Shakespeare Basics For Grown-ups: Everything You Need To Know About The Bard by E. FoleyShakespeare Basics For Grown-ups: Everything You Need To Know About The Bard by E. Foley

Shakespeare Basics For Grown-ups: Everything You Need To Know About The Bard

byE. Foley, B. Coates

Paperback | June 16, 2015

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An essential guide to Shakespeare, from the international bestselling authors of Homework for Grown-Ups

The Bard was so incredibly prolific that even most Shakespeare scholars would welcome the occasional refresher course, and most of the rest of us haven’t even got a clue as to what a petard actually is. Fear not, the bestselling authors of Homework for Grown-Ups are here to help. For parents keen to help with their children’s homework, casual theatre-goers who want to enhance their enjoyment and understanding, and the general reader who feels they should probably know more, Shakespeare Basics for Grown-Ups includes information on the key works, historical context, contemporaries and influences, famous speeches and quotations, modern day adaptations, and much, much more.
E. FOLEY and B. COATES are editors at Penguin Random House in the UK. They live in London. They are the international bestselling authors of Homework for Grown-Ups.
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Title:Shakespeare Basics For Grown-ups: Everything You Need To Know About The BardFormat:PaperbackDimensions:336 pages, 8 × 5.4 × 0.7 inPublished:June 16, 2015Publisher:Penguin Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:014751536X

ISBN - 13:9780147515360

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INTRODUCTIONWilliam Shakespeare is without question Britain’s greatest literary hero. His work has spoken to countless generations, nationalities and cultures, and to men, women and children alike. His plays have been translated into every language under the sun and performances of them can be seen from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. But how much do you really know about the man and his wondrous words?For many of us, our first experience of Shakespeare can be intimidating and (whisper it) a little wearisome. And if you have a bad start with the Bard, chances are that will affect your grown-up encounters with him too. Do you find yourself dozing off during The Winter’s Tale? Does all that thumb-biting in Romeo and Juliet perplex you? Find it hard to stomach the jokes in The Taming of the Shrew? Lost by the language of the famous monologues from King Lear and Othello? Worry not, you aren’t alone. And although today every schoolchild will encounter Shakespeare’s work at some point in their English lessons, the majority of UK adults will only be properly familiar with one or two plays at most. In fact, a recent poll showed that 5 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds think Shakespeare’s most famous play is Cinderella, and 2 percent from the same group think the man himself is a fictional character. That’s why this book is essential reading for anyone who feels they should know more about our greatest poet, or, indeed, anyone looking to revive their acquaintance with him, or even just help their children with their homework.As well as taking an in-depth look at the most-loved, -studied and -performed plays, we will take you on a journey through the different genres Shakespeare made his own—the Comedies, Histories and Tragedies—and we’ll show you how to decode his enigmatic sonnets. We’ll also show you that there is much to be treasured and enjoyed in his less familiar works.We don’t claim to be Shakespeare scholars; we are ordinary readers who were curious to learn more about our greatest national poet, and we became passionate about passing on the most interesting facts we discovered. The aim of this book is to give a solid understanding of Shakespeare’s genius and to arm you with the tools you need to enjoy him with confidence and insight. In addition, we’ll peruse some of the more perplexing problems that have agitated academics over the years: Did Shakespeare really write his plays himself? What exactly is the First Folio? What would it have been like to see one of his plays at the time of its first performance? What does “hoist with his own petard” actually mean? Who might the sonnets’ Dark Lady be?Between these covers you will find nuggets on a broad range of topics, including the historical context of Shakespeare’s writing; his personal life, contemporaries and influences; his language and poetic skill; the key themes of his oeuvre; his less well-known works and characters; his most famous speeches and quotations; the phrases and words that he invented, and much more.The world is a far richer place thanks to this glove-maker’s son from Stratford and his unparalleled influence over our imaginations and language. His “eternal summer shall not fade . . . So long as men can breathe or eyes can see” and we hope that by the time you finish this book you are as filled with admiration and enthusiasm for his work as we are.“Brevity Is the Soul of Wit” All Shakespeare’s Plays in One Sentence EachObviously a close reading of the plays will richly reward any student of Shakespeare, but we understand if you need a quick cheat’s guide. We’ve set out each one in a sentence so you can always be ready to impress with extensive knowledge of the whole back catalogue of Will’s works.COMEDIESThe TempestThe magician Prospero shipwrecks the enemies that originally ousted him from Italy, but when Ferdinand, the son of his archrival Alonso, falls for his daughter Miranda he finally faces them down and learns to forgive.The Two Gentlemen of VeronaProteus, who loves Julia, is friends with Valentine, who loves Silvia, but their friendship deteriorates when Proteus gets Valentine outlawed in order to pursue Silvia himself, much to the dismay of his page Sebastian who is actually Julia in disguise, until, after much trouble, everyone ends up with their original beloved.The Merry Wives of WindsorFalstaff’s cynical seduction of two wealthy women goes awry when they find out about each other and decide to return the compliment by making him a laughingstock.Measure for MeasureIn the Duke of Vienna’s absence, his frosty deputy Angelo resurrects arcane fornication laws but is busted—by the Duke in disguise as a friar—trying to blackmail a nun into sex.The Comedy of ErrorsSeparated in a shipwreck as babies, friends Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse head to Ephesus to search for their twin brothers, the helpfully named Antipholus and Dromio of Ephesus, leading to much confusion for wives and friends until their parents appear and sort everything out.Much Ado About NothingIn Sicily, Claudio and Hero are cruelly tricked and parted while Benedick and Beatrice fight and fall in love before deceptions and disguises are uncovered by a hapless nightwatchman and harmonious order is restored with marriages and jigging.Love’s Labour’s LostThe King of Navarre and three friends inconveniently swear off women for three years just before a beautiful princess and her ladies arrive for a visit, inspiring all of them to break their oaths after many love-letter mix-ups and other shenanigans.A Midsummer Night’s DreamMistaken administering of love juice results in Titania, Queen of the Fairies, falling for the ass Bottom, while two sets of couples get confused in the woods, before the natural order of things is restored.The Merchant of VeniceAntonio makes a risky deal: putting up a pound of flesh as collateral against a loan to fund his friend Bassanio’s pursuit of Portia, and when the moneylender Shylock calls in his debt, Portia, dressed as a man, successfully fights Antonio’s case in a court of law with an ingenious defense.As You Like ItThe exile of brothers, dukes, fathers, daughters, cousins and clowns to the benign bubble of the Forest of Arden leads to disguise, gender-bending and, finally, happy marriages for all.The Taming of the ShrewStroppy Katherina stands in the way of her more pliable sister Bianca’s marriage, so Bianca’s suitors persuade fortune hunter Petruchio to marry Katherina and embark on a campaign of mental cruelty that “tames” her and leaves everyone content and happily married.All’s Well That Ends WellOrphan Helena is determined to have her man Bertram—even if he doesn’t want her—and tricks him into impregnating her by pretending to be Diana (whom he does fancy), a tactic that makes him appreciate Helena and vow to be a good husband to her.Twelfth Night, or What You WillTwins Viola and Sebastian lose each other after a shipwreck and, each believing the other to be dead, become the servants of amorous Illyrian nobles, but after much disguise-inspired confusion and a yellow-stocking-themed subplot, they are finally reunited.The Winter’s TaleKing Leontes’ jealous madness leads to the demise of his children and the death-by-grief of his wife, but happily many years later it is revealed that his wife and daughter are actually both alive and all are reconciled.PericlesPericles competes for a wife and then loses her and his newborn daughter in a shipwreck before, many years later, reuniting with them after his wife has become a priestess and his daughter, Marina, a virginal prostitute.The Two Noble KinsmenFriends Palamon and Arcite fall out over their love for Emilia but an unbiddable horse means Palamon eventually gets the girl.HISTORIESKing JohnKing John is threatened by an angry nephew, the King of France and a cardinal, and is finally murdered by a malcontent monk.Richard IIProud, long-serving King Richard is finally undone by ambitious Henry Bolingbroke, his own vanity and a penchant for land-grabbing.Henry IV, Part 1Henry Bolingbroke is now King Henry, but his complete enjoyment of his reign is undermined by worries about his wayward son Hal and his associations with the drunkard Falstaff, and the rebellion of Henry Percy, gloriously nicknamed Hotspur, who’s eventually killed by Hal.Henry IV, Part 2Hotspur’s father avenges his son’s death by threatening to cause civil war, news that makes Henry’s health decline, until on his deathbed he makes up with his errant son Hal who rejects his pal Falstaff and prepares to accept the crown as a more sensibly named Henry V.Henry VHenry decides to start his reign with a rather punchy request to rule France, which is rejected, but after glorious victory at Agincourt, Princess Katherine of France marries him and the countries are bound together.Henry VI, Part 1Young Henry struggles to live up to his heroic father despite dealing successfully with Joan of Arc (although less successfully with his own dastardly dukes).Henry VI, Part 2Henry fails to control his nobles—cue War of the Roses.Henry VI, Part 3Henry loses his throne, regains it, soliloquizes on a molehill, loses the throne again and is stabbed to death by the future Richard III.Richard IIIHunchback ubervillain has his brother drowned in a barrel of wine, his nephews (the “Princes in the Tower”) murdered, poisons his wife, is surprised when people start to turn against him, and then gets killed in battle by the future King Henry VII after inconveniently losing his horse.Henry VIIIHenry meets and falls in love with the beautiful Anne Boleyn at one of Cardinal Wolsey’s parties and ousts his current wife, crowning Anne as Queen and allowing Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, to predict great things at the birth of their daughter Elizabeth.TRAGEDIESTroilus and CressidaTroilus (Paris and Hector’s brother) falls in love with Cressida (the daughter of a Trojan priest) and after a single night of passion loses her to the Greeks waiting outside the city’s walls—cue much teeth-gnashing and revenge.CoriolanusMartial hero Coriolanus saves Rome from Volscian invasion, is persuaded to run for consul by his manipulative mother, banished when the people turn on him, dissuaded from enacting revenge on his former home by his family, and finally murdered by those vexing Volscians.Titus AndronicusRoman general Titus is infuriated when his archenemy and former captive, Tamora, Queen of the Goths, marries the emperor: murder, rape, mutilation, cannibalism and infanticide leave pretty much everyone dead.Romeo and JulietUnsupportive relatives ruin young lovers’ bliss, leading to a fatal fake suicide mix-up.Timon of AthensGenerous playboy Timon gets into debt and leaves Athens to make his home in a cave, whereupon he discovers mounds of gold, and dies after realizing his only true friend is his servant Flavius.Julius CaesarWorthy Roman Brutus, concerned about his dictator friend’s political intentions, gets caught up in a conspiracy that ends with him stabbing a disappointed Caesar before being driven to suicide by his rival Mark Antony’s superior oratory and tactics.MacbethThe Thane Macbeth receives a prophecy from three “weyard sisters” that he’ll be King of Scotland, and his murderously ambitious wife helps him to achieve his dream, but at the very worst price.HamletListless student prince Hamlet, traumatized by his villainous uncle Claudius’ fratricide, is inspired by the ghost of his father to feign insanity, sending his girlfriend Ophelia loopy and resulting in a catastrophic poison-and-fencing bloodbath.King LearOld King Lear makes a terrible mistake in trusting his bad daughters and exiling his truest child, Cordelia, before going mad on a stormy heath and dying with Cordelia’s expired body in his arms.OthelloMoorish Venetian general Othello skips off to Cyprus with his beloved wife Desdemona and apparent best friend Iago, who makes it his mission to destroy their lives using only a handkerchief and a lot of insinuation.Antony and CleopatraMark Antony, one of Rome’s three leaders, neglects his duties in favor of a passionate affair with Egyptian Queen Cleopatra, incurring Caesar’s wrath and resulting in their bloody double suicide, by sword and, more inventively, by asp bite.CymbelineBritish King Cymbeline, encouraged by his evil Queen, banishes his daughter Imogen’s secret husband Posthumus, and annoys the Romans, but thankfully Imogen resists various ensuing attempts on her life and it all gets sorted out in the end.THE LIFE AND TIMES OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE“The web of our life is of a mingled yarn” What We Know About Shakespeare’s LifeTantalisingly, we know very little about William Shakespeare’s life. His thoughts on love, marriage, politics, children, death, sin, temptation and sexuality were never recorded, apart from in his works, of course, which are open to endless interpretation. Despite the best efforts of archivists and scholars, Will remains an enigma, a blank canvas on which countless biographers have painted their own vivid and often fanciful pictures. Despite how familiar you may feel you are with the Bard’s visage, there are only a handful of portraits of him in existence and historians still squabble over which are most likely to be accurate. The one above is the Chandos portrait from the National Gallery in London, attributed to painter John Taylor, which was said to have been originally in the possession of writer William Davenant, Shakespeare’s godson (and, as rumor had it, according to John Aubrey’s Brief Lives, his illegitimate son).So what do we know about Shakespeare? There is a record of his baptism at Holy Trinity Church in the market town of Stratford-upon-Avon on April 26, 1564, and, given that in Elizabethan times children were typically baptised between two and four days after their birth, many people hedge their bets and take our national poet’s birthday to be April 23, which is also, rather conveniently, St. George’s Day. His father, John Shakespeare, was a glove-maker (and, pleasingly, a municipal ale-taster), and his mother, Mary Arden, was the daughter of a well-known and respected landowner. Shakespeare was probably educated at the King’s New Grammar School, where he would have been coached extensively in the rigors of Latin and rhetoric: you can see him flexing those classical muscles in the plays where certain characters use magnificent rhetoric and persuasion to manipulate the action—think of Iago in Othello, Lady Macbeth in Macbeth and Portia in The Merchant of Venice. Older boys spoke Latin in class, and they would have had a good knowledge of classical texts and mythology.We don’t know what Shakespeare did after school—this is the first example of his “lost years,” where Shakespeare simply disappears from the record books—but it’s likely that his father’s financial difficulties (of which there is a record) prevented him from going to university, and Will probably spent his teenage years as an apprentice in his father’s glove-making business. It’s easy to speculate how frustrating this might have been for a young man with such an intense literary gift, but then again maybe he loved it. Many critics fall into the trap of assuming it’s possible to guess Shakespeare’s thoughts and opinions from our idea of what we would like the author of such brilliant plays and poems to be like. Some seventeenth-century accounts of the “lost years” have it that he was forced to run away from home after being caught poaching deer from Sir Thomas Lucy’s nearby estate at Charlecote. Again, there’s an appeal to the idea of Shakespeare as a kind of proto–Danny the Champion of the World, but there’s evidence that the deer park was instated at Charlecote only in the seventeenth century, so the sums don’t quite add up.Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway in 1582 when she was twenty-six and he was eighteen. The age gap was unusual, but even more unusual was Shakespeare’s youth when he got hitched. The age of consent was twenty-one, so his father would have had to agree to the match. Perhaps this is explained by the fact that Anne was three months pregnant when they tied the knot; their first daughter Susanna was born in 1583, followed by twins Judith and Hamnet eighteen months later in 1585. Their marriage has been the subject of huge speculation—did Anne ever accompany her famous husband to London and witness the literary life he led there? Was theirs a union of mutual adoration, or one dogged by ill-temper and drudgery? It was certainly a long marriage, but we have no way of knowing if it was a happy one—even Shakespeare’s last will and testament fails to set the record straight in any convincing way (see page 16).After the record of his twins’ birth there is another long “lost” period, lasting right up to 1592, all the more frustrating because it’s during this time that he left Stratford for London, and made the transition to successful actor, playwright and part-owner of a theater. Many theories abound: taking as evidence a preoccupation with the ocean and storms in his plays (think The Tempest, Othello, Twelfth Night, etc.), some wonder if he went to sea, possibly spending time in Italy. Or perhaps he went north, working as a tutor for a Catholic family, before meeting the Lord Derby’s Men—a company of actors—and traveling south with them to the bright lights (or at least flaming torches) of London. Or did he become a player in the Queen’s Men—another acting company—and begin to ply his trade with them? We’ll never know for sure, but the next concrete placing of Shakespeare is a bit of a battering in print, in Robert Greene’s Groatsworth of Wit, Bought with a Million of Repentance (1592) (see page 16).The coat of arms purchased by ShakespeareBy the end of the 1590s, Shakespeare was a wealthy man, probably one of the first British writers to accumulate a stash of cash from the proceeds of his literary endeavors by taking shares in the theater that performed his plays (records show he made a bit on the side from some illegal malt-hoarding and tax evasion too—he appears to have been a canny businessman). He broke the mold by securing for himself a percentage of box-office takings and was able to buy a flashy house, New Place in Stratford, and his status was so elevated that he was permitted to purchase a coat of arms bearing the motto “Non sanz droict,” or “Not without right.”In the late summer of 1596 Shakespeare’s son Hamnet died at the age of eleven, from unknown causes. His daughters Susanna and Judith went on to marry and have children: Judith had three, but they all died young, and Susanna’s daughter Elizabeth died childless, ending the line.By 1613, Shakespeare was spending more and more time in Stratford, and had stopped writing plays—again, the reason why he ceased writing remains a mystery. The fact that he signed his will in March 1616 probably means that his health was failing. The following month, close to his birthday, he died and was buried in the Holy Trinity Church. His will offers up another enigma: Anne Hathaway, his wife of thirty-four years, is mentioned in just twelve devastatingly brief words, “I gyve unto my wief my second best bed with the furniture.” Much has been made of this apparent slight, and of course in modern times we might feel a touch aggrieved to be honored after all those years of wedlock with a dodgy bed. But in fact it’s all about context. One theory is that the best bed would probably have been reserved for guests, and would have been considered an heirloom—i.e., an item reserved for heirs, not wives. Clearly the wondrous wordsmith didn’t see his last will and testament as the place for anything more enlightening or flowery about his marriage. The inscription on his grave is a dream for conspiracy theorists—like an English Tutankhamun it offers up a curse on whoever disturbs his remains, prompting some to speculate there may be a hidden manuscript buried with the Bard.Robert Greene’s “upstart crow”Robert Greene was a playwright who was about four years older than Shakespeare, and an established member of London’s literary scene when Shakespeare arrived on it. He was part of a group known as the University Wits, along with other well-educated writers like Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Lodge, George Peele and Thomas Nashe. A heavy drinker and gambler, womanizer and liar, he was also in possession of a monster ego. A fun chap to be around then, and certainly one with a chip on his shoulder about young William’s accelerating success in his milieu.It’s not entirely clear why Shakespeare bothered Greene so much, but probably his audacity in believing he could move from being a provincial, lower-class actor to competing with the establishment playwrights rankled with this snooty, and less significant, writer. Shakespeare had not gone to Oxford or Cambridge University, as most of his contemporary playwrights had, and even though he was writing his way into the history books as one of the most brilliant minds England has ever produced, he was still just a man from the provinces. It also appears that Shakespeare did not throw himself into the gentleman poets’ scene with the gusto they might have wanted; he wasn’t a big drinker—according to John Aubrey’s Lives, he was a man who “wouldn’t be debauched”—and he had his head screwed on when it came to finances. Greene, on the other hand, died penniless and bitter at the age of thirty-two in September 1592 (with Marlowe pursuing him toward his Maker the following year), leaving behind enough unpublished work for a printer named Henry Chettle to produce a posthumous pamphlet entitled Greene’s Groatsworth of Wit, Bought with a Million of Repentance—essentially a moralistic fable which is revealed at the end to be autobiographical.The passage we’re interested in begins with a warning to the other members of his gang not to trust actors who mangle poets’ words. And he goes on: “Yes trust them not: for there is an upstart crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tyger’s hart wrapt in a Player’s hyde supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blanke verse as the best of you: and being an absolute Johannes Factotum [jack of all trades], is in his owne conceit the only Shake-scene in the countrey.” That lovely “tiger’s heart” metaphor is a direct lift from the first act of Henry VI, Part 3. As Stephen Greenblatt points out in his excellent biography Will in the World, Shakespeare got his revenge, with an effusive apology from publisher Henry Chettle: “I am as sorry as if the original fault had been my fault, because myself have seen his demeanour no less civil than he excellent in the quality he professes,” and a nice dig through Polonius in Hamlet: “that’s an ill phrase, a vile phrase, ‘beautified’ is a vile phrase.”Good frend for Jesus sake forbeareTo digg the dust encloased heare.Blese be the man that spares thes stones,And curst be he that moves my bones.This, and the other gaps in his biography, opens the door for fans to look for clues in his work. Feel free to enjoy yourself conjecturing. But try not to be disappointed that we don’t know more facts about Shakespeare the man; sometimes it’s best not to get to know your heroes—it keeps the magic alive.Why Is Shakespeare Called the Bard?“Bard” is an ancient Gaelic term meaning poet. It initially referred to a minstrel who might travel from village to village reciting legends of chieftains and their triumphs. Shakespeare has been given the epithet because he is the definitive poet, and recognized not just in Britain but across the world as such (though Scots might disagree—Robert Burns is known as the Bard in Caledonia). It’s assumed that he was first called the Bard by David Garrick (see page 283) during the celebratory Shakespeare Jubilee held in Stratford in 1769 in his snappily titled “An Ode upon dedicating a building, and erecting a statue, to Shakespeare, at Stratford upon Avon,” which read:Sweetest bard that ever sung,Nature’s glory, Fancy’s child;Never sure did witching tongue,Warble forth such wood-notes wild!What Was Life Like in Shakespeare’s Day?Given how universal Shakespeare’s work feels, it’s easy to imagine he was just like us; that if we met him in the pub we’d have loads in common. However, London in Shakespeare’s dayit is important to remember that the times he lived in in were very different from ours. Here are a few facts to help you orient yourself in his world.   • Population There were about 4 million people living in England in the late sixteenth century. The English population today is about 53.5 million.   • Disease Outbreaks of the deadly bubonic plague frequently wiped out whole communities. Stratford lost a sixth of its inhabitants in 1564.   • Queen Elizabeth Elizabeth’s rule (1558–1603) is now considered England’s golden age of stability and achievement, but things didn’t always look so rosy for her. Her father murdered her mother, she was disinherited then reinstated in line for the throne, she changed the religion of her country, the Pope sanctioned her assassination, she endured serious internal and external plots to overthrow her, she failed to subdue the rebellious Irish, and her decision not to marry and produce an heir created an atmosphere of anxiety and paranoia about the succession, resulting in a ruthless international and domestic secret-service network, reliant on torture.   • Cities London was the third-largest city in Europe, after Paris and Naples.   • Communities The majority of people lived in the countryside and depended on unreliable harvests. The biggest towns were London, Norwich, Bristol, York, Salisbury, Newcastle, Exeter and Coventry.   • Feudalism This period saw a significant change from a feudal hierarchy that encouraged a powerful chivalric noble class to a centralization of power around the absolute monarch. Historians have identified this period as one of transition from the ideals and practices of medieval times to the beginnings of the internationally connected modern age.   • Religion England had been Catholic up until 1533 when Henry VIII broke with Rome in order to marry Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn. It was then Protestant until 1553 when Mary I reinstated Catholicism. On Mary’s death in 1558 Elizabeth returned the country to Protestantism. Religion was central to the general population’s life so this was a very confusing time. Shakespeare’s sister was baptised a Catholic in 1558 but just six years later he was christened a Protestant. There were still Catholic priests in hiding around the country giving masses to those who secretly held on to the old religion.   • Violence Society was generally more violent than today. Many citizens were armed, there was no real police force, there were public executions, frequent rioting and brawling; popular pastimes included bear-baiting and dog- and cock-fighting, and the severed heads of traitors were displayed on the walls in the capital. The literary world didn’t exist in some rarefied bubble outside of this: Ben Jonson killed a man, Christopher Marlowe was stabbed in the eye and Shakespeare himself was named in a court record as having made a man fear for his life or “bodily hurt.”   • Science The general view at this time was still that the sun orbited the earth. However, it was a period of great scientific endeavors, with Galileo, Descartes, Francis Bacon and William Gilbert all making important contributions. There were also radical developments in philosophy and ethics from intellectuals like Machiavelli and Montaigne.   • Europe At the start of Elizabeth’s reign, Protestant England was surrounded on all sides by Catholic nations—Ireland, France, Scotland (until 1560) and the Spanish-controlled Low Countries. This was an uncomfortable position, particularly after 1572 when thousands of members of the previously tolerated Protestant population in France were slaughtered in the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre.   • Alcohol Much of the population was probably tipsy most of the time—water was unsafe to drink so people drank beer instead. Happy days.   • Foreign Policy The old adversary France was replaced as English Enemy Number One by Spain, ruled by Elizabeth’s brother-in-law, Mary’s widower, Philip II. Spain tried to invade in 1588. The destruction of the Armada was a source of national pride but there was great anxiety about new threats.   • Family People generally married in their twenties—Shakespeare bucked the trend by getting hitched in his late teens. Marriages were usually arranged by parents and there was little emphasis on privacy in domestic life. Wives and children belonged to, and obeyed, the man of the house. Girls did not generally go to school. The firstborn son inherited everything. Because children were so important to property rights, virginity and chastity were extremely important standards for noblewomen.   • War The Protestant Reformation and the rise of powerful nation-states led to Europe becoming a hotbed of conflict. The tensions leading to the Thirty Years War (1618–48) were ramping up, resulting in a devastating and vast conflict that would see all the major European powers set against one another, battling over religion and influence.   • Gangs Nobles had groups of men who served them and hung around with them. These “retainers” wore special clothing, a bit like gangs now, to show whom they supported. There were frequently fights between rival groups, as at the beginning of Romeo and Juliet.   • Empire The English maritime explorations that were just beginning at this time set the country on the path toward the massive British Empire and the nation’s involvement in the slave trade. The state of Virginia in America is named after Elizabeth’s persona of the Virgin Queen.   • Food Potatoes were a new and exotic food, brought to Europe by Spanish conquistadors from Peru, and people didn’t drink coffee or tea or eat chocolate.   • Race There were Moors (North Africans of Arab-Berber descent) in London (helpfully anti-Spanish), and Elizabeth had a few black servants on her staff. However, in 1596 and in 1601 she issued edicts expelling “Negroes and Blackamoors” because of fears they were using resources and taking away jobs from the English—reasoning that has familiar echoes today. There were barely any Jews in England since their expulsion in 1290. However, London was extremely cosmopolitan because of trade. People were suspicious of foreigners but not racist in the modern sense.   • Terrorism In 1605 the country was stunned by the attempted Catholic attack on Parliament by Guy Fawkes.   • Class The middle class was starting to become a force to be reckoned with and the possibility of social mobility had only just taken root. Merchants and workers in the wool trade were gaining more and more power due to their economic success. However, England was a very hierarchical country and the monarchy encouraged the population to view this hierarchy as divinely ordained. There was even a law prescribing which classes could wear certain fabrics and colors.   • Calendar England was on a different calendar from the rest of Catholic Europe, which adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1582. (England didn’t until 1752.)   • Legitimacy Illegitimate children were regarded as morally inferior. They couldn’t inherit or marry.   • Church Everyone had to regularly attend (Protestant) church services, or face fines (and be regarded with suspicion).   • London London was growing at a breakneck rate but still had a population of about 300,000 people, which is approximately the population of the Borough of Lambeth today. (London’s total population is currently more than 8,000,000.)   • Succession Elizabeth died in 1603 without ever naming her successor to the throne. James I was just the most obvious and well-supported choice.   • King James King James I’s mother, Mary Queen of Scots, was executed in 1587 for involving herself in Catholic plots against Elizabeth.   • Scotland James’s accession brought the governments of England and Scotland under one rule, although they remained separate countries until 1707.   • Sewers The main sewer in London was the Thames, which was filled with stinking rubbish, human and commercial waste, while still being used as an important travel artery and a source of water. There was only one bridge—London Bridge—which was populated with houses and shops.   • Language The English language was rapidly expanding. There were no fixed grammatical rules and the same words were often spelled in many different ways.   • America When Shakespeare was born, Europe had been aware of the existence of America for just seventy-two years. Columbus had landed in America in 1492.   • Witchcraft Belief in witchcraft was prevalent and women suspected of being witches were persecuted. James I even wrote a book about them and involved himself in witch trials.   • Regicide This was a time of great power for the British Crown but James I’s son, Charles I, would end up being executed by his people in 1649 and England would become a republic until 1660.   • Puritans Just twenty-six years after Shakespeare’s death, the politically ascendant activist Protestants called Puritans would close all the theaters. In 1648 they would destroy them and any remaining actors would be arrested and flogged. The theaters would remain closed until the 1660 restoration of the monarchy.   • Life Expectancy Surviving childhood was a difficult business, and average life expectancy was around the mid-forties. Many women died in childbirth and medical care still revolved around the idea of the four humors (see page 232), bleeding patients being a popular treatment.   • Printing The first book to be printed in English had only been made in 1473, less than a century before Shakespeare’s birth. People didn’t see many visual images in their day-to-day lives, particularly after the Reformation, when artworks were removed from churches.Queen Elizabeth I and ShakespeareOvercoming a tricky start in life—she was banished from her father King Henry VIII’s court at the age of two and a half—by the time Elizabeth’s and Shakespeare’s paths crossed she was firmly entrenched as the titan of royalty we recognize today.She was wickedly clever, fluent in both French and Italian, and enjoyed translating the classics and composing her own sonnets. She was a keen patron of the arts, and under her reign there was a remarkable flowering of English literature, particularly in drama—as well as Shakespeare, other literary giants such as Marlowe, Donne, Spenser and Kyd found their voices. Though Shakespeare is thought of as an Elizabethan writer, the queen was in fact in her late fifties when the Lord Chamberlain’s Men were performing at court, and though it’s true he spent more years of his writing career under Elizabeth’s rule, he was in fact more prolific during her successor James I’s reign. Elizabeth died in 1603, and there is a suggestion that her death and the end of the golden age is alluded to in Sonnet 107, which mentions the eclipse of the “mortal moon.”There is no evidence that Shakespeare and Elizabeth actually met but it is not beyond the realm of possibility, as Shakespeare’s plays were performed at her court many times. Understandably, in fictionalized accounts of Shakespeare’s life, particularly on film or television, the temptation to eavesdrop on what these two magnificent figures from English history might have said to each other is irresistible, so it has become a common misconception that they were acquaintances.Women in Shakespeare’s TimeElizabethan shepherdessFor a nation ruled by a woman considered second in authority to God, the status of women in Elizabethan times was shockingly lowly. Most, aside from a very few of noble birth, were not afforded an education. Even those lucky ones were being trained for a life at home: they learned fruit preserving and bookkeeping rather than Plato and Pythagoras. And if a girl did manage to gain a good education, there was nowhere for her to exercise that learning, because women were not allowed to enter the professions: there were no female actors, doctors, lawyers or priests, though they could become spinners or weavers if they wanted. They had no vote. The duty of women, whether rich or poor, was to their husbands; in effect, they belonged to them. Petruchio’s words about Kate in The Taming of the Shrew are full of the language of ownership: “She is my goods, my chattels; she is my house, / My household stuff, my field, my barn, / My horse, my ox, my ass, my any thing.” Women were expected to bring a dowry to marriage—goods, money or land—also known as a marriage portion. A good woman was expected to be kind, patient, chaste, humble, soft and pliant, and since outer appearance was seen to correlate directly to inner status, they had to pay attention to their looks, Elizabethans particularly prizing roundness of hips and paleness of skin. Which makes it all the more extraordinary that Shakespeare created and gave prominence in his plays to women who are complex, confident, capable of manipulation and merriment, often with the lion’s share of lines. Rosalind, Portia, Katherina, Lady Macbeth, Beatrice, Juliet, Cleopatra, Viola and Titania are as unforgettable as any Hamlet, Lear or Othello.How Innovative Was Shakespeare?It’s hard to imagine now, when English literature studies have revolved around him for so long, but Shakespeare’s genius did not develop out of a firmly established literary tradition of English theater. The medieval miracle, mystery and morality plays (see page 45) that were popular in his childhood were very different from the sophisticated drama he and his contemporaries produced. Their radical reimagining of what drama could and should be was part of the burgeoning of the arts across Europe, which was inspired by classical models and commonly known as the Renaissance. Shakespeare was in the vanguard of those developing the new form.   • The Earl of Surrey had only introduced blank verse to England with the 1557 publication of his translation of some of Virgil’s Aeneid.   • The same year saw the first publication of the sonnet form in English, first developed by the poet, and favorite of Anne Boleyn, Thomas Wyatt.   • The first permanent theater in England was built in 1576 by James Burbage. The lack of competition is evident in his choice of name: the Theatre.   • Plays were not seen as a serious literary enterprise. In 1612 Sir Thomas Bodley was collecting work for the new Bodleian library but told his staff not to bother with drama: “haply some plays may be worthy the keeping, but hardly one in forty.”Shakespeare’s GlobeEngraving of Shakespeare’s London showing the Globe TheatreOne of the great leaps forward of the English Renaissance was the creation of theaters as spaces in which sophisticated works could be performed. In medieval times, theaters simply did not exist. Actors were regarded as little more than vagabonds who traveled the country performing juggling acts or mimes from the back of open carts or at inn courtyards, and the only alternative entertainments were the religious dramas presented on holy days. But by the late sixteenth century young men who had been educated at Oxford and Cambridge began to put into practice in London the fruits of a classical education; drama developed rapidly, borrowing plots from legend and classical texts, introducing elaborate time frames, multiple roles and featuring protagonists with complex psychological profiles. In 1576 James Burbage built the Theatre in Shoreditch and it was here that the careers of Shakespeare, Thomas Kyd and Christopher Marlowe really began to take off. This didn’t mean that drama became respectable: like many forms of popular entertainment it was considered by many to be vulgar, and plays were often criticized for promoting immorality and sedition. Theaters were located mainly in the red-light district, along with the bear-baiting and dog-fighting rings. Shakespeare was part of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (founded in 1594), later renamed the King’s Men after the ascension of James I to the throne in 1603. They performed at the Theatre, the Curtain and then the Globe. The other main performing troupe in London was called the Admiral’s Men, but history remembers them as a footnote—after all, they didn’t have Shakespeare.By 1598 the lease on the Theatre had expired and the Lord Chamberlain’s Men were in dispute with the owners of the land it stood on. James Burbage had died in 1597 and the venue had been vacant since his death; then one wintry night in December, Richard Burbage, James’s son, led the Men to dismantle the Theatre and move the valuable building materials across the river to a new site in Southwark. It wasn’t exactly theft: Richard knew his father had a clause in his contract with the owners of the Theatre, stating that while they owned the land, the theater itself belonged to the company, but it was an audacious act. By the end of the summer of 1599 the rebuilt Globe Theatre was up and running, probably opening with a production of As You Like It. Profits were shared between the five or so “housekeepers” of the company, who, along with Shakespeare, included William Kemp, Augustine Philips, John Heminges and Thomas Pope, though personnel changed over the years.The Globe was vast: it could hold audiences of around three thousand and was extremely popular. Historians have estimated that about 20 percent of the population of London regularly visited the theater. As new plays were put on almost every afternoon there was plenty to keep people coming back. The design of the Globe followed existing venues for bear-baiting, and was loosely based on the layout of the inn courtyards and marketplaces where players had plied their trade in the 1570s. It was a twenty-sided polygon, as close as you could probably get to an O, comprising a wooden outer building around a paved courtyard into which the stage jutted. Many of the audience paid the low entrance fee of a penny to stand in the courtyard, or “pit;” these spectators were known as the groundlings. For those deeper of pocket there were three tiers of covered galleries. On each side of the stage, at the back, was a door, through which actors would enter and exit, and behind those doors was what we now call the dressing room, but in Shakespeare’s day was called the “tiring house.” Two posts at the front of the stage held up a cover to protect the actors, their very few props and costumes from the rain. No such luck for those standing in the pit. In the cover was a trapdoor through which characters could be lowered from the heavens, and underneath there was a trapdoor in the stage, too, through which a ghost, like King Hamlet, might appear. There was also a balcony that ran the length of the stage for those scenes that required an upper window. Because a large part of the audience was standing so close to the action, drinking beer and eating hazelnuts, and the plays were performed in daylight, there was a less formal atmosphere than that found in theaters today.Audiences enjoyed the elaborate costumes, but there was minimal set dressing and no atmospheric lighting, so the words and the performances had to be incredibly powerful. Since acting was considered a dishonorable profession, women were prevented by law from becoming actresses, so female roles were played by young men or boys right up until the 1660s when the moral stigma receded. Cleopatra ironically refers to this practice in Antony and Cleopatra when she says “I shall see / Some squeaking Cleopatra boy my greatness . . .”

Editorial Reviews

"An obvious candidate to take to a desert island, along with Shakespeare and the Bible."—Daily Telegraph"This fascinating and fun volume delves into all things Shakespeare and will appeal to novices and experts alike... light, accessible, and engaging... Included in this book are synopses of all of Shakespeare's works and his life and times, key influences, language and style, controversies, and famous quotations. The authors also include modern-day adaptations of Shakespeare's works and endless related miscellanea... An entertaining and highly informative read, this is essential for students and scholars, theatergoers wanting to familiarize themselves with a particular work, and general readers who are simply curious about one of the most famous and influential playwrights of all time."—Library Journal"A good overview, with historical context, coverage of each play and brief rebuttals to the various theories suggesting that the guy from Stratford named William Shakespeare isn't the author of the plays."—Iowa City Press-Citizen