Happy Birthday Mr. Shakespeare! 

Shakespeare, William, 1564–1616, English dramatist and poet, b. Stratford-on-Avon. He is widely considered the greatest playwright who ever lived.

His father, John Shakespeare, was successful in the leather business during Shakespeare's early childhood but later met with financial difficulties. During his prosperous years his father was also involved in municipal affairs, holding the offices of alderman and bailiff during the 1560s. While little is known of Shakespeare's boyhood, he probably attended the grammar school in Stratford, where he would have been educated in the classics, particularly Latin grammar and literature. Whatever the veracity of Ben Jonson's famous comment that Shakespeare had small Latine, and less Greeke, much of his work clearly depends on a knowledge of Roman comedy, ancient history, and classical mythology.

In 1582 Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway, eight years his senior and pregnant at the time of the marriage. They had three children: Susanna, born in 1583, and twins, Hamnet and Judith, born in 1585. Nothing is known of the period between the birth of the twins and Shakespeare's emergence as a playwright in London (c.1592). However, various suggestions have been made regarding this time, including those that he fled Stratford to avoid prosecution for stealing deer, that he joined a group of traveling players, and that he was a country schoolteacher. The last suggestion is given some credence by the academic style of his early plays; The Comedy of Errors, for example, is an adaptation of two plays by Plautus.

In 1594 Shakespeare became an actor and playwright for the Lord Chamberlain's Men, the company that later became the King's Men under James I. Until the end of his London career Shakespeare remained with the company; it is thought that as an actor he played old men's roles, such as the ghost in Hamlet and Old Adam in As You Like It. In 1596 he obtained a coat of arms, and by 1597 he was prosperous enough to buy New Place in Stratford, which later was the home of his retirement years. In 1599 he became a partner in the ownership of the Globe theatre, and in 1608 he was part owner of the Blackfriars theatre. Shakespeare retired and returned to Stratford c.1613. He undoubtedly enjoyed a comfortable living throughout his career and in retirement, although he was never a wealthy man.


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As the month goes on I will add more tidbits on The Bard and  his contributions to literature, the English language, and his timeless works.  Be sure to check back and learn more...

Week of April 6th through the 10th:

Shakespeare's Coined Words Now Common Currency

Jennifer Vernon
for National Geographic News
April 22, 2004

While William Shakespeare died 388 years ago this week, the English playwright and poet lives on not only through his writings, but through the words and sayings attributed to him that still color the English language today.

So whether you are "fashionable" or "sanctimonious," thank Shakespeare, who likely coined the terms.

Many of the Bard's verbal gems have been compiled in books like Michael Macrone's Brush Up Your Shakespeare, and Coined by Shakespeare by Jeffrey McQuain and Stanley Malless.

For those with an axe to grind, Shakespeare's Insults: Educating Your Wit by Wayne F. Hill and Cynthia J. Ottchen serves up the best in Elizabethan retorts. (Count a "fool in good clothes" among the choice insults.)

Some may be shocked to learn just how great Shakespeare's sway on everyday sayings has been. Take, for example, these phrases from Brush Up Your Shakespeare:

• Eaten out of house and home
• Pomp and circumstance
• Foregone conclusion
• Full circle
• The makings of
• Method in the madness
• Neither rhyme nor reason
• One fell swoop
• Seen better days
• It smells to heaven
• A sorry sight
• A spotless reputation
• Strange bedfellows
• The world's (my) oyster

According to Macrone's research, some of these sayings have strayed slightly from their original meaning once taken out of the context of the plays in which they first appeared. Others have veered off the path altogether.

Such is the case with "sweets to the sweet." Today the phrase connotes an amorous gesture. Yet originally Hamlet's mother spoke the words in the Shakespeare play to describe funeral flowers.

Another example is the modern-day saying "in my heart of hearts." Shakespeare's Hamlet actually used the phrase "in my heart of heart," to refer to his heart's center. This does make more sense: as Macrone points out, it is rather amusing to hear someone imply he or she has multiple hearts when using the phrase as it is known today.

Claims to Coinage

Despite Shakespeare's apparently considerable contributions to the language, Macrone and other academics are quick to caution that it is almost impossible say with absolutely certainty when a word or phrase was first used—or even whom to credit for creating it.

In Shakespeare's case, many of the words and phrases attributed to him merely debuted in their modern permutations in his writings and can actually be traced back to older forms. Other words and turns of phrase are indeed "original," insomuch as they are documented in the written record only as far back as Shakespeare.

Here is a wonderful interpretation of Hamlet's "To Be or Not toBe"...

 "Romeo and Juliet  coming to a classroom near you soon!"

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