded to perform Richard II before her as they had on their own stage.
To add to all of this, the war of the poets was to begin. Shakespeare was now at war with a new style of theatre, a theatre performed strictly by boys. Shakespeare’s response to these plays was Twelfth Night. In Hamlet, Shakespeare makes a snide comment about the boy’s theatre. Hamlet became the next big thing, and won the War of the Poets.
To add to the controversy, Shakespeare wrote Othello, which is believed to been about race. Shakespeare was well aware that both black and white people intermarrying, and wrote of one of these relationships in Othello. He makes his black male Othello into his tragic hero.
In the final episode, entitled For All Time, the tale of Shakespeare continues in 1603. In March 1603 Elizabeth dies. She was childless and without an heir, so the throne went to her half sister’s son whom united Great Britain, King James. King James appreciated poets and play writes, and thus Shakespeare was placed on the royal payroll. Shakespeare found himself in a public role during the coronation of King James. William was one of the ushers of the canopy; however he wrote in his sonnets that this was merely a gesture and not meaning anything.
To add, Shakespeare and his band of King’s men were required to entertain the King for two weeks straight during every Christmas.
In response for a plot to kill the royal family, Shakespeare wrote a play called Macbeth. Theatres were further censored and plays rewritten to have no further obscenities.
A year after the terrorist plot, the government required all catholics to undergo protistent communion or else face heavy fines, for which Shakespeare’s twenty-three-year-old daught Susanna faced. Shakespeare at this time wrote the play King Lear in response to a king that destroys his own kingdom through unethical and vein actions to strike cord with King Richard.
The next year Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna married a protestant doctor after falling in love with him. Shakespeare then became a grandfather. His son-in-law was a fairly open minded man whom treated anyone who needed treating, and was a modest protestant. The day after Susanna’s wedding, an uprising of the Diggers occurred to argue with their land being taken by rich land owners. They were struck down; however, Shakespeare used their movement as an underlying theme in his next play. To add, Shakespeare’s company opened a second theatre in London.
Shakespeare began to consistently communicate with scientists and philosophers. It is believed that he was told a story of a shipwreck and he turned this story into his final solo play, The Tempest. This play is believed to contain autobiographical elements, and is about a man with supernatural powers that strikes at his enemies, but later forgives them and his daughter marries the son of his enemy. This could suggest that Shakespeare returned to Stratford-upon-Avon. The next spring it is known that he returned to his wife Ann back in Stratford-upon-Avon.
In 1613, Shakespeare buys a large house in London which was once a safe haven for the Catholic underground. He continues to write with a coauthor, and wrote Henry VIII (All is True). The Globe theatre was burnt down accidently during a performance of Henry VIII (All is True) in 1614, it is believed that Shakespeare then left the theatre business and sold his share in the company to return to his wife in Stratford-upon-Avon.
At the age of 51 in 1616 Shakespeare became ill and passed away. The legend goes that he died of a fever after a drunken fit with friends. He died on April 23rd, 1616. It is speculated from his will that he didn’t love his wife as he gave her nothing but a bed, however, it is speculated that this was not a sign of a lack of love. Most was left to his eldest daughter Susanna.
Response to In Search of Shakespeare
This documentary was a touching and informing tribute to Shakespeare. I felt this documentary focused on what we know about Shakespeare, and while there was a fair amount of speculation, the speculations were not extreme nor were they far stretched such as to suggest that Shakespeare did not write his own plays.
I learnt much of Shakespeare’s life. I did not know that Shakespeare had been a poor young man, uneducated beyond the age of twelve, and married as a teenager. I had always thought Shakespeare to be an eternal romantic, giving wondrous gifts and love to the woman that he fancied. However, despite being a fantastic author of romance, he seemed to lack romance in his life beyond his twenties and the elicit affair he had with a married woman. While we do not know how much time he spent with his wife Ann Hathaway, I was shocked to learn that he had lived apart from her for so many years.
I found the history of Shakespeare’s plays, including those that we studied in this course, interesting. I had not fully realized that plays such as Twelfth Night, Hamlet, King Lear, and Henry VIII were written with motives. I have a new respect for the craftiness of Shakespeare, managing political satire as well as forthright claims against and warnings for the different monarchs of his time. He managed to escape religious persecution, which seemed again to result from his cunning mind.
What I found most interesting about this documentary is that is interwove Shakespeare into the fabric of the Elizabethan times. Rather than just focus on Shakespeare’s biography, it gave foundation information about the times that goes beyond Shakespeare. I learnt much of Elizabeth’s times and religious insecurities, and King James turn from the liberal new age king to another king of religious persecution.
I believe that Shakespeare’s death was premature. After finding much about his life, it saddens me that he died so soon after retiring and returning to his wife and family. While maybe his love for his wife was not strong, which is purely speculation, I am a true romantic in that I had hoped he would return and live out a fulfilling long life with his wife. However, I do not believe he lived long enough to truly see the impact of his words and in this I believe the world lost its greatest author of all history.
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