William Shakespeare, the “Bard of Avon”, and the most successful playwright an poet, was born in April 1564, and died in 1616. His works, including collaborations, consist of approximately 39 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems and a few other verses, some of uncertain authorship. However, even though his works are well known all over the world, his life remains a mystery till date, rife with speculations and conspiracy theories. Even his portrait was painted long after his death. Today, rather than talking about the plethora of plays and poems he wrote, we will try to shed some light on his personal life, and the controversy that still surrounds him.
- Education: William was born as a son of John Shakespeare, an Alderman, and Mary Arden. His exact date of birth is not known, although it is traditionally celebrated on 23rd April (Saint George’s Day). There exists no record of him attending a school. It is speculated that he attended the Kings New School, a free school chartered in 1553.
- Marriage: William married Anne Hathaway at the age of 18, and became father of a daughter Susanna, and twins, Hamnet and Judith. Hamnet died of unknown causes, and was buried 11 August, 1596.
- The Lost Years: There is no records of his life in between 1585 and 1592, often referred by scholars as the Lost Years. The single piece of evidence that can be gathered in this period is the appearance of his name in the complaints bill of a law case. Some historians suggests that he fled the town for London to escape prosecution for deer poaching in the estate of a local squire. Some others suggests that he was employed as a schoolmaster.
- London Career: Although it is not known when he wrote his first play, it is known for certain that by 1592, his plays were being played in most parts of London. After 1594, Shakespeare’s plays were performed only by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a company owned by a group of players, including Shakespeare, that soon became the leading playing company in London. After the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603, the company was awarded a royal patent by the new King James I, and changed its name to the King’s Men.
Shakespeare captures the complete range of human conflict and emotion over the course of a 20-year career. It can be safely assumed that his private life had quite a big impressions in his work. Documented events in his life, such as the birth of his twin children Hamnet and Judith, and Hamnet’s subsequent death some 11 years later serve to explain Shakespeare’s veritable obsession with the theme of twins. Also, Shakespeare married his wife, Anne Hathaway, at an age of 18, when Anne was 26 years old. Seen in terms of a much older, more experienced woman having great influence and power over a younger, less experienced man, the play Macbeth suddenly becomes far more accessible to a modern audience.
Controversies: There are many controversies surrounding William Shakespeare, from drug addiction, to plagiarism. It was, after all, Mark Twain who said:
So far as anybody actually knows and can prove, Shakespeare of Stratford-on-Avon never wrote a play in his life.
It is believed that drugs played a large role in Shakespeare’s genius. The theory seems to be supported by lines in his sonnets referring to a “noted weed” and “a journey in his head.” A South African anthropologist, Francis Thackeray, thinks the playwright definitely had an affinity for marijuana. In a 2001 study, Thackeray said he found cannabis residue (along with cocaine) on clay pipe fragments from Shakespeare’s garden. The high-inducing plant was certainly available back in the Bard’s time, as it was used to make textiles and rope.
Also, it is believed that he wrote more plays than are known till day. In 2009, a University of London literature professor, Sir Brian Vickers, used a program called Plagiarism to compare The Reign of Edward III, an unattributed play from the 1500s, to the works of Shakespeare. Vickers found more than 200 Shakespearean phrases — such as “come in person hither,” “pale queene of night,” and “thou art thy selfe,” — in the mystery work, compared to just 20 shared word strings in the plays of other writers.
However, the most famous controversy surrounding this well renowned poet, is the claim that most of his works were written by other authors. The Bard’s authorship has been questioned publicly since 1848, when Joseph C. Hart, in his book The Romance of Yachting, said that
Shakespeare merely adapted the works of more educated playwrights, making them popular by adding the occasional crude joke.
Here are some of the names that have been linked to Shakespeare’s plays:
- Edward de Vere:
Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford was also the Lord Great Chamberlain of England and a courtier poet. There is little evidence that suggests he did write them, but some believe there are references in the plays to de Vere’s life and that there are a series of codes in the writing that implicate the Earl as the author.
- Sir Francis Bacon:
The Baconian theory of Shakespearean authorship holds that Sir Francis Bacon, philosopher, essayist and scientist, wrote the plays which were publicly attributed to William Shakespeare. Various explanations are offered for this alleged subterfuge, most commonly that Bacon’s rise to high office might have been hindered were it to become known that he wrote plays for the public stage. Thus the plays were credited to Shakespeare, who was merely a front to shield the identity of Bacon.
- Christopher Marlowe:
The playwright Christopher Marlowe was writing at the same time as Shakespeare and it’s likely that the two crossed paths. The theory goes that the reports of Marlowe’s death in a drunken brawl on May 30 1593 were falsified to protect him from going to prison for being an atheist. Marlovians believe that Shakespeare was named as the play’s author to protect the truth of what really happened to Marlowe.
There are many other poets and playwrights who got linked with the works of William Shakespeare. However, people till day are still attempting to unravel the mystery that was William Shakespeare, and despite of all these controversies, the plays of William Shakespeare continue to awe the world, as it did 400 years ago.