- (1564 - 1616) English dramatist, poet, and actor, generally regardedas the greatest playwright of all time (but see anti-Shakespeareana).His works have been performed more frequently and in more languages thanthose of any other dramatist in history. The official Shakespearean canoncomprises the 36 plays of the First Folio (1623), two collaborative contributions, the Sonnets, the long poems The Rape of Lucrece andVenus and Adonis, and a few lyrics. Most scholars now acceptthat he also wrote some scenes and speeches in the chronicle playsEdward III and Sir Thomas More.
Of Shakespeare's life little is certainly known apart fromthe approximate dates of his birth, marriage to Anne Hathaway,and death. From 1592 it is possible to find references to Shakespeare'searly plays in the works of other writers and contemporary records showthat he was also much admired for his poetry. Despite this, reliableinformation about Shakespeare's personal life, character, and beliefs remainsvirtually nonexistent, leading to much speculation on the basis of the plays.Several recent studies have stressed his Catholic background and connections.
Shakespeare's first work for the stage is usually consideredto be the three parts of Henry VI, although the imprecise datingof his plays makes even this uncertain. By the mid 1590s Shakespearewas a shareholder in the Chamberlain's Men, who were laterto become the King's Men. From 1599 his plays were presented at the newGlobe Theatre, in which he owned a tenth share. The great tragediesthat are usually seen as the summit of his achievement were written over thenext six or seven years. By about 1610 he had made enough money toretire to the second largest house in Stratford. He had been deadfor seven years before two of his friends arranged and paid for thepublication of the First Folio.
The theory that Shakespeare was not the writer of the worksattributed to him was first put forward by Herbert Lawrence in 1769(see Baconian theory).The striking peculiarity of Shakespear's mind was its genericquality, its power of communication with all other minds - sothat it contained a universe of thought and feeling within itself,and had no one peculiar bias, or exclusive excellence more than another.He was just like any other man, but that he was like all other men.He was the least of an egotist that it was possible to be. He wasnothing in himself; but he was all that others were, or that theycould become.WILLIAM HAZLITT: Lectures on the English Poets(1818)