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The Life and Inspiration of William
Shakespeare, the Bard of Avon

Text by: Traci Lee

If William Shakespeare were alive today, he may cringe at the middle school and high school teachers who insist on sitting in chairs and reading aloud his plays with little emotion for the words on the page. Plays, after all, are meant to be performed, and it is the passion an actor infuses in his or her speech that makes the play "the thing," as Hamlet would have it.

Though if Shakespeare were alive and writing today, rather than centuries ago, he would be entering into a world of theatre much different than the one we know today. The theatre has been shaped by so much of Shakespeare's own writing that it would be impossible for his plays to gain the respect and adoration that exists for them now.

Most of what is known about Shakespeare's life comes after years of research by scholars and historians, though each date is merely an approximation. Few records remain of the Bard of Avon's elusive life, though that does not diminish the impact the events of his life had on his works nor the impact his works have left on the modern world.

William Shakespeare was born on April 23, 1564 in the town of Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire, England to John Shakespeare and Mary Arden. He attended an all-boys grammar school until the age of 15, where he was taught Latin grammar and literature, Renaissance religious texts, Roman poetry and drama, and the works of philosophers and historians, such as Cicero and Julius Caesar. At 18, he married Anne Hathaway, a farmer's daughter, and they had three children: a daughter, Susanna, and a set of twins, Judith and Hamnet.

The period between Judith and Hamnet's birth to the first documentation of Shakespeare's work in London in 1592 is known as his "lost years." It is believed that Shakespeare's family stayed behind in Stratford while he traveled to London to produce his plays, though he spent much of his time traveling between the two cities. While away, in 1596, Hamnet passed away at the age of 11 due to unknown causes. But Shakespeare's pursuit of his career paid off. He gained notoriety as a playwright and actor in London, where he formed the Lord Chamberlain's Men (later renamed to the King's Men), an acting troupe that became one of the leading companies in all of London. Together, Shakespeare and the company built the Globe Theatre in 1599 and then rebuilt it in 1614 following a fire that destroyed it. The Globe served as a main stage for the company's performances throughout Shakespeare's career and after his death until it closed in 1642.

William Shakespeare died on April 23, 1616 and is buried at the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford. He is buried inside the church near the altar, under a stone inscribed with a curse against anyone who might move his bones.

Despite the vague details known about Shakespeare's life, his plays remain some of the best-known works in modern theatre. The appeal of Shakespeare's plays lies in his ability to tap into universal themes and grasp at the heart of those concepts like nobody else at the time could. When Shakespeare wrote about love, he did more than pen a simple romance. Love, for instance, is complex in Shakespeare's plays — from unrequited love to forbidden romances to taking the risk for a relationship that has no guarantees.

Shakespeare had the ability to understand individuals and craft characters and their words accordingly. It has even been said that every other play written following Shakespeare's death is present in Hamlet because its characters, plots, and themes are universal and timeless. In Julius Caesar, Shakespeare found a target in politicians by expressing their flaws and truly showing that, throughout time, a politician will always be a politician. The power struggle between Caesar and Brutus and his conspirators is an example of the clash between political and personal ethics, especially when it comes to power and its ultimate corruption.

Shakespeare's impact on the modern world extends beyond his plots and stories. He invented over 1700 words by changing parts of speech for some words and devising new, original terms entirely. Some of our most popular words of today come from Shakespearean language, such as "gossip," "rant" and "lonely" — words that many do not realize originated in Shakespeare's plays.

Although centuries have passed since Shakespeare's death, his impact on our world today has not gone unnoticed. Without realizing it, most people quote Shakespeare or make references to his plays. Today, he is one of the busiest deceased writers because his works are often re-published and his plays are constantly being remade into films. The popularity of his works demonstrates a deeper meaning and profound understanding of human nature. His works are a reflection of the changing world around us, yet his themes recur throughout time and will be forever. As Ben Jonson, one of the Elizabethan theatre's most eminent writers, said in his eulogy to Shakespeare, "He was not of an age, but for all time!"