Who is William Shakespeare? What can we say about his plays?
William Shakespeare is probably the most famous English playwriter.
Even though he is so well known, we know very little about his life, because the written sources are very scarce. We know he was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, in England, in 1564, from a humble family. We also know that he did not attend the university, but moved to London sometime before 1590.
Once in London, he joined the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, an important theatre company, where he started his career as an actor. Sometime after, he will become a shareholder of the Globe Theatre in London. His career as a playwriter was quite successful, and his plays became famous.
In the beginning, they weren’t published in an official version, but they circulated in different low-quality versions. As a result, after Shakespeare’s death in 1616, some actors of his company decided to collect, fix and publish his plays. This constituted the first official version that is called the First Folio (1623). This collection credits Shakespeare with 35 plays, divided in three categories: Tragedies, Comedies and Histories.
The stories Shakespeare tells have a starting point in history and in literature, both English (Chaucer) and foreign (Ser Giovanni Fiorentino, but also Plutarch and Plautus).
Since it is almost impossible to make a list of the general characteristics of Shakespeare’s plays, we can analyse the particular features of one of them.
Performed for the first time in 1606, it is the shortest of Shakespeare’s plays. Its starting point is the history of a Scottish king with the same name, who lived in the 11th century, but the play is also based on the political situation of the author’s times. In 1603, in fact, Queen Elizabeth had died without heirs, and the throne was assigned to James Stuart, king of Scotland and later victim of the attempted assassination known as Gunpowder Plot.
The Tragedy of Macbeth begins with a prophecy that three witches announce to the protagonist: he will become King of Scotland. Macbeth, who is the cousin of the current King of Scotland, will be convinced and helped by his wife to kill the king. He becomes king, but to keep this role he murders Banquo, his friend, and the entire family of his rival Macduff. In the end he will remain alone, abandoned by both family and friends; he will be attacked and killed by a group of Scottish and English nobles, among which there is also Macduff.
The tragedy deals with several themes, first of all that of craving for power and of ambition, and the relationship that these have with politics and morality. We find all these aspects in the actions of the protagonist, whose ambition traps him in a sequence of terrible events. We also see the topic of obsession, well depicted by Lady Macbeth, who ignites Macbeth’s ambition and pushes him to act, but then is hit and torn by the feeling of guilt. She talks in her sleep, relieves the night of the assassination and eventually loses her mind, to the point where she hallucinates and sees her own hands covered in blood.
There is also the theme of magic, represented by the three witches, whose prophecy starts the action and generates chaos and death. Magic here is an obscure element, which is opposed to order and rationality.
This was William Shakespeare!😉
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