Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Question from William - Shakespeare's role in Tudor times

Hi, I was wondering about William Shakespeare's role in the Tudor times. Did he really do anything?

3 comments:

Geoffrey Browne said...

Between 1596 and 1603 in the reign of Elizabeth he wrote many plays including Richard II, Twelfth Night, Romeo & Juliet, and Hamlet. Some plays had a political slant such as Richard II which depicts the murder of a king and which play the Earl of Essex caused to be played on the eve of the unsuccessful Essex rebellion. It is likely that Shakespeare's company played before the queen though more likely at court than either at the Rose or at the Globe theatres.

Mary Katherine said...

You ask if he did anything, The truth is William Shakespeare of Stratford-Upon-Avon was the original one legged man in a butt kicking contest.

First off, Shakespeare is very important to the history of the English language. As strange as it may sound, he and a few of his contemporaries, like Donne and Marlowe and Jonson, are the dividing line between older forms of English and newer ones; for example, if you or I got in a time machine and picked up Geoffrey Chaucer (one of English's earliest authors and THE English writer one must read from the Middle Ages) and Shakespeare, it would be Shakespeare who would have a much easier time of understanding us. Chaucer's Middle English would be different in vocabulary, pronunciation (to a point where it would sound a little like a wonky version of Dutch) syntax, and spelling. Shakespeare would sound like he had a bit of a brogue, as if Irish and Birmingham and West Country contributed DNA and had a very strange baby. He'd have a tricky time but only at first, since he'd be able to speak simple sentences without much problem and he'd pick up the letters v and j fairly fast as both appear in some types of Latin, a language he knew. (Speakers of American English in fact would have a very slightly easier time speaking to him since it diverged from British English about 80 years after Shakespeare died: past participles like gotten or the rare boughten and the use of the subjunctive are more common, the accent is very rhotic, Shakespeare would measure in miles and not kilometers, some vocabulary like "candy" and "diaper" or "fall" would be the same, etc.)

Shakespeare also invented many new phrases and words that we use today, like "to knit one's eyebrows" or "ill gotten gains." "In a pickle" is also his. Aside from a brief period when Cromwell was the head of the English government, his words have never been out of print and have been translated into all the world's languages.

While alive, you would never think he was much special; he had some fame while alive, but he did not achieve international heights of fame he has until after his death and OTT he was not exactly what one would think of when they think of the modern sense of superstar. A fair description of Shakespeare is that he was of average height, with thinning brown hair and brown eyes, probably a little pudgy in the middle from eating beer and capons [16th century equivalent of a Big Mac and coke], and he never, as far as is known, played the lead role in his plays; most likely you would walk in on him in his very small rented room , fingers covered in ink, king costume not quite all the way off, scribbling a note to his wife thanking her for sending the pies and telling her he'd be home next week before starting again on a powerful soliloquy (Shakespeare likley rarely got to rest: acting, directing, writing, trying to stay clear of angering the nobility with said writing lest his head be separated from his shoulders, running a business as a shareholder, and running a family long distance (despite standing stereotypes, nobody has ever proved he and his wife had such a horrible relationship; in fact, most actors and other such professions where the husband lived apart of the age show the wives and families sending supplies and comforts of home via post.) The acting he did way back then was important in the sense that it was the granddaddy of all acting done today, even film, since prior to his birth most forms of acting were done within the confines of the church, mystery plays and the like. His form of theatre revived older Roman and Greek traditions and in Shakespeare's case especially built on top of those traditions to give us Restoration theatre, then Georgian, then Victorian, and then modern.

kb said...

I would just like to clarify one point from an early response.

Although historical narrative claims that Shakespeare's Richard II was commissioned by Essex to be played in the days before his 1601 attempted coup, the archival sources do not bear this out. The more likely play commissioned by some of Essex's followers is Henry IV. See E.K. Chambers, "William Shakespeare: A Study of Facts and Problems" (1930).

In Henry IV, there is a deposition of Richard II scene. Although, in 1601 there were 3 quartos of Shakespeare's Richard II in print, two of which credited Shakespeare as the author. However, none of these quartos include the deposition scene. It appears in a 1608 version.