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That Ends Well
Biography of Shakespeare
Since William Shakespeare lived more than 400 years ago, and many records from that time are lost or never existed in the first place, we don't know everything about his life. For example, we know that he was baptized in Stratford-upon-Avon, 100 miles northwest of London, on April 26, 1564. But we don't know his exact birthdate, which must have been a few days earlier.
We do know that Shakespeare's life revolved around two locations: Stratford and London. He grew up, had a family, and bought property in Stratford, but he worked in London, the center of English theater. As an actor, a playwright, and a partner in a leading acting company, he became both prosperous and well-known. Even without knowing everything about his life, fans of Shakespeare have imagined and reimagined him according to their own tastes, just as we see with the 19th-century portrait of Shakespeare wooing his wife at the top of this page.
William Shakespeare was probably born on about April 23, 1564, the date that is traditionally given for his birth. He was John and Mary Shakespeare's oldest surviving child; their first two children, both girls, did not live beyond infancy. Growing up as the big brother of the family, William had three younger brothers, Gilbert, Richard, and Edmund, and two younger sisters: Anne, who died at seven, and Joan.
Their father, John Shakespeare, was a leatherworker who specialized in the soft white leather used for gloves and similar items. A prosperous businessman, he married Mary Arden, of the prominent Arden family. John rose through local offices in Stratford, becoming an alderman and eventually, when William was five, the town bailiff—much like a mayor. Not long after that, however, John Shakespeare stepped back from public life; we don't know why.
Shakespeare, as the son of a leading Stratford citizen, almost certainly attended Stratford's grammar school. Like all such schools, its curriculum consisted of an intense emphasis on the Latin classics, including memorization, writing, and acting classic Latin plays. Shakespeare most likely attended until about age 15.
For several years after Judith and Hamnet's arrival in 1585, nothing is known for certain of Shakespeare's activities: how he earned a living, when he moved from Stratford, or how he got his start in the theater.
Following this gap in the record, the first definite mention of Shakespeare is in 1592 as an established London actor and playwright, mocked by a contemporary as a "Shake-scene." The same writer alludes to one of Shakespeare's earliest history plays, Henry VI, Part 3, which must already have been performed. The next year, in 1593, Shakespeare published a long poem, Venus and Adonis. The first quarto editions of his early plays appeared in 1594. For more than two decades, Shakespeare had multiple roles in the London theater as an actor, playwright, and, in time, a business partner in a major acting company, the Lord Chamberlain's Men (renamed the King's Men in 1603). Over the years, he became steadily more famous in the London theater world; his name, which was not even listed on the first quartos of his plays, became a regular feature—clearly a selling point—on later title pages.
Shakespeare prospered financially from his partnership in the Lord Chamberlain's Men (later the King's Men), as well as from his writing and acting. He invested much of his wealth in real-estate purchases in Stratford and bought the second-largest house in town, New Place, in 1597.
Among the last plays that Shakespeare worked on was The Two Noble Kinsmen, which he wrote with a frequent collaborator, John Fletcher, most likely in 1613. He died on April 23, 1616—the traditional date of his birthday, though his precise birthdate is unknown. We also do not know the cause of his death. His brother-in-law had died a week earlier, which could imply infectious disease, but Shakespeare's health may have had a longer decline.
The memorial bust of Shakespeare at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford is considered one of two authentic likenesses, because it was approved by people who knew him. (The bust in the Folger's Paster Reading Room, shown at left, is a copy of this statue.) The other such likeness is the engraving by Martin Droeshout in the 1623 First Folio edition of Shakespeare's plays, produced seven years after his death by his friends and colleagues from the King's Men.
KING OF FRANCE.THE DUKE OF FLORENCE.BERTRAM, Count of Rousillon.LAFEU, an old Lord.PAROLLES, a follower of Bertram.Several young French Lords, that serve with Bertram in theFlorentine War.Steward, Servant to the Countess of Rousillon.Clown, Servant to the Countess of Rousillon.A Page, Servant to the Countess of Rousillon.COUNTESS OF ROUSILLON, Mother to Bertram.HELENA, a Gentlewoman protected by the Countess.An old Widow of Florence.DIANA, daughter to the Widow.VIOLENTA, neighbour and friend to the Widow.MARIANA, neighbour and friend to the Widow.
Lords attending on the KING; Officers; Soldiers, &c., French and Florentine.
SCENE: Partly in France, and partly in Tuscany.
SCENE 1. Rousillon. A room in the COUNTESS'S palace.
[Enter BERTRAM, the COUNTESS OF ROUSILLON, HELENA, and LAFEU, all in black.]
COUNTESS.In delivering my son from me, I bury a second husband.
BERTRAM.And I in going, madam, weep o'er my father's death anew;but I must attend his majesty's command, to whom I am now in ward, evermore in subjection.
LAFEU.You shall find of the king a husband, madam;--you, sir, a father: he that so generally is at all times good, must of necessity hold his virtue to you; whose worthiness would stir it up where it wanted, rather than lack it where there is such abundance.
COUNTESS.What hope is there of his majesty's amendment?
LAFEU.He hath abandoned his physicians, madam; under whose practices he hath persecuted time with hope; and finds no other advantage in the process but only the losing of hope by time.
COUNTESS.This young gentlewoman had a father--O, that 'had!' howsad a passage 'tis!--whose skill was almost as great as his honesty; had it stretched so far, would have made natureimmortal, and death should have play for lack of work. Would, for the king's sake, he were living! I think it would be the death of the king's disease.
LAFEU.How called you the man you speak of, madam?
COUNTESS.He was famous, sir, in his profession, and it was his great right to be so--Gerard de Narbon.
LAFEU.He was excellent indeed, madam; the king very lately spokeof him admiringly and mourningly; he was skilful enough to have liv'd still, if knowledge could be set up against mortality.
BERTRAM.What is it, my good lord, the king languishes of?
LAFEU.A fistula, my lord.
BERTRAM.I heard not of it before.
LAFEU.I would it were not notorious.--Was this gentlewoman thedaughter of Gerard de Narbon?
COUNTESS.His sole child, my lord, and bequeathed to my overlooking. I have those hopes of her good that her education promises; herdispositions she inherits, which makes fair gifts fairer; for where an unclean mind carries virtuous qualities, therecommendations go with pity,--they are virtues and traitors too: in her they are the better for their simpleness; she derives her honesty, and achieves her goodness.
LAFEU.Your commendations, madam, get from her tears.
COUNTESS.'Tis the best brine a maiden can season her praise in. Theremembrance of her father never approaches her heart but the tyranny of her sorrows takes all livelihood from her cheek. No more of this, Helena,--go to, no more, lest it be rather thought you affect a sorrow than to have.
HELENA.I do affect a sorrow indeed; but I have it too.
LAFEU.Moderate lamentation is the right of the dead; excessive grief the enemy to the living.
COUNTESS.If the living be enemy to the grief, the excess makes it soon mortal.
BERTRAM.Madam, I desire your holy wishes.
LAFEU.How understand we that?
COUNTESS.Be thou blest, Bertram, and succeed thy fatherIn manners, as in shape! thy blood and virtueContend for empire in thee, and thy goodnessShare with thy birthright! Love all, trust a few,Do wrong to none: be able for thine enemyRather in power than use; and keep thy friendUnder thy own life's key: be check'd for silence,But never tax'd for speech. What heaven more will,That thee may furnish and my prayers pluck down,Fall on thy head! Farewell.--My lord,'Tis an unseason'd courtier; good my lord,Advise him.
LAFEU.He cannot want the bestThat shall attend his love.
COUNTESS.Heaven bless him!--Farewell, Bertram.
BERTRAM.The best wishes that can be forg'd in your thoughts [To HELENA.] be servants to you! Be comfortable to my mother, your mistress, and make much of her.
LAFEU.Farewell, pretty lady: you must hold the credit of your father.
[Exeunt BERTRAM and LAFEU.]
HELENA.O, were that all!--I think not on my father;And these great tears grace his remembrance moreThan those I shed for him. What was he like?I have forgot him; my imaginationCarries no favour in't but Bertram's.I am undone: there is no living, none,If Bertram be away. It were all oneThat I should love a bright particular star,And think to wed it, he is so above me:In his bright radiance and collateral lightMust I be comforted, not in his sphere.The ambition in my love thus plagues itself:The hind that would be mated by the lionMust die for love. 'Twas pretty, though a plague,To see him every hour; to sit and drawHis arched brows, his hawking eye, his curls,In our heart's table,--heart too capableOf every line and trick of his sweet favour:But now he's gone, and my idolatrous fancyMust sanctify his relics. Who comes here?One that goes with him: I love him for his sake;And yet I know him a notorious liar,Think him a great way fool, solely a coward;Yet these fix'd evils sit so fit in himThat they take place when virtue's steely bonesLooks bleak i' the cold wind: withal, full oft we seeCold wisdom waiting on superfluous folly.
PAROLLES.Save you, fair queen!
HELENA.And you, monarch!
PAROLLES.Are you meditating on virginity?
HELENA.Ay. You have some stain of soldier in you: let me ask you a question. Man is enemy to virginity; how may we barricado it against him?
PAROLLES.Keep him out.
HELENA.But he assails; and our virginity, though valiant in thedefence, yet is weak: unfold to us some warlike resistance.
PAROLLES.There is none: man, setting down before you, will undermine you and blow you up.
HELENA.Bless our poor virginity from underminers and blowers-up!--Is there no military policy how virgins might blow up men?
PAROLLES.Virginity being blown down, man will quicklier be blown up: marry, in blowing him down again, with the breach yourselves made, you lose your city. It is not politic in the commonwealth of nature to preserve virginity. Loss of virginity is rational increase; and there was never virgin got till virginity was first lost. That you were made of is metal to make virgins. Virginity by being once lost may be ten times found; by being ever kept, it is ever lost: 'tis too cold a companion; away with it!
HELENA.I will stand for 't a little, though therefore I die a virgin.
PAROLLES.There's little can be said in't; 'tis against the rule ofnature. To speak on the part of virginity is to accuse your mothers; which is most infallible disobedience. He that hangs himself is a virgin: virginity murders itself; and should be buried in highways, out of all sanctified limit, as a desperate offendress against nature. Virginity breeds mites, much like a cheese; consumes itself to the very paring, and so dies with feeding his own stomach. Besides, virginity is peevish, proud, idle, made of self-love, which is the most inhibited sin in the canon. Keep it not; you cannot choose but lose by't: out with't! within ten years it will make itself ten, which is a goodly increase; and the principal itself not much the worse: away with it!
HELENA.How might one do, sir, to lose it to her own liking?
PAROLLES.Let me see: marry, ill to like him that ne'er it likes. 'Tis a commodity will lose the gloss with lying; the longer kept, the less worth: off with't while 'tis vendible; answer the time of request. Virginity, like an old courtier, wears her cap out of fashion; richly suited, but unsuitable: just like the brooch and the toothpick, which wear not now. Your date is better in your pie and your porridge than in your cheek. And your virginity, your old virginity, is like one of our French withered pears; it looks ill, it eats drily; marry, 'tis a wither'd pear; it was formerly better; marry, yet 'tis a wither'd pear. Will youanything with it?
HELENA.Not my virginity yet.There shall your master have a thousand loves,A mother, and a mistress, and a friend,A phoenix, captain, and an enemy,A guide, a goddess, and a sovereign,A counsellor, a traitress, and a dear:His humble ambition, proud humility,His jarring concord, and his discord dulcet,His faith, his sweet disaster; with a worldOf pretty, fond, adoptious christendoms,That blinking Cupid gossips. Now shall he--I know not what he shall:--God send him well!--The court's a learning-place;--and he is one,--
PAROLLES.What one, i' faith?
HELENA.That I wish well.--'Tis pity--
HELENA.That wishing well had not a body in'tWhich might be felt; that we, the poorer born,Whose baser stars do shut us up in wishes,Might with effects of them follow our friendsAnd show what we alone must think; which neverReturns us thanks.
[Enter a PAGE.]
PAGE.Monsieur Parolles, my lord calls for you.
PAROLLES.Little Helen, farewell: if I can remember thee, I willthink of thee at court.
HELENA.Monsieur Parolles, you were born under a charitable star.
PAROLLES.Under Mars, I.
HELENA.I especially think, under Mars.
PAROLLES.Why under Mars?
HELENA.The wars hath so kept you under that you must needs be born under Mars.
PAROLLES.When he was predominant.
HELENA.When he was retrograde, I think, rather.
PAROLLES.Why think you so?
HELENA.You go so much backward when you fight.
PAROLLES.That's for advantage.
HELENA.So is running away, when fear proposes the safety: but thecomposition that your valour and fear makes in you is a virtue of a good wing, and I like the wear well.
PAROLLES.I am so full of business I cannot answer thee acutely. I