Generally acknowledged as the greatest writer in the English language, Shakespeare’s plays permeate modern culture and the English language, even nearly 400 years after his death. His work includes medieval drama filled with violence and crude language such as “The Taming of the Shrew”, historical dramas such as “Richard II” and “Henry IV”, comedies such as “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and tragedies such as “Romeo and Juliet”, “Hamlet”, and “Macbeth”. More of Shakespeare’s work has been the basis of major motion pictures than any other author, despite that fact that movies did not exist until hundreds of years after his plays were first performed. Shakespeare’s work marks a turning point in English literature, as he was the first dramatist to develop complex characters, as opposed to one-dimensional “types.”
During his lifetime Shakespeare, while well known and financially successful, was less popular than his rival Ben Jonson. After his death Shakespeare’s plays were infrequently performed, and Jonson was clearly considered the superior playwright. As is often the case with artists, Shakespeare’s obscurity was followed by a rediscovery in the 19th century, and now Ben Johson’s work is all but forgotten while Shakespeare is revered and ubiquitous.
Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon to a locally prominent family. His father John was a businessman who held the equivalent position to town mayor. William probably attended the local school but did not go to university. At age 18 he married Anne Hathaway. The couple had two girls and a boy who died at age 11. There are few details of Shakespeare’s career which are beyond dispute, but it is generally acknowledged that he spent some time as an actor before turning his full attention to writing plays. His career as a playwright took place in London over a period of about 20 years; his plays were staged at the recently renovated Globe Theatre.