William Shakespeare (1564-1616) was an English playwright and poet born in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Shakespeare worked as an actor in London, where he began to compose sonnets.
With the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a company of players to become known as the King’s Men, Shakespeare leased the first Globe Theatre, erected in 1598. The first Globe burnt down in 1613 but Shakespeare and his troupe had already been performing at a new Globe Theatre.
The genius of his work, written mostly for the Globe, was recognized by Queen Elizabeth and her extensive court. So, unlike some ignored geniuses, Shakespeare enjoyed great success and considerable wealth in his lifetime.
Today, many forget that his plays were written to be seen, not read.
If theatre going isn’t a practical choice, a good alternative is the BBC television series (VHS/DVD) of Shakespeare’s plays. This production boasts authentic costumes, on-location castles and the players’ ancestrally inherited accents to help bring the mystical bard’s works to life.
It has been suggested that Shakespeare is the greatest writer ever, not only in the English language, but in any language. Some feminists contend this idea, suggesting that writers like Jane Austen and Emily Dickinson are equal if not superior to Shakespeare’s wit and wisdom. And others maintain that, if Johann Wolfgang von Goethe had not written in German, he might have rivaled Shakespeare’s literary throne.
Before I converted to Catholicism I visited an Anglican Church (the Church of my baptism). An Anglican minister preaching about the Biblical Book of Job said that it was “like Shakespeare.” The way he said it seemed to imply that Shakespeare was better literature than the Bible. Many might disagree, and popularity is not necessarily an indicator of absolute value, but from 1986 to 1993 Shakespeare ranked third in the Top 10 Authorities cited in academic journals of the Arts and Humanities, with the Bible at 5th place.¹
¹ Institute for Scientific Information as cited in The Globe and Mail, Toronto: Southam, February 11, 1993. I’m not sure if those stats include Religious Studies and Theology. And I would be willing to bet that worldwide readership of the Bible is far stronger than that of Shakespeare. So these stats might be a good indicator of how persuasive statistics can be, depending on the selection, interpretation and presentation of data.
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