Cymdeithas Hanes Resolfen History Society

A web log for the Resolven History Society which publishes articles and stories related to Resolven and the immediate surroundings.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Life of Shakespeare

This month’s speaker was Mr John Richards of Skewen. Mr Richards took the life of William Shakespeare as his topic and gave an illustrated lecture on his life. He began by stating some startling facts:

50% of schoolchildren worldwide study the plays of Shakespeare

His works are the third most widely read after the Bible and the Koran

Shakespeare coined over two thousand new words and phrases in the English language, many of which are still in wide circulation e.g. “to the manor born”

He wrote some 38 plays (and a few others as collaborations) in a fairly short life by modern standards, and 150 poems and sonnets

Mr Richards stated that this was not bad for a country lad from Warwickshire, whose family were largely illiterate farmers in the village of Smithfield near Stratford.
The house of John Shakespeare

William Shakespeare’s father John had moved to Stratford to work as a glover, gloves were an essential part of Elizabethan fashion. There he married Mary Arden and William was born on April 23rd 1564. Despite his illiteracy, John Shakespeare became Mayor of Stratford and as a consequence William had a scholarship to the Edward VI Grammar school. As with much of the life of Shakespeare there is no concrete evidence that he was a scholar there, but his style of writing is typical of the classical education of the time. His country background is also evident in the vernacular references to country life in some of his work.

Shakespeare then courted Anne Hathaway. At only eighteen and she a mature ( and already three months pregnant) woman of twenty six years, it was highly unusual to be married so young. Indeed the marriage carried a bond of £6o with the permission of the Bishop of Worcester needed for it to proceed. However, after the birth of more children within a few years Shakespeare had left to appear some seven years later as a successful actor and playwright in Southwark. Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre was built during this time.

The image of Shakespeare is something of a mystery since there are only a few portraits which give different clues as to how he actually looked. In one Irish portrait William Shakespeare has a red beard in others his hair is dark. The confusion may come from the fact that a bust which stands above his grave was repainted in the 19th century. In addition , the only record of his handwriting is in some half dozen signatures on various documents, and these all have a different spelling.

Following his success in London, Shakespeare returned to Stratford upon Avon where he bought a very large house of twenty two rooms, New Place. He was also reputed to have planted a mulberry tree. The tree was the cause of the ultimate downfall of the property ,since its owner, a few centuries later became so frustrated by tourists entering the garden to take cuttings that he demolished the house. This was the subject of a televised “dig”, by the Time Team programme and Mr Richards stated that he spent three happy years assisting with the excavation. Some of the evidence from the archaeological dig indicated the wealthy of the Shakespeare family e.g. glazed crockery.

The Gower memorial, Straford upon Avon

Shakespeare died in 1624 on his birthday at the age of 52. He is buried alongside his wife in the Holy Trinity Church,Stratford upon Avon. A memorial to him in Stratford shows a statue of Shakespeare (minus a quill) and is surrounded on each corner by four of his most famous characters: Lady Macbeth, Sir John  Falstaff  , Prince Hal and Hamlet.

Mr Phylip Jones thanked Mr Richards for a very enjoyable and memorable evening.


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