William Shakespeare ( 1564 – 1616 )
William Shakespeare was born at Stratford on Avon, in the North of England, in 1564, probably on 23rd April, Saint George’s Day. There aren’t records, but at that time children were usually baptised three days after their birth and Shakespeare was baptised on 26th April. So we think he was born three days before, on 23rd April.
He was the eldest son of a rich merchant and attended the local Grammar School where he studied English language and the great classics (like Ovid, Virgil, Cicero and Seneca). But his father had financial problems so, at the age of 14, he had to leave his studies (the school) to work and pay his father’s debts. For this reason we don’t find so many imitations of classics in his poems and works. Actually he was a great innovator inspired by nature, especially in creating metaphors.
In 1584, at the age of 20, Shakespeare left his family at Stratford and moved to London where he started his career as an actor but his companies weren’t famous and he wasn’t so good as an actor.
Then he started to write plays (above all comedies) and thanks to his wit, he became an excellent playwright (dramatist/writer/author).
When the London theatres were closed because of the plague (pestilence), his comedies were performed at Court and he was supported (financially helped) by a private young patron, the Earl of Southampton.
When the theatres re-opened in late 1594, Shakespeare became a shareholder and the main playwright of the famous company of actors called “the Chamberlain’s Men”. When Elizabeth died, the company changed the name and was called “The King’s Men”, in honour of the new king James. The company had its own theatre which was The Globe.
The last years of his life were spent at Stratford where he died in 1616, at the age of 52. He was buried in the local church, in which he had been baptised.
(Curiosità: More than 200,000 tourists visit the church each year.)
Seven years after his death, his friends published a collection of 36 plays called “First folio”. In the collection the plays are divided into three sections: Comedies, Histories and Tragedies.
Shakespeare’s sonnets: the form
Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets which were published in 1609. In his sonnets we don’t find the Italian form (structure); actually, instead of using an octave and a sestet, Shakespeare used 3 quatrains and a final couplet. The rhyme scheme is also different because in Shakespeare’s sonnet we find ABAB CDCD EFEF GG.
Anyway, the poet develops the argument (theme) in the same way and we find the turning point at line 9.
The themes and the addresses
The sonnets can be divided into 2 sections (parts/groups)
1. The first section, from sonnet 1 to sonnet 126, is addressed (dedicated) to a “fair youth”, probably the young Earl of Southampton, Shakespeare’s patron.
The poet tells him to marry in order to save his virtues and beauty through his children.
Then Shakespeare writes about time, which is seen as a destructive power because it causes decline and death. In Shakespeare’s opinion only the art of poetry can give immortality and with his sonnets he tried to give immortality to his young patron.
In the first section we also find some sonnets which are about a “rival poet”.
2. The second section, which contains the last 28 sonnets, is addressed ( dedicated) to a “dark lady” or “black woman”. We still don’t know who is the mysterious woman. We only know that she was physically unattractive but the poet loved her.
In his sonnets, Shakespeare doesn’t follow the traditional Petrarchan love sonnets. Actually, his sonnets are original for many reasons:
- Most of them are addressed and dedicated to a young man, and not to a lady. The young man is praised for his beauty and virtues.
- The sonnets addressed to the woman aren’t about an idealized woman or an angel; they are about a real and concrete woman who is not as good and beautiful as the young man.
- Love isn’t Platonic or divine. Love is passion and the poet desires his woman even if she is not a model of beauty and perfection.
In his sonnets, Shakespeare explores universal themes like time, death, love, beauty and art. He also explores a wide range (variety) of human feelings.
-The language is rich and vivid descriptive.
-We find Latin adjectives with Anglo-Saxon nouns.
-We also find lots of metaphors, antonyms and homonyms, and the use of the “couplet tie” which is a word taken from the first lines and repeated in the couplet.
-There aren’t classical references.