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William Shakespeare is perhaps one of the well-known poets and playwrights. Although it seems not well known when he began his writing career, Greenblatt reports the staging of his plays in 1592 in London (12). He was born of a staunch Roman Catholic family with his parents living in the times of conflicting stands between Catholics and Protestants. His cultural background and experiences appears to spring all through his 38 plays, two long poems amongst others in one way or another.
His father, John Shakespeare, “dealt in trading in wool, malt and corn” (Grady 10) at Stratford with his father, Richard Shakespeare producing the noble objects of the trade on his farm. John then bought a house in Henley Street, Stratford to place himself conveniently near the market place.
He then “started in the dubious business of money lending” (Grady 10): reminiscent of the Merchant; Jewish moneylender and Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. In 1557, John married Mary Arden. Several cultural and religious conflicts determined the choice of Mary Arden as the probable wife to John.
On one hand, he had to choose a fellow catholic, due to the wave that stood between the catholic and the Protestants, making the Catholics face a treatment characterized by suspicion and hatred. On the other hand, John had to live up to his prominence ambitions, though illiterate. By marrying a young wealthy woman at the age of 17 while in 26s, he stood assured of good start in marriage life and in line with his ambitions.
Later in 1558, they gave birth to their first child, Joan. Unfortunately, Joan succumbed to Black Death (the plaque). Their second daughter, born in 1562, lived for one year. In 1564 (though not supported by official document due to inexistency of registration then in English history), came William Shakespeare. William was the eldest son of a family of eight siblings.
Probably William was educated in king’s new school based in Stratford. However, “during the Elizabethan era, the curriculum remained dictated by the law throughout England, and the school would have provided an intensive education in Latin grammar and the classics” (Burns 5). At 18, he married Anne Hathaway, the then 26-year old.
They gave birth to their first child Susanne baptized on 26 may 1583 and later to twins: Hamnet and Judith, in 1585. In all biographies of William Shakespeare, missing marks of his history between 1585 and 1592 exist. Many scholars for instance Rowe upholds the opinion that William fled from Stratford to London “to escape prosecution for deer poaching in the estate of local squire Thomas Lucy” (7).
John Aubrey (Gray 79) on his part speculated that, William was a country schoolmaster during the Shakespeare ‘lost years’. Furthermore, “Some 20th-century scholars have suggested that Shakespeare may have been employed as a schoolmaster by Alexander Houghton of Lancashire: a Catholic landowner who named a certain ‘William Shakeshafte’” (Gager 45). Wherever Shakespeare was during this time remains a miserly
His plays initially were predominantly comedies and histories before winding up with genres portraying sophistication of artistry in the near end of 16th century. Around 1608, he focused on tragedies such as King Lear, Othello, Macbeth and Hamlet. Finally, the last phase entangled romances.
The romances include A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which characterized mixes of comic scenes, romance and fairy magic. Somewhat interesting Shakespeare’s romantic play was Merchant of Venice that preceded Much Ado about Nothing. Merchant of Venice play stands out a reflection of Elizabethan views but more of derogatory from modern reader’s perspective point of view.
Merchant of Venice stands out as one of the many plays of the Shakespeare, which clearly reflects cultural influences that rendered Shakespeare do the play through its characters qualities and themes. Shakespeare’s rooted challenges of disputed cultural inclination on religion dominantly appear not only in the Merchant of Venice but also in the rest of his writings.
In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, ( Shakespeare 40) “Oberon and Titania are estranged because Titania refuses to give her Indian chaqeling to Oberon for use as his ‘knight’ or ‘henchman’ since the child’s mother was one of Titania’s worshipers…Oberon seeks to punish Tatinia’s disobedience” (Matus para.15).
This reflects a religious stalemate. On the other hand, in the Merchant of Venice, “Even when Bassanio offers much more than the amount in repayment, Shylock, now infuriated by the loss of his daughter, is intent on seeking revenge on the Christians” (Gager 92). The two examples depict the stalemate that existed during the time of his father between the Christians who were divided on the lines of either being protestants or Catholics.
In fact, Catholics were treated with dismay and the denomination at some time was illegal. Shylock having been dealing in a business that involves lending money with anticipation of outstandingly enormous interest, was tantamount to his father’s dubious money lending business that initially saw him flourish at Stanford. Isolation reminiscent to that that existed during the reign of queen Elizabeth appears in the Merchant of Venice, the characters clash on various situations as they originate from different backgrounds.
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A similar scenario was encountered by his father who despite being wealthy; he had attempted to make an application for court of arms without success due to different inclination on religious beliefs between him and the then in power family which was mainly Protestants(analogous to Jews in ‘Merchant of Venice’).
“The money-grubbing Shylock, on the other hand, is accused of caring more for his ducats than human relationships” (Cook 412-420). People who considered it better fining one for the failure to take state duties rather than losing on making extra pennies on that day characterized the roots of Shakespeare.
Cultural influence that recognizes ‘lack’ as noble and significant in the society is also evident in Shakespeare work. “They state that whoever seeks to marry Portia must solve the riddle of the three caskets—one gold, one silver, one lead, each with an inscription—or, failing in the attempt, agree to remain a bachelor for the rest of his days” (Matus para.2).
Various suitors attempted to unveil the riddle but miserably failed until when Bassanio arrived, who Portia favored arrived and choose the casket that housed hers portrait. It reveals that marriage was not all that significantly grounded on love reflecting on the manner in which his father selected his marriage partner based on intents to achieve his ambitions of remaining prominent.
Outside critique and Critical responses
Though many refer Shakespeare’s work as outstanding, it fails to receive pure screening from skeptics. A group of people referring themselves as Oxfordians, wonder whether “contemporaneous record of the man and playwright is suspect; whether the ‘Soul of the Age’ was the very heart of it as well; and, finally, whether Shakespeare was indeed a man of the theater” (Matus para.4).
Ideally, Shakespeare’s contemporary reference materials depicting Shakespeare as both a playwright and a player outnumber any other ‘renaissance theatre’ of the English. Several other references substantially portray the staging of Shakespearean plays in courts, private theatres, and public theaters. Charlton Ogburn notes that “…you can’t get anywhere with Oxford unless you dispose of the Stratford man” (Matus para.7). He attributes the documents that place Shakespeare at the centre of theatre stage as faulty or better put, ambiguous.
This critique results to disagreement since “Relatively few though, these documents may seem by modern standards, they pose a considerable problem for Oxfordians” (Maclay para.8). Oxfordians critic the capability of Shakespeare to do such incredible work that would see his stars shines even a couple of centuries after his death. They challenge whether Shakespeare had such adequate education to see him dominate the playwright arena or even whether he had any education at all.
Arguably, if records were a thing to go by as way of supplying adequate evidence and proof, the ideas of Ogburn that “the school records “would have disappeared because they showed he did not attend it”(Maclay para.10) deem to have substance. Furthermore, a trace of many wits of drama that lived during the times of Shakespeare such as Ben Jonson, have records indicating that they had gone to the university.
Nevertheless, it would substantially lend well for any scholar to anticipate Jonson to be a celebrated playwright in Britain in seventeenth century as well. Cook argues that, “In the top rank of classical scholars, he would be granted honorary master’s degrees by both Oxford and Cambridge…Evidently there may be more to both scholarship and literary genius than a formal education” (412-420).
Does it therefore make the absence of Shakespeare educational records make his works in poetry and plays originality suspicious? Ogburn offers a response. He says that other playwrights who were prominent found places in the diaries accompanied by their famous actors but not Shakespeare (Grady 50).
In fact, the arguments raised above by various skeptics of Shakespeare works, have their unique weaknesses. Te question on absence of Shakespeare names in the diaries is debatable since in biographies, no playwright name appeared on any diary until after 1596. “By then Shakespeare was a member of the Lord Chamberlain’s company, which had no association with Henslowe or his playhouse” (Maclay para.17).
Henslowe was responsible for the entry of the prominent playwright alongside with their actors in diaries. Further more in 1604, evidence prevails that some chamberlain’s men, earlier for ten months, went for a monarch service. Nine of the mentioned actors in the license given by the king encompassed Shakespeare and accounts of them being recipients of “four and a half yards of red clothe are made” (Grady 106).
Millar, another critique of Shakespeare, agrees the cloth to have gone out but to chamberlain’s men rather than to ‘actors’. In an attempt to show the style of mentioning the name of Shakespeare with regard to chamberlain’s men, the Oxfordians rush to point out his going there not as playwright but as a troupe patron. Where then was Lord Hudson, the one traditionally allocated the role of troupe patron?
The work of Shakespeare attracts different interpretations from different scholars. On her part Janet Adelman, California university professor, “compels us to look into the psychic recesses of Shakespeare’s characters, of Shakespeare himself as far as his personality can be recovered through his works, and of ourselves” (Cook 412-420). Shakespeare portrayed uneasiness in regarding women’s masculine identity as ‘of born’.
He went on to associate male fantasies towards women to suffocating female parents who must have suffocated themselves. Adelman interrelated Jews and Christians in the Merchant of Venice to blood relations in the society. Shylock says “yes smell pork, to eat of the habitation which your prophet, the Nazarene, conjured the devil into” (Shakespeare 45) this makes Adelman say that these relations are “an unsettling, psycho-theological reading of the play” (Maclay para.6).
Nancy Chodorow literate the Shakespeare’s wealth of literature, which makes it significant even to those who do not do it professionally (Maclay para.6). It helps shape every one and incorporate it into ones part of personality, making somebody human, “rather than replicating what you do.
Green feels that “Fantasies of Maternal Origins in Shakespeare’s Plays, ‘Hamlet’, a book in which an in-depth analysis of the mother figures in Shakespeare’s works – the female characters in the plays and those whose absences raise questions” (Maclay Para. 10). Shakespeare’s plays brings out the manner in which tone and sound effects are carefully combined alongside with communication to bring clearly out meaning to facilitate in understanding how various issues afflict the society at large both economically and socially.
Understanding the work of Shakespeare
To understand Shakespeare’s work amicably, one should attempt to explore the cultural, political and religious conflicts that existed during the times when he did his poems and playwrights. Participating in performance in monologue credibly helps to interpret his work and therefore understanding humanity.
A student noted “ I discovered that when I performed the monologue of lady Macbeth, act 1, scene 5, that more or less, it was very easy to become part” (NCTE 35). Another paramount way is through seeking interpretation of the old English into the modern language.
This way, one can appreciate the romantic artistry in language use. NCTE notes that, “…we were watching the Suit Life of Zack and Cody…They explained a phrase in English we use today… I could give Shakespeare the credit he deserve” (NCTE 36). Poetry, play or any other genre of literature reflect the indulgencies of the society. It tends to mirror the issues afflicting the society: particularly the ones that hinder development or foster understanding posing a threat to the harmonious coexistence.
The interpretation of the behaviors of Shakespeare’s characters, and themes borrow largely from the systems of monarchy as means of administering governance. The perceptions of how and what marriage ought to be in his plays translates into how such decisions were made in the society that he was part of. Unless the reader has a clear picture on the sixteenth century and early seventieth century society, understanding and consequently interpreting Shakespeare work would definitely seem to be too hard.
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Cook, Hardy. Shakespeare Roundtable on Intentions: The Origins of the Collaboration with Style. The Shakespearean Journal 44.3(2010): 412-420.
Gager, Valerie. Shakespeare and Dickens: The Dynamics of Influence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
Grady, Hugh. Shakespeare Criticism 1600–1900 in deGrazia, Margareta Wells Stanley, The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
Gray, Arthur. A Chapter in the Early Life of Shakespeare. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1926.
Greenblatt, Stephen. Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare. London: Pimlico, 2005.
Maclay, Kathleen. Janet Adelman’s psychoanalytic and feminist critics, 2010. Web. https://news.berkeley.edu/2010/04/21/adelman/
Matus, Irvin. The case for Shakespeare, 1991. Web. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1991/10/the-case-for-shakespeare/306479/
NCTE. How has Performing Shakespeare helped you Appreciate his Work? English Journal 99.1(2007): 35-36.
Rowe, John. Introduction, in Shakespeare, William; Rowe, John (ed.), The Poems: Venus and Adonis, The Rape of Lucrece, The Phoenix and the Turtle, The Passionate Pilgrim, A Lover’s Complaint, by William Shakespeare. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
Shakespeare, William. A Midsummer Night’s Dream. New York City: Signet Classics, 1998.
Shakespeare, William. Merchant of Venice. New York: W. Norton & Company, 2005.