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Some of Shakespeare's plays were published in quarto editions from 1594. By 1598, his name had become a selling point and began to appear on the title pages.[37] Shakespeare continued to act in his own and other plays after his success as a playwright. Sony VGN-CS23H/B Battery

The 1616 edition of Ben Jonson's Works names him on the cast lists for Every Man in His Humour(1598) and Sejanus His Fall (1603).[38] The absence of his name from the 1605 cast list for Jonson’s Volpone is taken by some scholars as a sign that his acting career was nearing its end.[39] Sony VGN-CS23H/S Battery

The First Folio of 1623, however, lists Shakespeare as one of "the Principal Actors in all these Plays", some of which were first staged after Volpone, although we cannot know for certain which roles he played.[40] In 1610, Sony VGN-CS23H Battery

 John Davies of Hereford wrote that "good Will" played "kingly" roles.[41] In 1709, Rowe passed down a tradition that Shakespeare played the ghost of Hamlet's father.[42] Later traditions maintain that he also played Adam in As You Like It and the Chorus in Henry V,[43] though scholars doubt the sources of the information.[44]Sony VGN-CS23T/Q Battery


Shakespeare divided his time between London and Stratford during his career. In 1596, the year before he bought New Place as his family home in Stratford, Shakespeare was living in the parish of St. Helen's, Bishopsgate, north of the River Thames.[45] Sony VGN-CS23T/W Battery

He moved across the river to Southwark by 1599, the year his company constructed the Globe Theatre there.[46] By 1604, he had moved north of the river again, to an area north of St Paul's Cathedral with many fine houses. There he rented rooms from a French Huguenotcalled Christopher Mountjoy, a maker of ladies' wigs and other headgear.[47]Sony VGN-CS25H/C Battery


Rowe was the first biographer to pass down the tradition that Shakespeare retired to Stratford some years before his death;[48] but retirement from all work was uncommon at that time,[49] and Shakespeare continued to visit London.[48] Sony VGN-CS25H/P Battery

In 1612 he was called as a witness in a court case concerning the marriage settlement of Mountjoy's daughter, Mary.[50] In March 1613 he bought a gatehouse in the former Blackfriars priory;[51] and from November 1614 he was in London for several weeks with his son-in-law, John Hall.[52]Sony VGN-CS25H/Q Battery

After 1606–1607, Shakespeare wrote fewer plays, and none are attributed to him after 1613.[53] His last three plays were collaborations, probably with John Fletcher,[54] who succeeded him as the house playwright for the King’s Men.[55]Sony VGN-CS25H/R Battery


Shakespeare died on 23 April 1616[56] and was survived by his wife and two daughters. Susanna had married a physician, John Hall, in 1607,[57] and Judith had married Thomas Quiney, a vintner, two months before Shakespeare’s death.[58]Sony VGN-CS25H/W Battery


In his will, Shakespeare left the bulk of his large estate to his elder daughter Susanna.[59]The terms instructed that she pass it down intact to "the first son of her body".[60] The Quineys had three children, all of whom died without marrying.[61] Sony VGN-CS25H Battery

The Halls had one child, Elizabeth, who married twice but died without children in 1670, ending Shakespeare’s direct line.[62] Shakespeare's will scarcely mentions his wife, Anne, who was probably entitled to one third of his estate automatically.[63Sony VGN-CS260DQ Battery

] He did make a point, however, of leaving her "my second best bed", a bequest that has led to much speculation.[64] Some scholars see the bequest as an insult to Anne, whereas others believe that the second-best bed would have been the matrimonial bed and therefore rich in significance.[65]Sony VGN-CS260DW Battery


Shakespeare was buried in the chancel of the Holy Trinity Church two days after his death.[66] The epitaph carved into the stone slab covering his grave includes a curseagainst moving his bones, which was carefully avoided during restoration of the church in 2008:[67]Sony VGN-CS26GW Battery


Sometime before 1623, a funerary monument was erected in his memory on the north wall, with a half-effigy of him in the act of writing. Its plaque compares him to Nestor,Socrates, and Virgil.[69] In 1623, in conjunction with the publication of the First Folio, theDroeshout engraving was published.[70]Sony VGN-CS26T/C Battery

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Shakespeare has been commemorated in many statues and memorials around the world, including funeral monuments in Southwark Cathedral and Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey. Sony VGN-CS26T/Q Battery



Most playwrights of the period typically collaborated with others at some point, and critics agree that Shakespeare did the same, mostly early and late in his career.[71] Some attributions, such as Titus Andronicus and the early history plays, remain controversial, Sony VGN-CS26T/R Battery

while The Two Noble Kinsmen and the lost Cardenio have well-attested contemporary documentation. Textual evidence also supports the view that several of the plays were revised by other writers after their original composition. Sony VGN-CS26T/T Battery


The first recorded works of Shakespeare are Richard III and the three parts of Henry VI, written in the early 1590s during a vogue for historical drama. Shakespeare's plays are difficult to date, however,[72] and studies of the texts suggest that Titus AndronicusThe Comedy of Errors, Sony VGN-CS26T/V Battery

 The Taming of the Shrew and The Two Gentlemen of Verona may also belong to Shakespeare’s earliest period.[73] His first histories, which draw heavily on the 1587 edition of Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland,[74]Sony VGN-CS26T/W Battery

dramatise the destructive results of weak or corrupt rule and have been interpreted as a justification for the origins of the Tudor dynasty.[75] The early plays were influenced by the works of other Elizabethan dramatists, especially Thomas Kyd and Christopher Marlowe, Sony VGN-CS27/C Battery

 by the traditions of medieval drama, and by the plays of Seneca.[76] The Comedy of Errorswas also based on classical models, but no source for The Taming of the Shrew has been found, though it is related to a separate play of the same name and may have derived from a folk story.[77Sony VGN-CS27/P Battery

] Like The Two Gentlemen of Verona, in which two friends appear to approve of rape,[78] the Shrew's story of the taming of a woman's independent spirit by a man sometimes troubles modern critics and directors.[79]Sony VGN-CS27/R Battery


Shakespeare's early classical and Italianate comedies, containing tight double plots and precise comic sequences, give way in the mid-1590s to the romantic atmosphere of his greatest comedies.[80] A Midsummer Night's Dream is a witty mixture of romance, fairy magic, Sony VGN-CS27/W Battery

and comic lowlife scenes.[81] Shakespeare's next comedy, the equally romanticMerchant of Venice, contains a portrayal of the vengeful Jewish moneylender Shylock, which reflects Elizabethan views but may appear derogatory to modern audiences.[82] Sony VGN-CS27 Battery

The wit and wordplay of Much Ado About Nothing,[83] the charming rural setting of As You Like It, and the lively merrymaking of Twelfth Night complete Shakespeare's sequence of great comedies.[84] After the lyrical Richard II, written almost entirely in verse, Sony VGN-CS28/Q Battery

Shakespeare introduced prose comedy into the histories of the late 1590s, Henry IV, parts 1 and 2, andHenry V. His characters become more complex and tender as he switches deftly between comic and serious scenes, prose and poetry, and achieves the narrative variety of his mature work.[85] This period begins and ends with two tragedies: Romeo and Juliet, Sony VGN-CS28 Battery

the famous romantic tragedy of sexually charged adolescence, love, and death;[86] and Julius Caesar—based on Sir Thomas North's 1579 translation of Plutarch's Parallel Lives—which introduced a new kind of drama.[87] According to Shakespearean scholar James Shapiro, in Julius Caesar "the various strands of politics, character, inwardness, contemporary events, even Shakespeare's own reflections on the act of writing, began to infuse each other".[88]Sony VGN-CS280J/R Battery


In the early 17th century, Shakespeare wrote the so-called "problem plays" Measure for MeasureTroilus and Cressida, and All's Well That Ends Well and a number of his best known tragedies.[89] Many critics believe that Shakespeare's greatest tragedies represent the peak of his art. Sony VGN-CS290JDB Battery

The titular hero of one of Shakespeare's most famous tragedies,Hamlet, has probably been discussed more than any other Shakespearean character, especially for his famous soliloquy "To be or not to be; that is the question".[90]Sony VGN-CS290JEC Battery

 Unlike the introverted Hamlet, whose fatal flaw is hesitation, the heroes of the tragedies that followed, Othello and King Lear, are undone by hasty errors of judgement.[91] The plots of Shakespeare's tragedies often hinge on such fatal errors or flaws, Sony VGN-CS290JEP Battery

which overturn order and destroy the hero and those he loves.[92] In Othello, the villain Iago stokes Othello's sexual jealousy to the point where he murders the innocent wife who loves him.[93] In King Lear, the old king commits the tragic error of giving up his powers, Sony VGN-CS290JEQ Battery

initiating the events which lead to the torture and blinding of the Earl of Gloucester and the murder of Lear's youngest daughter Cordelia. According to the critic Frank Kermode, "the play offers neither its good characters nor its audience any relief from its cruelty".[94]Sony VGN-CS290JER Battery

 In Macbeth, the shortest and most compressed of Shakespeare's tragedies,[95] uncontrollable ambition incites Macbeth and his wife, Lady Macbeth, to murder the rightful king and usurp the throne, until their own guilt destroys them in turn.[96] Sony VGN-CS290JEW Battery

In this play, Shakespeare adds a supernatural element to the tragic structure. His last major tragedies, Antony and Cleopatra andCoriolanus, contain some of Shakespeare's finest poetry and were considered his most successful tragedies by the poet and critic T. S. Eliot.[97]Sony VGN-CS290NCB Battery

In his final period, Shakespeare turned to romance or tragicomedy and completed three more major plays: CymbelineThe Winter's Tale and The Tempest, as well as the collaboration, Pericles, Prince of Tyre. Less bleak than the tragedies, these four plays are graver in tone than the comedies of the 1590s, Sony VGN-CS290NFB Battery

but they end with reconciliation and the forgiveness of potentially tragic errors.[98] Some commentators have seen this change in mood as evidence of a more serene view of life on Shakespeare's part, but it may merely reflect the theatrical fashion of the day.[99] Shakespeare collaborated on two further surviving plays, Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen, probably with John Fletcher.[100]Sony VGN-CS2CN1 Battery


It is not clear for which companies Shakespeare wrote his early plays. The title page of the 1594 edition of Titus Andronicus reveals that the play had been acted by three different troupes.[101] After the plagues of 1592–3, Shakespeare's plays were performed by his own company at The Theatre and the Curtain in Shoreditch, north of the Thames.[102]Sony VGN-CS31S/P Battery

Londoners flocked there to see the first part of Henry IV, Leonard Digges recording, "Let but Falstaff come, Hal, Poins, the rest...and you scarce shall have a room".[103] When the company found themselves in dispute with their landlord, they pulled The Theatre down and used the timbers to construct the Globe Theatre, Sony VGN-CS31S/R Battery

the first playhouse built by actors for actors, on the south bank of the Thames at Southwark.[104] The Globe opened in autumn 1599, with Julius Caesar one of the first plays staged. Most of Shakespeare's greatest post-1599 plays were written for the Globe, including HamletOthello and King Lear.[105]Sony VGN-CS31S/T Battery


After the Lord Chamberlain's Men were renamed the King's Men in 1603, they entered a special relationship with the new King James. Although the performance records are patchy, the King's Men performed seven of Shakespeare's plays at court between 1 November 1604 and 31 October 1605, including two performances of The Merchant of Venice.[106] Sony VGN-CS31S/V Battery

After 1608, they performed at the indoor Blackfriars Theatre during the winter and the Globe during the summer.[107] The indoor setting, combined with the Jacobeanfashion for lavishly staged masques, allowed Shakespeare to introduce more elaborate stage devices. In Cymbeline, for example, Jupiter descends "in thunder and lightning, sitting upon an eagle: he throws a thunderbolt. The ghosts fall on their knees."[108]Sony VGN-CS31S/W Battery


The actors in Shakespeare's company included the famous Richard Burbage, William Kempe, Henry Condell and John Heminges. Burbage played the leading role in the first performances of many of Shakespeare's plays, Sony VGN-CS31Z/Q Battery

including Richard IIIHamletOthello, andKing Lear.[109] The popular comic actor Will Kempe played the servant Peter in Romeo and Juliet and Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing, among other characters.[110] He was replaced around the turn of the 16th century by Robert Armin, who played roles such asTouchstone in As You Like It and the fool in King Lear.[111]Sony VGN-CS320J/P Battery

 In 1613, Sir Henry Wottonrecorded that Henry VIII "was set forth with many extraordinary circumstances of pomp and ceremony".[112] On 29 June, however, a cannon set fire to the thatch of the Globe and burned the theatre to the ground, an event which pinpoints the date of a Shakespeare play with rare precision.[112]Sony VGN-CS320J/Q Battery


In 1623, John Heminges and Henry Condell, two of Shakespeare's friends from the King's Men, published the First Folio, a collected edition of Shakespeare's plays. It contained 36 texts, including 18 printed for the first time.[113] Sony VGN-CS320J/R Battery

Many of the plays had already appeared inquarto versions—flimsy books made from sheets of paper folded twice to make four leaves.[114] No evidence suggests that Shakespeare approved these editions, which the First Folio describes as "stol'n and surreptitious copies".[115] Sony VGN-CS320J/W Battery

Alfred Pollard termed some of them "bad quartos" because of their adapted, paraphrased or garbled texts, which may in places have been reconstructed from memory.[116] Where several versions of a play survive, each differs from the other. Sony VGN-CS33H/B Battery

The differences may stem from copying or printingerrors, from notes by actors or audience members, or from Shakespeare's ownpapers.[117] In some cases, for example HamletTroilus and Cressida and Othello, Shakespeare could have revised the texts between the quarto and folio editions. Sony VGN-CS33H/Z Battery

 In the case of King Lear, however, while most modern additions do conflate them, the 1623 folio version is so different from the 1608 quarto, that the Oxford Shakespeare prints them both, arguing that they cannot be conflated without confusion.[118]Sony VGN-CS33H Battery


In 1593 and 1594, when the theatres were closed because of plague, Shakespeare published two narrative poems on erotic themes, Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece. He dedicated them to Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton. Sony VGN-CS35GNB Battery

In Venus and Adonis, an innocent Adonis rejects the sexual advances of Venus; while in The Rape of Lucrece, the virtuous wife Lucrece is raped by the lustful Tarquin.[119] Influenced by Ovid'sMetamorphoses,[120] the poems show the guilt and moral confusion that result from uncontrolled lust.[121] Sony VGN-CS36GJ/C Battery

Both proved popular and were often reprinted during Shakespeare's lifetime. A third narrative poem, A Lover's Complaint, in which a young woman laments her seduction by a persuasive suitor, was printed in the first edition of the Sonnets in 1609. Most scholars now accept that Shakespeare wrote A Lover's Complaint. Sony VGN-CS36GJ/I Battery

Critics consider that its fine qualities are marred by leaden effects.[122] The Phoenix and the Turtle, printed in Robert Chester's 1601 Love's Martyr, mourns the deaths of the legendary phoenix and his lover, the faithful turtle dove. In 1599, two early drafts of sonnets 138 and 144 appeared in The Passionate Pilgrim, published under Shakespeare's name but without his permission.[123]Sony VGN-CS36GJ/P Battery


Published in 1609, the Sonnets were the last of Shakespeare's non-dramatic works to be printed. Scholars are not certain when each of the 154 sonnets was composed, but evidence suggests that Shakespeare wrote sonnets throughout his career for a private readership.[124]Sony VGN-CS36GJ/Q Battery

Even before the two unauthorised sonnets appeared in The Passionate Pilgrim in 1599, Francis Meres had referred in 1598 to Shakespeare's "sugred Sonnets among his private friends".[125] Few analysts believe that the published collection follows Shakespeare's intended sequence.[126] Sony VGN-CS36GJ/R Battery

He seems to have planned two contrasting series: one about uncontrollable lust for a married woman of dark complexion (the "dark lady"), and one about conflicted love for a fair young man (the "fair youth"). It remains unclear if these figures represent real individuals, or if the authorial "I" who addresses them represents Shakespeare himself, though Wordsworth believed that with the sonnets "Shakespeare unlocked his heart".[127]Sony VGN-CS36GJ/T Battery

The 1609 edition was dedicated to a "Mr. W.H.", credited as "the only begetter" of the poems. It is not known whether this was written by Shakespeare himself or by the publisher, Thomas Thorpe, whose initials appear at the foot of the dedication page; Sony VGN-CS36GJ/U Battery

nor is it known who Mr. W.H. was, despite numerous theories, or whether Shakespeare even authorised the publication.[129] Critics praise the Sonnets as a profound meditation on the nature of love, sexual passion, procreation, death, and time.[130]Sony VGN-CS36GJ/W Battery


Shakespeare's first plays were written in the conventional style of the day. He wrote them in a stylised language that does not always spring naturally from the needs of the characters or the drama.[131] The poetry depends on extended, sometimes elaborate metaphors and conceits, Sony VGN-CS36GJJ Battery

and the language is often rhetorical—written for actors to declaim rather than speak. The grand speeches in Titus Andronicus, in the view of some critics, often hold up the action, for example; and the verse in The Two Gentlemen of Verona has been described as stilted.[132]Sony VGN-CS36H/C Battery

Soon, however, Shakespeare began to adapt the traditional styles to his own purposes. The opening soliloquy of Richard III has its roots in the self-declaration of Vice in medieval drama. At the same time, Richard’s vivid self-awareness looks forward to the soliloquies of Shakespeare's mature plays.[133] No single play marks a change from the traditional to the freer style. Sony VGN-CS36H/P Battery

Shakespeare combined the two throughout his career, with Romeo and Juliet perhaps the best example of the mixing of the styles.[134] By the time of Romeo and JulietRichard II, and A Midsummer Night's Dream in the mid-1590s, Shakespeare had begun to write a more natural poetry. He increasingly tuned his metaphors and images to the needs of the drama itself. Sony VGN-CS36H/Q Battery

Shakespeare's standard poetic form was blank verse, composed in iambic pentameter. In practice, this meant that his verse was usually unrhymed and consisted of ten syllables to a line, spoken with a stress on every second syllable. The blank verse of his early plays is quite different from that of his later ones. It is often beautiful, but its sentences tend to start, pause, Sony VGN-CS36H/R Battery

and finish at the end of lines, with the risk of monotony.[135] Once Shakespeare mastered traditional blank verse, he began to interrupt and vary its flow. This technique releases the new power and flexibility of the poetry in plays such as Julius Caesar andHamlet. Shakespeare uses it, for example, to convey the turmoil in Hamlet's mind:[136]Sony VGN-CS36H/W Battery


After Hamlet, Shakespeare varied his poetic style further, particularly in the more emotional passages of the late tragedies. The literary critic A. C. Bradley described this style as "more concentrated, rapid, varied, and, in construction, less regular, not seldom twisted or elliptical".[137Sony VGN-CS36H Battery

] In the last phase of his career, Shakespeare adopted many techniques to achieve these effects. These included run-on lines, irregular pauses and stops, and extreme variations in sentence structure and length.[138] Sony VGN-CS36TJ/C Battery

In Macbeth, for example, the language darts from one unrelated metaphor or simile to another: "was the hope drunk/ Wherein you dressed yourself?" (1.7.35–38); "...pity, like a naked new-born babe/ Striding the blast, or heaven's cherubim, hors'd/ Upon the sightless couriers of the air..." (1.7.21–25). The listener is challenged to complete the sense.[138] Sony VGN-CS36TJ/J Battery

The late romances, with their shifts in time and surprising turns of plot, inspired a last poetic style in which long and short sentences are set against one another, clauses are piled up, subject and object are reversed, and words are omitted, creating an effect of spontaneity.[139]Sony VGN-CS36TJ/P Battery

Shakespeare combined poetic genius with a practical sense of the theatre.[140] Like all playwrights of the time, he dramatised stories from sources such as Plutarch andHolinshed.[141] He reshaped each plot to create several centres of interest and to show as many sides of a narrative to the audience as possible. Sony VGN-CS36TJ/Q Battery

This strength of design ensures that a Shakespeare play can survive translation, cutting and wide interpretation without loss to its core drama.[142] As Shakespeare’s mastery grew, he gave his characters clearer and more varied motivations and distinctive patterns of speech. He preserved aspects of his earlier style in the later plays, Sony VGN-CS36TJ/T Battery

however. In Shakespeare's late romances, he deliberately returned to a more artificial style, which emphasised the illusion of theatre.[143]Sony VGN-CS36TJ/R Battery

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