Life And Works


Life And Works Essay, Research Paper

Shakespeare also spelled SHAKSPERE, byname BARD OF AVON, or SWAN OF AVON

English poet, dramatist, and actor, often called the English national poet and

considered by many to be the greatest dramatist of all time.

Shakespeare occupies a position unique in world literature. Other poets, such as

Homer and Dante, and novelists, such as Leo Tolstoy and Charles Dickens, have

transcended national barriers; but no writer’s living reputation can compare with that

of Shakespeare, whose plays, written in the late 16th and early 17th centuries for a

small repertory theatre, are now performed and read more often and in more countries

than ever before. The prophecy of his great contemporary, the poet and dramatist Ben

Jonson, that Shakespeare “was not of an age, but for all time,” has been fulfilled.

It may be audacious even to attempt a definition of his greatness, but it is not so

difficult to describe the gifts that enabled him to create imaginative visions of pathos

and mirth that, whether read or witnessed in the theatre, fill the mind and linger there.

He is a writer of great intellectual rapidity, perceptiveness, and poetic power. Other

writers have had these qualities, but with Shakespeare the keenness of mind was

applied not to abstruse or remote subjects but to human beings and their complete

range of emotions and conflicts. Other writers have applied their keenness of mind in

this way, but Shakespeare is astonishingly clever with words and images, so that his

mental energy, when applied to intelligible human situations, finds full and memorable

expression, convincing and imaginatively stimulating. As if this were not enough, the

art form into which his creative energies went was not remote and bookish but

involved the vivid stage impersonation of human beings, commanding sympathy and

inviting vicarious participation. Thus Shakespeare’s merits can survive translation into

other languages and into cultures remote from that of Elizabethan England.

Next **

Contents of this article:


Shakespeare the man


Early life in Stratford

Career in the theatre

Private life

Early posthumous documentation

The tributes of his colleagues

Anecdotes and documents


The poet and dramatist

The intellectual background

Poetic conventions and dramatic traditions

Changes in language

Shakespeare’s literary debts

Theatrical conditions

Chronology of Shakespeare’s plays


Poetic and dramatic powers

The early poems

The sonnets

The order of the poems

Artistic invention or real experience

Human experience in the poems

The early plays

Henry VI, 1, 2, and 3

The Comedy of Errors

Titus Andronicus

The Two Gentlemen of Verona

The Taming of the Shrew

Love’s Labour’s Lost

Romeo and Juliet

The histories

The Tragedy of King Richard III

The Tragedy of King Richard II

1 Henry IV; 2 Henry IV

King John

Henry V

The Roman plays

Antony and Cleopatra


The “great,” or “middle,” comedies

The “outsider”

Wit and ambiguity

The great tragedies



King Lear


Timon of Athens

The “dark” comedies

Troilus and Cressida

All’s Well That Ends Well; Measure for Measure

The late plays



The Winter’s Tale

The Tempest

Henry VIII

Collaborative and attributed plays

Shakespeare’s reading

Understanding Shakespeare

Sympathetic exploration of the texts

Causes of difficulty

Questions of authorship

The claims put forward for Bacon

Other candidates

The case for Shakespeare

Linguistic and historical problems

Textual and editorial problems

Overcoming some difficulties

The contribution of textual criticism

Historical, linguistic, and dramatic studies

Literary criticism

Literary critics and the theatre

The progress of Shakespeare criticism

Shakespeare’s influence

Major Works




Modern editions


Textual studies

Biographies and background studies

Critical studies


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