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MonkeyNotes-Richard II by William Shakespeare
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BACKGROUND INFORMATION

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

William Shakespeare is usually considered one of the greatest dramatists and finest poets the world has ever known. One of the major reasons for Shakespeare's popularity is the wide variety of rich characters that he successfully creates. Such 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.

Many of the facts of Shakespeare's life are unknown. He was born in Stratford-on-Avon in England, sometime in early 1564. He was one of eight children. His father, John Shakespeare, was a prosperous glovemaker and trader who owned several houses in Stratford and became the town's mayor during Shakespeare's youth.

At age 18, he married Anne Hathaway, who was 26, on November 28, 1582. In 1583, Anne gave birth to their oldest child, Susanna, and 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. His poems, which were actually published (unlike the plays, which were staged), became popular with the people. 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. He was both a leader and stockholder in this acting organization, which became the most prosperous group in London, and he enjoyed both financial success and critical acclaim.


In 1594 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, 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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