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Shakespeare” Plays – Sonnets

Shakespeare-Plays

William Shakespeare wrote thirty eight plays giving the world an insight into history as seen through the eyes of one man.  His work covered three main genres: History – Tragedies – Comedies.  For he was not afraid to write of romances, love and lust through his characters.  These works of this one man would last for centuries, becoming a leading playwright, always remembered for his works.

So join with me as we step back in time, breaking into the world of his plays.

All That Ends Well (1602-1603)

This comedy is centred round the old age subject of love, and how obstacles can be overcome, even though there is no final resolution to the problem.  It leaves the audience, believing that humanity is to blame for their inadequacy.

It tells us of Helena, the orphaned daughter of a much respected and experienced physician, raised within the household of the Countess of Rossillions, and is said to love Bertram son of the Countess.

Bertram heads off to see the King of France, who is gravely ill, with Helena in hot pursuit, looking to heal the King, and move herself up the pecking ladder so to speak.

The King is cured, and grants Helena one wish, and she choose’s Bertram as her husband, who strongly objects to any such alliance.

The story is one of seduction, and deceit by Helena until Bertram is forced into accepting her as his wife.  Bertram had no choice in this, for Helena had him in her clutches, and no intentions of letting her go.

Productions of the play did not take place until the 1740’s when Peg Woffington played the part of Helena. In the early part of the 19thcentury, it was performed but censored in part.  Then mid way through the 20thcentury it became popular…

Robert Atkins produced it in 1949, and then in 1953 Tyrone Guthrie produced it in Stratford-upon-Avon. There was one production that stood out, that would be Trevor Nunn’s (1981-1983) starring Peggy Ashcroft as the countess.  It played first at Stratford-upon-Avon, then on to London, and finally Broadway.

Hamlet (1600-1601)

Since its production on the stage, with Richard Burbage a leading actor at that time, playing the part of Hamlet in this tragedy based play.  It has been recognised the world over, as one of Shakespeare’s most prominent works.

The ghost of Hamlet, former King of Denmark, appears to Horatio, long time friend of Prince Hamlet, knowing his words would reach the ears of his son.

Prince Hamlet speaks out harshly against Claudius and Gertrude’s (Hamlet’s former wife) marriage. His father’s ghost, tells how Claudius had poisoned him, seeking the hand of Gertrude, as he took his position as the new King of Denmark.  Prince Hamlet promises to avenge his father’s death, for such a dastardly act.

Laertes, son of Polonius warns his sister, Ophelia against any courtship with Prince Hamlet.  Yet Prince Hamlet rejects her, feigning madness to ward her off.

The death of his father affects Prince Hamlet, so much, that nothing would stand in his way, to avenge his murder.  So much so, that friends Rossencrantz and Guildenstern help him perform a play, an enactment of his father’s death with Claudius watching.

Later in the play, Claudius believing he is alone and in prayer, admits his guilt, but is overheard by Prince Hamlet, who opts not to take his revenge at that point, and kill him…

Claudius, knowing that Prince Hamlet had killed Polonius, conspired with Laertes to avenge the death of his father, and the madness that had destroyed his sister; Ophelia, rejected by him and treated as a whore.

Claudius and Hamlet meet where Ophelia is buried using poison tipped swords, and poisoned wine. Osric presents the challenge between Prince Hamlet and Laertes.

Gertrude drinks from the poisoned wine in error, and Hamlet and Laertes are both wounded, Claudius is stabbed by Laertes, and forced to drink the wine, then both men collapse and die, and Prince Hamlet also dies from his wound.

Prince Hamlet receives a state funeral, and knew he had avenged his father’s life…

The part of Hamlet had been portrayed by many fine actors in the 19thand 20thcenturies:

19thCentury – Ira Aldridge, William Charles Macready, Edwin Booth and Henry Irving.

20thCentury – John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier and John Barrymore.

I am sure there are many more names we could add, but these are those who are most known for acting the part.

Richard III (1592-1593)

The historical play of Richard III has been very controversial, ever so much in recent time since the discovery of his bodily remains.

In this play Edward IV, having seized the English throne, defeats the Lancastrians, ensuring his position as King Edward IV of England.

Brotherly love doesn’t always run smoothly, as Edward has two brothers; George the Duke of Clarence and Richard the Duke of Gloucester, who sought after the throne, whatever the cost.

We see Richard as a villain, with an evil nature, plotting the death of brother George, upon the charge of treason, being sent to the tower, and executed.

Edward now an ailing King, collapses at the news that his brother George, Duke of Clarence was dead. For it was he who sent him to the tower, but at the last minute had issued a pardon, sparing his life. However, Richard Duke of Gloucester delayed issuing the pardon, waiting until he had heard that the execution had taken place.

King Edward IV names Richard Duke of Gloucester as protector after his death, and entrusts the two princes, Edward and Richard into his care.

So it was Richard the Duke of York joined his brother Prince Edward, successor to the English throne at the Tower of London.

Prince Edward V and Richard the Duke of York, having been the children of the Duke of Clarence, who had been executed for treason, were deemed illegitimate based on a rumour, which had no substance, that they be the result of the late King’s illicit affair.

The young princes disappeared never to be heard from again, it is believed they were executed on the order’s of Richard III himself, and executed by Tyrell, who was in the employ of Richard.

King Richard III’s reign was overshadowed by the constant threat of a Tudor invasion of these lands. So it was King Richard III died on the battle field at Bosworth Field in Leicestershire.

The part of Richard III was played by Richard Burbage in 1590, a well known actor at that time, and the leading actor in “Lord Chamberlain’s Men,” and later renamed as “The King’s Men” in honour of their patron King James I.

In 1700 Colley Cibber, re-wrote parts of the play, thus reducing it in size from the original, and this revised version was performed in New York in 1751, and ran for many years.

With the 19thcentury, much of the original writings were replaced.

Richard III, a play with much history content, reached the cinema screen, when four silent films were produced over a number of years, but the most remembered was Max Reinhardt’s version, released in 1919.

In 1956 Lawrence Olivier played the part of Richard III in the movie, which had been altered considerably for the screen, but designed to attract cinema goers.  Since those days it has been performed as a play, on television and national theatres, along with more modern television versions.

There have been many plays written by William Shakespeare, and I have given an account of one from each category.

“The Two Noble Kinsmen play,” written in 1613, lists William Shakespeare and John Fletcher as co-authors in this work.  The majority of this play was the work of Fletcher, whilst Shakespeare wrote acts one and five.

John Fletcher went on to succeed Shakespeare as the principal writer of plays for “The King’s Men.”

William Shakespeare was known to write a total of 154 sonnets, of which 126 were dedicated to a fair youth, and the remaining 28 dedicated to that of a dark lady.

So what is a sonnet? A poem consisting of fourteen lines of regular rhythm and rhyme, based on a single theme.  Sonnets are normally divided up, and the first eight lines would represent the theme, and the remaining six lines would form the resolution or conclusion.

A William Shakespeare sonnet would rhyme like this:

Line 01 rhymes with line 03          Line 08 rhymes with line 06

Line 02 rhymes with line 04          Line 09 rhymes with line 11

Line 03 rhymes with line 01          Line 10 rhymes with line 12

Line 04 rhymes with line 02          Line 11 rhymes with line 09

Line 05 rhymes with line 07          Line 12 rhymes with line 10

Line 06 rhymes with line 08          Line 13 rhymes with line 14

Line 07 rhymes with line 05          Line 14 rhymes with line 13

If one uses the above we can see how it works out below:

Sonnet 18 written by William Shakespeare.

Line 01      Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Line 02      Thou art more lovely and more temperate:

Line 03      Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

Line 04      And Summer’s lease hath all too short a date:

Line 05      Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,

Line 06      And often is his gold complexion dimmed,

Line 07      And every fair from fair sometime declines,

Line 08      By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimmed:

Line 09      But thy eternal summer shall not fade,

Line 10      Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,

Line 11      Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,

Line 12      When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st,

Line 13      So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,

Line 14      So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

If we observe how a sonnet is written, we can get a good idea how it has been created.  So a few examples are shown below how sonnet 18 works.

The last word of line one (day) rhyme’s with the last word of line three (May).

The last word of line five (shines) rhyme’s with the last word of line seven (declines).

The last word of line ten (ow’st) rhymes with the last word of line twelve (grow’st).

This has become over time one of William Shakespeare’s most remembered and most loved sonnet.  The opening line put’s forward a question which the rest of the sonnet answers.

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Shakespeare: Globe Theatre

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The Globe Theatre

In 1594, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England, Shakespeare needed a playing company to perform his plays to the public.  So it was, that the “Lord Chamberlain’s Men” were born with him being one of the owners.

Richard Burbage would play most of the leading roles, which would have included; Hamlet, Othello and Macbeth to name just a few, whilst Shakespeare himself would have performed many of the secondary parts.

Shakespeare wrote most of his plays to be performed by the “Lord Chamberlain’s Men,” and they played to their audience at “The Theatre” in Shoreditch, then in 1597 they moved to the “Curtain Theatre,” following a dispute with their landlord.

His need for larger premises saw the ambitious construction of the “Globe Theatre” in Southwark, built in 1599.

For it was on the 29thDecember 1598 that “The Theatre” in Shoreditch was dismantled, and the main beams moved to south of the River Thames: “The Globe Theatre,” in Southwark.

The original Globe Theatre was a three-storey open-air amphitheatre, some 100 feet in diameter, and easily capable of housing 3,000 spectators.

Located at the base of the stage, we find an area referred to as the pit, which was for standing room only.  It was common practice in this design, to locate larger columns on either side of the stage as support for a roof over the rear area of stage.  The ceiling area would be painted with what appeared to be sky and clouds, representing the heavens.  A trap door would be located in the heavens, allowing performers to descend using a harness.

The Globe became a joint venture, as in the “Lord Chamberlain’s Men” sharing in profits and debts: Richard Burbage – Cuthbert Burbage – William Shakespeare – John Heminges – Augustine Phillips – Thomas Pope.

With its first performance being held on the 21stSeptember 1599 in their new playhouse: Julius Ceasar.

William Shakespeare’s wealth grew, with each and every production drawing in the crowds to witness the plays of this man.  He who had no formal training according to a critic of his work; Robert Greene, yet he was popular.  Many of his plays were being published, and his name attracted many to read his works.

In 1603, Queen Elizabeth I died, and King James I ascended to the English throne, and became their new patron.  They changed their name to the “King’s Men” in response.  The company then held exclusive rights for the performances of William Shakespeare plays.

The “Globe Theatre” was destroyed by fire on 29thJune 1613, during a performance of Henry VIII. It is said a theatrical cannon misfired setting the wooden beams and thatched roof into a blazing inferno. She was rebuilt by June 1614.

“The Globe” suffered the same fate as many other London theatres in 1642; being closed, and demolished in 1644, making way for tenements, by order of the Puritans.  Thankfully, William Shakespeare had not been alive to see his dream torn down.

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Shakespeare: The Lord Chamberlain’s Men

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The “Lord Strange’s Men” was an early group of actors, which were the forerunners to the “Lord Chamberlain’s Men.”

So who were the Lord Chamberlain’s Men?

They were a group of actors who performed the plays as written by William Shakespeare, and he was in the early day’s one of its shareholders, and often stepped in, to play secondary roles, for he was no actor in the true sense of the word.

It was founded in 1594, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England with Henry Carey the 1stBaron Hunsdon, the Lord Chamberlain as their patron.

When their patron died on the 23rdJuly 1596 his son George Carey the 2ndBaron Hunsdon took over the position as their patron, and under his direction they were no longer known as “Lord Chamberlain’s Men,” but “Lord Hunsdon’s Men.” When George Carey was appointed to Lord Chamberlain on the 17thMarch 1597, they reverted their stage name to that of “Lord Chamberlain’s Men.”

With the death of Queen Elizabeth I of England in 1603, having been on the throne for 45 years, and served her people well.  King James IV of Scotland became the new King James I of England when he ascended to the English throne in 1603.  He became the new patron to the “Lord Chamberlain’s Men,” who duly changed their name to the “Kings Men,” in honour of their new patron, and King.

Lord Chamberlain’s Men, came about by way of a former group known as “Lord Strange’s Men.”  For it was James Burbage an impresario who ran the company till his death in 1597, when sons Richard and Cuthbert took over ownership, with little involvement in the early days.

The Lord Chamberlain’s Men consisted in the early times with eight shareholders, who would share between them the profits and debts of their company.

One of the most remembered would be William Kempe who played the part of the clown, in Shakespeare’s plays; Romeo and Juliet, Much Ado About Nothing and a Midsummer Night’s Dream, and by 1601 he had left the company.

George Bryan, a former member of the “Leicester’s Men” in the 1580’s and friend of William Kempe performed with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, until his retirement from the stage between 1597-1598.  Later he became Groom of the Chamber, within the household of King James.

Thomas Pope, a former member of the “Leicester’s Men,” also performed with the “Lord Chamberlain’s Men,” and retired from the stage in 1600, and died a few years later in 1603.

Augustine Phillips, formerly a member of the “Lord Strange’s Men,” remained with the “Lord Chamberlain’s Men” until his death in 1605.

Henry Condell and John Heminges, two young actors, with a vision, who also came from the former “Lord Strange’s Men,” and onto “Lord Chamberlain’s Men.”  They made a name for themselves, when in 1623, for they were responsible for producing “Shakespeare’s First Folio,” of his works.

Two shareholders of the “Lord Chamberlain’s Men” who would be remembered for their contributions: William Shakespeare as a secondary actor and playwright and Richard Burbage as lead actor, who performed in Hamlet, Othello, King Lear and Macbeth, and would go on to become a famous Renaissance actor.

It is known a number of boys within the group went on to have distinguished careers in their own rights. Alexander Cooke, played female roles in many of Shakespeare’s plays, whilst Christopher Beeston became a wealthy 17thcentury impresario.

The original members of the “Lord Chamberlain’s Men,” changed much over the years, as members died off, got old, or left to pursue other directions.

For one of those was William Kempe who was replaced by Robert Armin an author, offering the group an alternative to the works of William Shakespeare.  He had been credited with creating originality to the characters; “Feste” in Twelfth Night, “Touchstone” in As You Like It and the “Fool” in King Lear.

Yet, the majority of the work performed by the company was that of Shakespeare’s.  However, the earliest production of a non-Shakespearean play was performed in the summer of 1598.  “Every Man in His Humour,” by Ben Jonson’s and in 1599 its sequel “Every Man out of His Humour.”

In 1601, the “Lord Chamberlain’s Men” tried to avoid involvement with the Earl of Essex and his insurrection; his attempt to overthrow Queen Elizabeth I.

It is a known fact that some of Essex supporters commissioned a performance of Shakespeare’s Richard II, hoping to get the public on their side, so they could overthrow the Queen, but they were thwarted by their actions.

Witness statements provided by the actors, claimed they had been offered forty shillings more than their standard fee for a performance … how could they refuse.

No charges were laid against the members of “Lord Chamberlain’s Men,” and they performed for Queen Elizabeth I on the 24thFebruary 1601.

On the 25thFebruary 1601, the Earl of Essex was executed for his crime, against the monarchy.

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Shakespeare: First steps as a Writer

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William Shakespeare

So what was William Shakespeare doing before he made his debut in London?

It was a known fact, that he had often poached deer from Charlecote Park, the lands of Sir Thomas Lucy. According to Nicholas Rowe and Archdeacon Davies, he had often been whipped for stealing venison and rabbits.

William Shakespeare’s performances on the London stage …

In the latter part of the 1580’s, Shakespeare arrived in London, hoping to make a name for himself. By 1592 he had several plays being performed on stage, including “As You Like it.”

Out of utter disgust, Robert Greene the university – educated writer attacked his words in print. “There is an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tiger’s heart wrapped in a player’s hide, supposes he is well able to bombarst out a blank verse as the best of you, and being an absolute Johannes factotum, is in his own conceit the only Shake – scene in a country.”

Scholars agree it was Greene’s way of saying William Shakespeare was reaching above his rank, and matching those trained in the art of writing.

By the early part of the 1590’s William Shakespeare had become a partner in an acting company who performed in London, known as the “Lord Chamberlain’s Men.”  In 1603 they changed their name to that of the “King’s Men” following the crowning of King James I.

One thing we have to note, is that during the 16thcentury, the theatre was not frequented very much by those of mobility or those of high ranking in society.  They showed their appreciation in other ways, by being patrons to the performing arts.

For William Shakespeare to make his mark he needed to attract somebody of importance to his works. He was fortunate, that the Earl of Southampton; Henry Wriothesley liked what he read and saw, written and produced by this virtual newcomer.

Shakespeare dedicated his first two published poems to the Earl:

“Venus and Adonis” was published in 1593.  The story within the poem, tells the reader that Adonis was being seduced by Venus the goddess of love, by all means possible to her.  Adonis rejects her advances, and is killed by a boar, whilst out hunting, and where his blood falls upon the ground, a flower sprouted in his memory.

“The Rape of Lucrece” was published in 1594, and the story contained within the poem, tells of how Lucrece was raped by Tarquin a family friend.  She tells her father and husband of the event, and they promise to avenge her, then out of guilt she stabs herself to death.

Each poem was designed to show the guilt and moral confusions from lustful acts.  These poems proved to be very popular during the life of William Shakespeare, being re-printed many times.

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William Shakespeare’s Early Years

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William Shakespeare

A question I put forward is, what do we know of the greatest playwright and poet: William Shakespeare, who walked this earth and whence he came from.  It is my intention to answer some of these questions in my blog … so enjoy the ride.

William Shakespeare has been credited as England’s greatest playwright and poet of all times, having written thirty-eight plays, one-hundred and fifty-four sonnets and countless other poems and verses.  His works have been performed worldwide, and his poetry read by countless millions.

His exact date of birth is unknown, but research has found he has been credited with the same date as St.George’s Day.  It was a common practice at that time to perform the baptism of a child within a few days of birth.

William Shakespeare was born on the 23rdApril 1564 to parents John Shakespeare an Alderman and Mary Arden in Stratford – upon-Avon, and baptised on the 26thApril at Holy Trinity Church.

We know little of young Shakespeare’s schooling, other than we believe he attended King’s New School in Stratford, for the school was only a few hundred yards from the family home. Based upon the teachings during the Elizabethan era, he would have received a grammatical education based upon Latin classical works.

When Shakespeare was 18, he married Anne Hathaway aged 26, and pregnant at the time, on the 27thNovember 1582 in Worcester.  She gave birth to a daughter; Susanna on the 26May 1583.

It is stated that the marriage had been by mutual consent according to locals, but you have to wonder. For the old age custom of marriage banns being read out three times, never took place, only one reading in their case.  All the signs were there, of pushing the marriage through quickly.

William and Anne had two more children on the 2ndFebruary; a daughter Judith, and son Hamnet who died aged eleven.

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Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc

Joan, this young peasant girl
born of humble stock
believed, she be the answer
as English forces invaded France.

This young peasant girl, who loved
the teachings of the Catholic Church,
believed God had spoken to her
and it be her duty, to save France.

She was mocked by her elders
yet, she believed in her words;
give me an army, and I will drive
these English infidels, from our lands.

Joan led French armies into battle
dressed in white, carrying her banner,
her victories were widespread
her fame spread across France.

Upon her capture, her fate was sewn
dying the death of a martyr,
burned at the stake as a witch,
as she prayed for her accusers.