1/8/2009. Shakespeare attended grammar school, but his formal education proceeded no further.

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1 About the Man & Context for the Play English 621 December 2008 The most influential writer in all of English literature, William was born in 1564 to a successful middleclass glove-maker in Stratford-upon- Avon, England. attended grammar school, but his formal education proceeded no further. In 1582 he married an older woman, Anne Hathaway, and had three children with her. Around 1590 he left his family behind and traveled to London to work as an actor and playwright. 1

2 Public and critical success quickly followed, and eventually became the most popular playwright in England and partowner of the Globe Theater. His career bridged the reigns of Elizabeth I ( ) and James I ( ), and he was a favorite of both monarchs. James granted s company the greatest possible compliment by bestowing the title of King s Men. Wealthy and worldfamous, retired to Stratford and died in 1616 at the age of fifty-two. s works were collected and printed in many editions in the century following his death. By the early 18 th Century (1700s), his reputation as the greatest Englishlanguage poet was well established. The fascination with his works led to a fierce curiosity about s life. However, the absence of biographical information has left many details of s personal history shrouded in mystery. Some people have concluded from this fact that s plays were really written by someone else (Francis Bacon and the Earl of Oxford are the popular candidates), but the support for this claim is circumstantial and the theory is not taken seriously by many scholars, including one bald one in this room. 2

3 Without credible evidence to the contrary, must be viewed as the author of the 37 plays and 154 sonnets that bear his name. The legacy of this body of work is immense. Original title: The Revenge of Hamlet Prince of Denmark Has been called the perfect play. Probably written in 1600 or Hamlet was probably first performed in July Why July? As was common, borrowed ideas for his plays from stories from earlier literary works. If he was so great, why did he have to borrow ideas? In s time, an acting company could not expect a playwright to write in a vacuum. The nature of the schedule, in which a new play could be commissioned weekly, required playwrights to get together and share ideas. English playwrights at this time freely borrowed material from one another and shared criticisms and edits. Hamlet definitely presents s work, but also the contributions by actors, managers, prompters, and so forth, who all knew what parts of a play to leave in or take out. 3

4 He could have taken the story of Hamlet from A 12 th Century Latin history of Denmark and/or; A French prose work entitled Histoires Tragiques. The raw material that appropriated from these works in writing Hamlet is the story of a Danish prince whose uncle murders the prince s father, marries his mother, and claims the throne. The prince then pretends to be feebleminded to throw his uncle off guard, then manages to kill his uncle in revenge. This is where the similarities end. changed the emphasis of this story entirely, making his Hamlet a philosophical prince who delays taking action because his knowledge of his uncle s crime is so uncertain. Earlier versions of the story were quite bloody. made it poetic and full of thought-provoking speeches on the meaning of life, death, eternity, relationships, hypocrisy, truth, God s existence and other concerns of mankind. also went beyond making uncertainty a quirk of Hamlet s, introducing a number of important ambiguities into the play that even the audience cannot resolve with certainty. For example: Does Hamlet s mother, Gertrude, shares in Claudius s guilt? Does Hamlet continue to love Ophelia even as he spurns her, in Act III? Is Ophelia s death is suicide or accident? Does the ghost offer reliable knowledge or does it seeks to deceive and tempt Hamlet? Most importantly, is Hamlet morally justified in taking revenge on his uncle? makes it clear that the stakes riding on some of these questions are enormous. The actions of these characters bring disaster upon an entire kingdom. At the play s end it is not even clear whether justice has been achieved. 4

5 He wouldn t be impressed to learn that his work is being studied. He wrote for entertainment value the same audiences who loved watching public executions. This crowd loved staged mayhem. The English crowd loved gore. Stage crews would do their best to show blood, illness, love scenes, etc look real. His plays appealed to everyone, even if they didn t understand many of the words. was a keen judge of humanity and Hamlet is perhaps his best character to do the same. As teenagers know, Hamlet s dual nature is very recognizable: Hamlet is: Sensitive Poetic Artistic Loving He also: Stabs friends in the back Treats his girlfriend badly Shows no remorse for murdering another man It is the play which is most quoted. No one interpretation of the play exists or is accepted as the correct one. He is driven to avenge his father s death, but his emotions tear him in two: He wants to right a horrible wrong, but his morals tell him that murder is a sin, no matter what. His indecision proves to be his downfall. Most of the conflict Hamlet must overcome results from his own internal struggle, not from external obstacles. Although there are a fair share of external obstacles as well. The only proof he has of his uncle s guilt is the word of a ghost. To the world around him, Hamlet is a little off. The Danish subjects have no reason to think his uncle is anything but a noble king. He is alone. 5

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