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MonkeyNotes-Henry IV, Part 1 by William Shakespeare
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BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Author Information

William Shakespeare is generally recognized as being one of greatest dramatists and finest poets the world has ever known. Indeed, few other writers' works have been so widely produced or translated. One of the major reasons for Shakespeare’s lasting popularity is the rich variety of characters that he successfully created, from drunkards and fools to villainous assassins and schemers to noble princes, kings, and generals. Shakespeare had an amazing knowledge of a wide variety of subjects, and his well- developed characters reflect this knowledge, whether it be about military science, royalty, seamanship, history, the Bible, music, or sports. This knowledge, combined with his ear for language, make for very realistic character portrayals. Shakespeare’s characters spring vividly to life upon the stage, and, as they speak, they remind audience members of their own personalities, traits, and flaws.

In Shakespeare’s time, few biographies were written. The first portfolio of his works, collected as a memorial to Shakespeare by members of his own acting company, was not published until 1623, seven years after his death. His first biography was written one hundred years later. As a result, many of the facts of Shakespeare’s life are unknown. It is known that he was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in England, sometime in early 1564, for his baptism is recorded on April 26 of that year. He was the third of eight children. His mother, Mary Arden, was the daughter of a local landowner, and his father, John Shakespeare, was a fairly prosperous glovemaker and trader who participated heavily in Stratford's civic affairs, but whose fortunes declined later in life. The young Shakespeare probably studied in the local grammar school and hunted and played sports in the open fields behind his home.


On November 28, 1582, Shakespeare, who was then eighteen, married Anne Hathaway, who was then twenty-six. They had their first daughter, Susanna, in 1583 and twins, Hamnet and Judith in 1585. The family soon settled in London, where Shakespeare kept busy acting in plays and writing his own dramas. From 1592 to 1594, the plague kept most London theaters closed, so the dramatist turned to writing poetry. The narrative poems, Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece, published during this period, were well-received and contributed to his growing reputation as a writer. By 1594 he was a leader and shareholder in the Lord Chamberlain's Men, later known as the King's Men. This company became one of the most prosperous in London, and Shakespeare himself met with both financial success and critical acclaim.

By 1596, he owned considerable property in London, and he bought one of the finest houses in Stratford, known as New Place, in 1597. In 1599, his company built the outdoor Globe Theatre, and began producing plays there. In 1608, he and his colleagues also purchased the indoor Blackfriars Theatre, where they began to hold productions during the winter, returning to the Globe during the summer months. Throughout the rest of his life, Shakespeare continued to purchase land, homes, and businesses. He obviously was a busy man between handling his business ventures, performing on the stage, and writing or collaborating on the thirty- seven plays that are credited to him.

Shakespeare’s most productive years were from 1594 to 1608, the period in which he wrote all of his great tragedies, including Macbeth, Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Romeo and Juliet. During these fourteen years, he furnished his acting company with approximately two plays annually. After 1608, it appears he went into semi-retirement, spending more time in Stratford and writing only five plays before his death on April 23, 1616. He was buried before the altar in the Stratford Church, where his body still lies today. Many literary students and visitors make a pilgrimage to this shrine each year in order to honor William Shakespeare, still recognized after 400 years as one of the world’s greatest poets and dramatists.

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