Otázka: William Shakespeare and other British and American writers
1) WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE:
William Shakespeare is probably the greatest dramatist of England. He lived and worked in the 16th century, in the period of the Renaissance. The Renaissance humanists played a great role in the development of mankind because they fought against the dogmatism of the Catholic Church. It was the time when people began to believe in their own reason and senses, when the great works of ancient artists and philosophers were admired. England offered a very favourable soil for the Renaissance way of thinking. In this time the Tudor monarchs (Henry VII, Henry VIII, Elizabeth I) were ruling the country and it was a period of stability and prosperity. The Elizabethan period flourished with translations from many languages. Many literary genres developed, e.g. poetry, essays, and, above all – brilliant drama.
William Shakespeare was born on 23 April 1564 at Henley Street (his baptism is recorded in the register of Holy Trinity Church) in Stratford-upon-Avon six years after Elizabeth I. became Queen. He was one of eight children of Mary Arden and a successful tradesman working with leather, John Shakespeare.
Shakespeare´s school life:
William Shakespeare went to the local grammar school in Stratford but he didn´t learn very much. He would also have learnt the Catechism and studied the Bible. Although he was brought up with these orthodox Protestant teachings, he managed to remain open-minded and free-thinker. The Bible was a constant source of inspiration to him, yet his plays lack the rigidity of dogma.
Shakespeare´s growing up:
Stratford-upon-Avon was a flourishing market town which became busy on fair. In Elizabethan times, England was known as Merry England for different celebrations and festivals. Acting was part of local village culture. Amateur actors would come to town and their performances gave people a release from the problems of everyday life. In the 16th century plays were performed in the courtyards of inns. William as a young boy and later as a young man had plenty of opportunity to see plays and players from various travelling companies. All this must have been a wonderful experience for his personality and imagination.
When William was only eighteen and a half he married Ann Hathaway who was eight years older. They had three children together – Susanna and the twins, Hamnet and Judith. In spite of his love for his family, he went to London in 1587 as it was only there that a man with his talents could get ahead and make a career for himself.
Shakespeare´s life in London can be traced from 1592 onwards, first as an actor, then as a reviser writer of plays. When he came to London it was a most exciting time. Mary Queen of Scots had just been executed, Phillip II of Spain was building up the Armada as Walter Raleigh and Francis Drake, the sea pirates represented constant danger for the Spanish ships. The theatres were very popular being the only places where people could hear honest comments about life. Shakespeare and his fellow players were lucky enough to be able to win the patron-age of the Lord Chamberlain, and the company came to be called the Lord Chamberlain´s Men. The company was made up about a dozen actors (no actresses at all). Each actor played 2-3 roles in a single play.
When Shakespeare was working in London, he did not leave his family for good. He would often return home to Stratford enjoying the pleasures of family life. His plays may well have been popular with Queen Elizabeth I, who loved music and drama. When James I (the son of Mary Stuart) came to the throne after Elizabeth´s death, he recognized Shakespeare´s company as the leading group of actors and from that time they were known as the King´s Men. In those times Shakespeare made enough money to build a comfortable life.
In an age when few men lived past 60, Shakespeare, now nearly 52, made his will. It was completed in March 1616. Almost exactly a month later, after spending an enjoyable evening with his friends, Shakespeare fell ill with a temperature. He did not recover and died on 23 April 1616 – the same day as his birth. He was exactly 52 years old. Two days later, his funeral services took place in Holy Trinity Church, where he had been christened.
William Shakespeare wrote tragedies, comedies, historical plays and sonnets (14 line lyric poems -> fixed form). He wrote 34 plays in blank verse without rhymes. All of them are significant thanks to rich language, humour and criticism and in general he broke unities of drama. His most famous comedies are The Merry Wives of Windsor, The Merchant of Venice, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Twelfth Night… Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear and Othello are his best tragedies. His historical plays are for example Richard II, Henry V, Anthony and Cleopatra, etc. A lot of his plays such as The Taming of the Shrew, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet or The Merchant of Venice were also filmed. There even exists a musical version of The Taming of the Shrewcalled Kiss me, Kate.
Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy of love. The story comes from Italy where the two noble families of Verona – the Montagues and the Capulets have been in feud for a long time. They have fights whenever they meet. Romeo, the only son of the Montagues falls in love with Juliet Capulet. Realizing that their love will never be accepted by their families, they get secretly married by Friar Lawrence. Immediately after the wedding, Romeo is unwillingly involved in another duel. He refuses to fight, but after Mercutio, his best friend, is killed, he kills the murderer, Tybalt Capulet. In order to escape punishment, he flees to Mantova. Count Paris loves Juliet and wants to marry her. To escape the marriage, Juliet takes a potion, which enables her to pretend death. Friar Lawrence helps them again: he sends a messenger to Romeo to inform him about Juliet´s sleep, Romeo should come back to Verona and when Juliet wakes up after her long sleep, they will both leave Verona. Unfortunately, his plan does not work. The messenger can´t get to Mantova because of plague. However, Romeo learns about Juliet´s death and hurries to Verona. He kills Paris in a duel and thinking that Juliet is dead, he poisons himself. After awaking, Juliet finds Romeo dead at her side, she kisses Romeo´s poisoned lips and dies too. The families reconcile over the dead bodies of their children.
Hamlet, the son of the late king of Denmark, learns the truth about his father´s death from his father´s ghost. But to make sure he pretends madness and tests the ghost´s story by having a play – resembling his father´s murder – acted before the king (his uncle, now husband of his mother and supposed murdered of his father), and the king betrays himself. Then the king decides to destroy Hamlet – he sends him to England to have him killed there. But Hamlet returns and the play ends in bloody vengeance for all the deaths in the play – Hamlet, the king, Hamlet´s mother etc. die.
The Globe Theatre:
The theatre was well known as a place in which Shakespeare´s theatre company performed many times. The original building was dismantled by the Puritans in the 17th century when many forms of entertainment were prohibited, but the fame of the theatre lived on. Today, the rebuilt theatre stands near to the spot of the original building. The building has a thatched roof and round stage which uses only a minimum of scenery. The audience surrounds the stage. The theatre uses only natural light so plays are only performed in summer. Next door to the theatre is the Shakespeare exhibition centre. The whole complex was opened in 1997.
2) OTHER BRITISH WRITERS:
Geoffrey Chaucer (1340 – 1400) is considered to be the father of English poetry because he wrote in English rather than in French or Latin. His Canterbury Tales records the imagined conversations of pilgrims as they journeyed from London to Canterbury.
Jonathan Swift (1667 – 1745) uses his black humour and irony in his satirical pamphlets. His most famous work is Gulliver´s Travels, a satire on British society.
Daniel Defoe (1660 – 1731) is remembered for his book Robinson Crusoe, which is still one of the most popular books among children. In Moll Flanders, he gives a realistic picture of the life of a prostitute in London.
Mary Shelley (1797 – 1851) wrote Frankenstein, which is the most well-known of the Gothic novels with the horror genre that we are so familiar with in films and on TV today.
Charles Dickens (1812 – 1870) wrote novels where heroes and villains were taken from the hustle and bustle of Victorian London (Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Great Expectations,Bleak House).
Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900) was an Irish writer and poet who had very extravagant and shocking manners and style of dressing. He gave lectures on aestheticism/l’art-pour-l’art = art cannot be moral or immoral, decent or indecent, it can be only beautiful or ugly.All his life he was fighting with bisexuality/homosexuality (at that time illegal). His famous works are e.g. Canterville Ghost or The Picture of Dorian Gray.
George Orwell (1903 – 1950) was an English novelist and journalist. His work is marked by clarity, intelligence and wit, awareness of social injustice, opposition to totalitarianism, and belief in democratic socialism. He is best known for the dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Fourand the allegorical novella Animal Farm, which together have sold more copies than any two books by any other 20th-century author.
3) OTHER AMERICAN WRITERS:
Edgar Allan Poe:
Edgar Allan Poe (1809 – 1849) is celebrated as the father of the detective story, a major horror writer and poet. But he was also a man torn by tragic circumstances. His life was as bleak and dramatic as some of his works. He wrote The Raven,The Black Cat,Murders in the Rue Morgue etc.
Ernest Hemingway (1899 – 1961) was an American author and journalist. His economical and understated style had a strong influence on 20th-century fiction, while his life of adventure and his public image influenced later generations. Hemingway won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954. His well-known books are The Old Man and The Sea or For Whom the Bell Tolls.