About this poet

William Shakespeare was born on April 23, 1564, in Stratford-on-Avon. The son of John Shakespeare and Mary Arden, he was probably educated at the King Edward IV Grammar School in Stratford, where he learned Latin and a little Greek and read the Roman dramatists. At eighteen, he married Anne Hathaway, a woman seven or eight years his senior. Together they raised two daughters: Susanna, who was born in 1583, and Judith (whose twin brother died in boyhood), born in 1585.

Little is known about Shakespeare's activities between 1585 and 1592. Robert Greene's A Groatsworth of Wit alludes to him as an actor and playwright. Shakespeare may have taught at school during this period, but it seems more probable that shortly after 1585 he went to London to begin his apprenticeship as an actor. Due to the plague, the London theaters were often closed between June 1592 and April 1594. During that period, Shakespeare probably had some income from his patron, Henry Wriothesley, earl of Southampton, to whom he dedicated his first two poems, Venus and Adonis (1593) and The Rape of Lucrece (1594). The former was a long narrative poem depicting the rejection of Venus by Adonis, his death, and the consequent disappearance of beauty from the world. Despite conservative objections to the poem's glorification of sensuality, it was immensely popular and was reprinted six times during the nine years following its publication.

In 1594, Shakespeare joined the Lord Chamberlain's company of actors, the most popular of the companies acting at Court. In 1599 Shakespeare joined a group of Chamberlain's Men that would form a syndicate to build and operate a new playhouse: the Globe, which became the most famous theater of its time. With his share of the income from the Globe, Shakespeare was able to purchase New Place, his home in Stratford.

While Shakespeare was regarded as the foremost dramatist of his time, evidence indicates that both he and his contemporaries looked to poetry, not playwriting, for enduring fame. Shakespeare's sonnets were composed between 1593 and 1601, though not published until 1609. That edition, The Sonnets of Shakespeare, consists of 154 sonnets, all written in the form of three quatrains and a couplet that is now recognized as Shakespearean. The sonnets fall into two groups: sonnets 1-126, addressed to a beloved friend, a handsome and noble young man, and sonnets 127-152, to a malignant but fascinating "Dark Lady," who the poet loves in spite of himself. Nearly all of Shakespeare's sonnets examine the inevitable decay of time, and the immortalization of beauty and love in poetry.

In his poems and plays, Shakespeare invented thousands of words, often combining or contorting Latin, French, and native roots. His impressive expansion of the English language, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, includes such words as: arch-villain, birthplace, bloodsucking, courtship, dewdrop, downstairs, fanged, heartsore, hunchbacked, leapfrog, misquote, pageantry, radiance, schoolboy, stillborn, watchdog, and zany.

Shakespeare wrote more than thirty plays. These are usually divided into four categories: histories, comedies, tragedies, and romances. His earliest plays were primarily comedies and histories such as Henry VI and The Comedy of Errors, but in 1596, Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet, his second tragedy, and over the next dozen years he would return to the form, writing the plays for which he is now best known: Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra. In his final years, Shakespeare turned to the romantic with Cymbeline, A Winter's Tale, and The Tempest.

Only eighteen of Shakespeare's plays were published separately in quarto editions during his lifetime; a complete collection of his works did not appear until the publication of the First Folio in 1623, several years after his death. Nonetheless, his contemporaries recognized Shakespeare's achievements. Francis Meres cited "honey-tongued" Shakespeare for his plays and poems in 1598, and the Chamberlain's Men rose to become the leading dramatic company in London, installed as members of the royal household in 1603.

Sometime after 1612, Shakespeare retired from the stage and returned to his home in Stratford. He drew up his will in January of 1616, which included his famous bequest to his wife of his "second best bed." He died on April 23, 1616, and was buried two days later at Stratford Church.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

The Rape of Lucrece (1594)
The Sonnets of Shakespeare (1609)
Venus and Adonis (1593)

Drama

A Midsummer Night's Dream (1595)
All's Well that Ends Well (1602)
Antony and Cleopatra (1607)
As You Like It (1599)
Coriolanus (1608)
Cymbeline (1609)
Hamlet (1600)
Henry IV (1597)
Henry V (1598)
Henry VI (Parts I, II, and III) (1590)
Henry VIII (1612)
Julius Caesar (1599)
King John (1596)
King Lear (1605)
Love's Labour's Lost (1593)
Macbeth (1606)
Measure for Measure (1604)
Much Ado About Nothing (1598)
Othello (1604)
Pericles (1608)
Richard II (1595)
Richard III (1594)
Romeo and Juliet (1596)
The Comedy of Errors (1590)
The Merchant of Venice (1596)
The Merry Wives of Windsor (1597)
The Taming of the Shrew (1593)
The Tempest (1611)
The Winter's Tale (1610)
Timon of Athens (1607)
Titus Andronicus (1590)
Troilus and Cressida (1600)
Twelfth Night (1599)
Two Gentlemen of Verona (1592)

Hamlet, Act III, Scene III [Oh my offence is rank]

William Shakespeare, 1564 - 1616
The King's Speech

O, my offence is rank, it smells to heaven;
It hath the primal eldest curse upon't,
A brother's murder!—Pray can I not,
Though inclination be as sharp as will;
My stronger guilt defeats my strong intent;
And, like a man to double business bound,
I stand in pause where I shall first begin,
And both neglect. What if this cursed hand
Were thicker than itself with brother's blood,
Is there not rain enough in the sweet heavens
To wash it white as snow? Whereto serves mercy
But to confront the visage of offence?
And what's in prayer but this twofold force,
To be forestalled ere we come to fall,
Or pardon'd being down? then I'll look up;
My fault is past. But, O, what form of prayer
Can serve my turn? Forgive me my foul murder?
That cannot be; since I am still possess'd 
Of those effects for which I did the murder,—
My crown, mine own ambition, and my queen.
May one be pardon'd and retain the offence? 
In the corrupted currents of this world 
Offence's gilded hand may shove by justice; 
And oft 'tis seen the wicked prize itself 
Buys out the law: but 'tis not so above: 
There is no shuffling, there the action lies 
In his true nature; and we ourselves compell'd, 
Even to the teeth and forehead of our faults, 
To give in evidence. What then? what rests? 
Try what repentance can: what can it not? 
Yet what can it when one can not repent? 
O wretched state! O bosom black as death! 
O limed soul, that, struggling to be free, 
Art more engaged! Help, angels! Make assay! 
Bow, stubborn knees! and, heart with strings of steel
Be soft as sinews of the newborn babe!
All may be well!

This poem is in the public domain.

This poem is in the public domain.

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare, regarded as the foremost dramatist of his time, wrote more than thirty plays and more than one hundred sonnets, all written in the form of three quatrains and a couplet that is now recognized as Shakespearean.

by this poet

poem
From you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud-pied April, dressed in all his trim,
Hath put a spirit of youth in everything,
That heavy Saturn laughed and leaped with him,
Yet nor the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell
Of different flowers in odor and in hue,
Could make me any summer's story tell,
Or
poem
When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope,
poem

Enobarbus describes Queen Cleopatra


Enobarbus: I will tell you.
The barge she sat in, like a burnish'd throne,
Burned on the water: the poop was beaten gold;
Purple the sails, and so perfumed that
The winds were lovesick with them; the oars were silver,
Which to the tune of flutes kept