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William Shakespeare: The Biography And The Twelfth Night

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Nothing takes the moniker of a timeless classic like Shakespeare’s writings. He is known for his plays of magnitude, passion and drama that still continue to thrill audiences all over the world. He explicitly explores man fantasies, flaws, vanities, passion, desires in the English language as his poetry takes the magnitude of today’s culture. William Shakespeare has been heralded as the greatest writer earning him the appellation as the ‘Swan of Avon’. His twenty years of writing saw him take a toll on human emotions and conflict, which, in an era laden by people who were progressing molded his artistic nature. His plays, comedies, poems, sonnets and tragicomedies of great magnitude are some of the pieces that makes the legendary playwriter a widely known figure in the history of literature. And yet, his personal life remains shrouded in mystery, gaps and lost years. Shakespeare lives on because of his words, hence, this essay will analyze the biography of William Shakespeare from birth, his early life, career as a playwriter and his eventual, sudden demise. Herein is also an analysis of the theme of love in his romantic comedy; The Twelfth Night sometimes called ‘What You Will’ (1601-1602).

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William was born in in the Elizabethan era on April 23rd 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon. This era, was marked by exponential growth, rapid developments, explorations and commercialization and hence was sometimes referred to as the Golden era. England at that time being led by Queen Elizabeth I, was rising in international power and hence it was a time of new pride in the nation, or more specifically a first pride in the English Language. And Indeed, England was ripe for Shakespeare’s arrival and his genius. He was baptized in the Holy Trinity Church on 26th April 1564. His Latin birth name registered was ‘ Gulielmus filius Johannes Shakspeare’ by his parents Mary and John Shakespeare. His father was a skilled Leatherman and would makes gloves, purses and shoes. As a way to survive in the then burgeoning economy, he was also a money lender. Mary’s father was an affluent aristocrat who owned land and in 1557 when she decided to marry John, a rift was temporarily created. William was the first son to John and Mary and the third by age as he had older sisters-Joan Margret and Anne -who had both passed away after the bubonic plague attack (Rowe 2).

Shakespeare was known to be a disciplined child and he would wake up and using a soft piece cloth and sweetish paste, he would clean his teeth before waiting for his fathers’ blessings at the dinner table school. Although there are no records of his school attendance and his father being a local resident, many scholars concur that he attended the Kings New School which was a chartered school for the locals. Additionally, the quality of English being taught was varied, and as a result he translated texts from English to Latin and vice versa. The school would also provide Latin classical lessons.

There was no record of Shakespeare attending University and little is known about his life during this time and they are often referred to as the ‘lost years’. One Plausible explanation is that at 14 he might have been withdrawn from school to follow in his father’s apprentice footsteps. At 18 he was married to Anne Hathaway who was 26 years old and lived in the village of Shottery. It is important to note that Anne was pregnant before the marriage. The marriage was controversial as during this era the consensual age for marriage was 21 and Shakespeare was only 18. Also, their intention to marry had to be announced on three consecutive holy days also known as ‘Crying the Banns’ which allowed any objections to be raised before the marriage could incept (Rowe 5). The Diocese court of Worcester issued a special license after the Hathaway sisters issues a bond asserting that no lawful allegations should deter the ceremony. The marriage was arranged in haste and six months later her daughter Suzanna who was baptized on 26th May 1583. Two years later Anne bore William twins; Hamnet and Judith. He had a growing family and in the 1580 he left for London. His first mention was in the London Theatre scene in 1592. Another series of lost years was between 1585 and 1592 where scholars have postulated a series of explanation to explain the gap. His first biographer, Nicholas Rowe narrates that Shakespeare must have flown to London to escape his prosecution on poaching deer’s in the estate of Thomas Lucy. Others such as John Aubrey posit that Shakespeare must have been a school master during this time. Others assert he was escaping Lucy’s wrath after writing. However, it is in 1592 that Shakespeare was about to surprise Englanders with a series of sonnets, poems and plays.

London and Shakespeare’s Theatrical career

The universe is a platform and all men and women are players. Each individual has an exist and an entrance except for one person who is multifaceted (Act Two scene VII)

The exact timing when Shakespeare begun his writing is unknown but evidence of his performances and writing have been documented in London as early as in 1592. He joined group of writing and acting in new theatres to write Henry VI and Two gentlemen of Arona. His launch was a success and was attacked by another playwright; Robert Greene who mentioned Shakespeare as an upstart crow who has beautified feather and the heart of tiger wrapped as a player (Hussey 8). Here Greene was attacking Shakespeare for reaching at the writing level of educated writers such as Christopher Marlowe and himself. He was also accusing his ungrateful nature and being tight with money. Greene’s comments is the only surviving evidence that Shakespeare’s career begun as a playwright and that which meant his career was culminating to strength. In fact, Henry VI play produced tears from hundreds of spectators. His ability to write a wide range of materials from sonnets, lyrical comedies, plays, poems and even history plays in 1594 and his name by then had garnered a selling point. His works such as ‘Every Man his humor’, Sejanus his Fall, and As You Like It gathered him attention even with noblemen. In the summer of 1596 however, tragedy struck and his 11-year-old son and only heir, Hamnet died on 11th August 1956 and this meant he had no heir no matter how much wealth he had accrued. He writes how grief follows him everywhere he went as it reminded him of his gone son (King John Act 3 scene IV)

Most his sonnets have been given to probable mentions; a young man whose identity remains unknown hence has been called the ‘Fair Youth’ and the ‘Dark lady’. In one sonnet, the sonnet speaker who happens to be Shakespeare narrates how his mistresses cannot be compared to the sun and her lips are red (Sonnet 130). Here, he shows an obsessive love of emotions to the dark lady which in many ways he would love to leave. Despite the controversy, his plays were anticipated, entertaining and above all, commercial. While living in London he kept to himself and would perform while still new writing plays; Romeo and Juliet, Loves Labors lost and A Mid-Summer Night Dream (Leggatt 5). Living away from his family, perhaps his marriage was loveless as many of his plays do not have many love concepts as seen in Twelfth Night where his character Orsino gives an advice not to marry an older woman (Act 2 scene IV).

In 1600, a plague outbreak was killing people and the theaters were closed giving his acting career a repeated halt. In 1630 he bought a house in Blackfrairs where he resided with his son in law. In 1603 with King James I in ruling, Shakespeare was appointed as the Kings men and the leading dramatist. He was even considered a gentleman. His last years were ostensibly one of the best of his career. Between 1603-1607, he wrote his famous tragedies of Fellow Macbeth. Here his works demonstrated a love for human psychology that many posit was related to his life experiences. His writing scenes related to human situations and desires for example as seen in the tragedy. Beyond 1610 he wrote fewer plays some which he collaborated with John Fletcher who later took over as the main playwriter. His linguistic works transformed the world of English.

In the summer of 1613, a fire enraged the theatre and accompanied with the plague, his career ended after performing Henry VIII. Even So, he retired a rich gentleman and a landowner owning the second largest house in Stratford. But still he had no son to inherit his fortune and in 1616 he wrote his willing bequeathing everything to his oldest daughter Suzanna. No power was left to his wife and Judith. The rift in his family shows the two might not have been emotionally close. One night after eating to many pickled herrings and drinking too much wine, John Ward narrates Shakespeare contracted a fever and fell ill (Hooks 2 ). Shakespeare died on 23rd April 1616 at the age fifty-two-on his birthday. He died without seeing his famous plays officially published and they were published in 1623 seven years after his death, carefully gathered by actors and friends. He was buried at the Holy Trinity Church on 25th April 1616. Another tragedy for the Shakespeare family in 1632 when Anne died. She was 67 and is buried next to her husband at Holy Trinity Church.

Part B

Love as a Theme in the ‘Twelfth Night’ by William Shakespeare

Twelfth Night sees Shakespeare exploring and illustrating the concept of desire, the recipe for love, in precise detail. Love in its broadest sense can be defined as the strong affection towards someone. The play narrates the story of twins; Viola and Sebastian who after a ship wreck following a storm are separated. Trapped in IIIyria, Viola masquerades herself as Cesario and later becomes the serviceman to Orsino the Duke. In this twisted play of true and sometimes, fake love, Shakespeare explores the different types of love, and in effect, he brings out the theme of love as powerful, imploring and overpowering to the characters.

There is evidence of family love between the characters. This type of love is manifested by its purity that emanates from true love. It is not deceived nor accepted due to superficial features but instead reigns in the hearts of the characters as what any 21st century man would call a ‘blood’s that’s thicker than water’. Familial love can be seen between Olivia and Sebastian who are siblings. Sibling love is strong as evidenced when Sebastian and Viola are separated but they never cease to think about each other. Olivia and her brother are also depicted to be bonded together by sibling love as Olivia is seen avoiding the company of men as she mourns the loss of her brother.

The theme of true love between Viola and Orsino. Unlike other characters who are illusional and clouded with superficial appeal, Viola’s love for Orsino is genuine. Her love for duke remains unaltered neither is it shared or transferred to another character. Although disguising herself as a man, Olivia loves Orisino so much that he vows to be his wife (Act 1 scene IV). Her genuine love is further supported when she reveals her true identity to Orsino. True love manifests in its truest form and by being honest to Orsino, Viola’s love is undoubtedly one of the rarest.

Self- love in the Twelfth night is amply represented by Malvolio. Malvolio envisions himself as the handsome and noble gentleman that many women crave. He is depicted as an overly serious character with no humor. His self-absorption is commented by Olivia and is purposefully punished for his ego as he believes his lady loves him (II.5.137). Another instance is when he marvels at Olivia’s beauty calling the wise men fools (Act 1 Scene V). This Scene shows the character loathing humor and believing none of the character can outmatch him. Malvolio is absorbed in himself that he refers to the other characters as idle elements to symbolically mean the power he wishes to have over them.

Conclusion

Of a great play writer like Shakespeare to die is a tragic loss. But even as the literary world mourns his loss, his linguistic skills in plays still lives on. His works have garnered attention from literary scholars. Love is a common human experience and Shakespeare knows just have to impinge Twelfth Night Character with it. It seems to be true that Shakespeare was a respected man during his time in the 16th-17th century. However, his ability as a literary genius was unknown until the 19th century. In modern times his works are repeated and interpreted in performances with diverse pollical-cultural contexts. With his characters carrying with them human emotions and conflicts, the works of this poetic genius often relate to his audiences. With his 37 plays, endless sonnets and emotion laden poetry, Shakespeare will remain to be a legend in the hearts of many. Love is a common culture within mankind’s territory and just like Shakespeare categorized the different kinds of love, so does todays people.

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