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MonkeyNotes-Henry VI, Part 1 by William Shakespeare

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BACKGROUND INFORMATON

Author Information

William Shakespeare is usually considered the greatest
dramatist and finest poet the world has ever known. No other
writer’s plays and poetry have been produced so many times or
in so many countries or translated into so many languages. One
of the major reasons for Shakespeare’s popularity is the variety
of rich characters that he successfully creates, from drunkards
and paid murderers to princes and kings and from inane fools
and court jesters to wise and noble generals. Each character
springs vividly to life upon the stage and, as they speak their
beautiful verse or prose, the characters remind the viewers of
their own personalities, traits, and flaws. Shakespeare also
made his characters very realistic. The dramatist had an
amazing knowledge of a wide variety of subjects, and his well-
developed characters reflect this knowledge, whether it be
about military science, the graces of royalty, seamanship,
history, the Bible, music, or sports.

In Shakespeare’s time, few biographies were written, and none
of the literary men of the Elizabethan Age was considered
important enough to merit a book about his life. 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-on-Avon in England, sometime in early 1564,
for his Baptism is recorded on April 26 of that year. His mother
Mary had eight children, with William being the third. His
father, John Shakespeare, was a fairly prosperous glovemaker
and trader who owned several houses in Stratford and became
the town’s mayor when Shakespeare was a boy. The young
Shakespeare probably studied in the local grammar school and
hunted and played sports in the open fields behind his home.

The next definite information about William Shakespeare is
that the young man, at age 18, married Anne Hathaway, who
was 26, on November 28, 1582. In 1583, it is recorded that
Anne gave birth to their oldest child, Susanna, and that twins,
Hamnet and Judith, were born to the couple in 1585. By 1592,
the family was living in London, where Shakespeare was 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 during this period, and his
poems, which were actually published unlike his plays, became
popular with the masses and contributed to his good reputation
as a writer. From 1594 to the end of his career, Shakespeare
belonged to the same theatrical company, known first as Lord
Chamberlain’s Men and then as the King’s Company. It is also
known that he was both a leader and stockholder in this acting
organization, which became the most prosperous group in
London, and that he was meeting with both financial success
and critical acclaim.

In 1954, Shakespeare was popular enough as an actor to
perform before Queen Elizabeth. By 1596, he owned
considerable property in London and bought one of the finest
houses in Stratford, known as New Place, in 1597. A year later,
in 1598, he bought ten percent of the stock in the Globe
Theatre, where his plays were produced. In 1608, he and his
colleagues also purchased The 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, such as
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 creating 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 the
world’s greatest poet and dramatist.

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MonkeyNotes-Henry VI, Part 1 by William Shakespeare
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