5 Things I didn’t know about Shakespeare

1 Shakespeare the collaborator.

Shakespeare was one of many writers at the time. The entertainment industry was a burgeoning industry at the time and Shakespeare was plying his trade alongside and with many other writers that we know about and many more that we don’t. One important fact from this is what, whilst the plays written in the middle of his career were his own writing, his early and late plays were all collaborations with other writers. In fact there are several plays outside what is considered the Shakespeare cannon that either have his name on, or can be assumed to be his work from his particular style of writing. This was not unusual of the time. A huge amount of collaboration took place between writers, in fact it is more unlikely for Shakespeare to have written alone than it would have been for him to have collaborated with other writers. There are suggestions of evidence in works such as Macbeth of other writers contributions.

2. Shakespeare was an actor. 

Shakespeare was an actor as much as he was playwright. I always knew that he started off as an actor, but what I didn’t realise was that carried on throughout his career. He was the lead performer in Ben Johnsons play Every man in his humour in 1598. The same year as he was writing the two parts of Henry IV, Much Ado About Nothing and Henry V.

3. The plague and poetry.

The plague hit London in 1593 and large gatherings in public places were banned, thus theatre stopped. Whilst the theatre companies from London went on tour, Shakespeare didn’t. He started to write poetry. He wrote a poem called Venus And Adonis, which when published become the biggest selling poems of his time, everyone talking about it. Whilst thhis made him money, which given the situation would have been more than if he’d gone on tour, it also had another great impact on Shakespeare. Amongst the 6 or 7 plays he wrote preceding the plague are Henry VI parts 1 to 3, Richard III and Comedy of Errors. Early plays not known for their verse content. Immediately after the success of the poem, he wrote the great poetic masterpieces of Romeo and Juliet, Loves Labours Lost and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Without that time away from London and the theatre would he have had time to work on his poetry so that he could bring that side of his writing into his theatre works?

4. He was not welcomed as a playwright.

At the time writers were separate from actors. The writers were mainly Oxford or Cambridge graduates and there was an elitism between them and the actors. The writers very much saw the actors as objects to do as the writers please. Not only that, but it was the writer who got paid more than the actor. However, Shakespeare a different. He didn’t have a formal higher education and he came up through the ranks for actors to be a writer. He wasn’t accepted by other writers as a writer. This is why he wrote for his own company of men, each new play being performed by the same actors. Richard Burbage always performing as the lead man of each play, the first Romeo and the first Hamlet.

5. Was he English or British? Shakespeare the politician.

For much of his time Shakespeare was writing whilst Elisabeth I was on the thrown. She was the Queen of England, and as such many of Shakespeare’s plays were influenced by that fact. The histories are English centred and building a sense of patriotism towards the nation. Perhaps in compensation for the debate that lurked behind everything, which was the question of succession. When that time did come and James I came to the thrown, he did so as King of Scotland too and he was King of England and Scotland. James I’s thoughts were very much on uniting the two crowns and this can also be reflected in Shakespeare’s work. Macbeth, for example, was written under James I. His work changes and reflects the political climate of the time.

Sources: University of Warwick and The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

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