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As You Like It
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.
DUKE, living in exile.FREDERICK, Brother to the Duke, and Usurper of his Dominions. AMIENS, Lord attending on the Duke in his Banishment.JAQUES, Lord attending on the Duke in his Banishment.LE BEAU, a Courtier attending upon Frederick.CHARLES, his Wrestler.OLIVER, Son of Sir Rowland de Bois.JAQUES, Son of Sir Rowland de Bois.ORLANDO, Son of Sir Rowland de Bois.ADAM, Servant to Oliver.DENNIS, Servant to Oliver.TOUCHSTONE, a Clown.SIR OLIVER MARTEXT, a Vicar.CORIN, Shepherd.SILVIUS, Shepherd.WILLIAM, a Country Fellow, in love with Audrey.A person representing HYMEN.
ROSALIND, Daughter to the banished Duke.CELIA, Daughter to Frederick.PHEBE, a Shepherdess.AUDREY, a Country Wench.
Lords belonging to the two Dukes; Pages, Foresters, and other Attendants.
The SCENE lies first near OLIVER'S house; afterwards partly in the Usurper's court and partly in the Forest of Arden.
SCENE I. An Orchard near OLIVER'S house.
[Enter ORLANDO and ADAM.]
ORLANDO.As I remember, Adam, it was upon this fashion,--bequeathed me by will but poor a thousand crowns, and, as thou say'st, charged my brother, on his blessing, to breed me well: and there begins my sadness. My brother Jaques he keeps at school, and report speaks goldenly of his profit: for my part, he keeps me rustically at home, or, to speak more properly, stays me here at home unkept: for call you that keeping for a gentleman of my birth thatdiffers not from the stalling of an ox? His horses are bred better; for, besides that they are fair with their feeding, they are taught their manage, and to that end riders dearlyhired; but I, his brother, gain nothing under him but growth; for the which his animals on his dunghills are as much bound to him as I. Besides this nothing that he so plentifully gives me, the something that nature gave me, his countenance seems to take from me: he lets me feed with his hinds, bars me the place of a brother, and as much as in him lies, mines my gentility with my education. This is it, Adam, that grieves me; and the spirit of my father, which I think is within me, begins to mutinyagainst this servitude; I will no longer endure it, though yet I know no wise remedy how to avoid it.
ADAM.Yonder comes my master, your brother.
ORLANDO.Go apart, Adam, and thou shalt hear how he will shake me up.
OLIVER.Now, sir! what make you here?
ORLANDO.Nothing: I am not taught to make anything.
OLIVER.What mar you then, sir?
ORLANDO.Marry, sir, I am helping you to mar that which God made, apoor unworthy brother of yours, with idleness.
OLIVER.Marry, sir, be better employed, and be naught awhile.
ORLANDO.Shall I keep your hogs, and eat husks with them? Whatprodigal portion have I spent that I should come to such penury?
OLIVER.Know you where you are, sir?
ORLANDO.O, sir, very well: here in your orchard.
OLIVER.Know you before whom, sir?
ORLANDO.Ay, better than him I am before knows me. I know you aremy eldest brother: and in the gentle condition of blood, you should so know me. The courtesy of nations allows you my better in that you are the first-born; but the same tradition takes not away my blood, were there twenty brothers betwixt us: I have as much of my father in me as you, albeit; I confess, your coming before me is nearer to his reverence.
ORLANDO.Come, come, elder brother, you are too young in this.
OLIVER.Wilt thou lay hands on me, villain?
ORLANDO.I am no villain: I am the youngest son of Sir Rowland deBois: he was my father; and he is thrice a villain that says such a father begot villains. Wert thou not my brother, I would not take this hand from thy throat till this other had pulled out thy tongue for saying so: thou has railed on thyself.
ADAM.[Coming forward] Sweet masters, be patient; for yourfather's remembrance, be at accord.
OLIVER.Let me go, I say.
ORLANDO.I will not, till I please: you shall hear me. My fathercharged you in his will to give me good education: you have trained me like a peasant, obscuring and hiding from me all gentleman-like qualities: the spirit of my father grows strong in me, and I will no longer endure it: therefore, allow me such exercises as may become a gentleman, or give me the poorallottery my father left me by testament; with that I will go buy my fortunes.
OLIVER.And what wilt thou do? beg, when that is spent? Well, sir,get you in; I will not long be troubled with you: you shall have some part of your will: I pray you leave me.
ORLANDO.I no further offend you than becomes me for my good.
OLIVER.Get you with him, you old dog.
ADAM.Is "old dog" my reward? Most true, I have lost my teeth inyour service.--God be with my old master! he would not have spoke such a word.
[Exeunt ORLANDO and ADAM.]
OLIVER.Is it even so? begin you to grow upon me? I will physicyour rankness, and yet give no thousand crowns neither.Holla, Dennis!
DENNIS.Calls your worship?
OLIVER.Was not Charles, the duke's wrestler, here to speak with me?
DENNIS.So please you, he is here at the door and importunes access to you.
OLIVER.Call him in.
--'Twill be a good way; and to-morrow the wrestling is.
CHARLES.Good morrow to your worship.
OLIVER.Good Monsieur Charles!--what's the new news at the new court?
CHARLES.There's no news at the court, sir, but the old news; thatis, the old duke is banished by his younger brother the new duke; and three or four loving lords have put themselves into voluntary exile with him, whose lands and revenues enrich the new duke; therefore he gives them good leave to wander.
OLIVER.Can you tell if Rosalind, the duke's daughter, be banishedwith her father?
CHARLES.O, no; for the duke's daughter, her cousin, so loves her,--being ever from their cradles bred together,--that she would have followed her exile, or have died to stay behind her. She is at the court, and no less beloved of her uncle than his owndaughter; and never two ladies loved as they do.
OLIVER.Where will the old duke live?
CHARLES.They say he is already in the Forest of Arden, and a manymerry men with him; and there they live like the old Robin Hood of England: they say many young gentlemen flock to him every day, and fleet the time carelessly, as they did in the golden world.
OLIVER.What, you wrestle to-morrow before the new duke?
CHARLES.Marry, do I, sir; and I came to acquaint you with a matter. I am given, sir, secretly to understand that your younger brother, Orlando, hath a disposition to come in disguis'd against me to try a fall. To-morrow, sir, I wrestle for my credit;and he that escapes me without some broken limb shall acquit him well. Your brother is but young and tender; and, for your love, I would be loath to foil him, as I must, for my own honour, if he come in: therefore, out of my love to you, I came hither to acquaint you withal; that either you might stay him from his intendment, or brook such disgrace well as he shall run into; in that it is thing of his own search, and altogether against my will.
OLIVER.Charles, I thank thee for thy love to me, which thou shaltfind I will most kindly requite. I had myself notice of mybrother's purpose herein, and have by underhand means laboured to dissuade him from it; but he is resolute. I'll tell thee,Charles, it is the stubbornest young fellow of France; full of ambition, an envious emulator of every man's good parts, a secret and villainous contriver against me his natural brother:therefore use thy discretion: I had as lief thou didst break his neck as his finger. And thou wert best look to't; for if thou dost him any slight disgrace, or if he do not mightily grace himself on thee, he will practise against thee by poison, entrap thee by some treacherous device, and never leave thee till he hath ta'en thy life by some indirect means or other: for, I assure thee, and almost with tears I speak it, there is not one so young and so villainous this day living. I speak but brotherly of him; but should I anatomize him to thee as he is, I must blush and weep, and thou must look pale and wonder.
CHARLES.I am heartily glad I came hither to you. If he cometo-morrow I'll give him his payment. If ever he go alone again I'll never wrestle for prize more: and so, God keep your worship!
OLIVER.Farewell, good Charles.--Now will I stir this gamester: Ihope I shall see an end of him: for my soul, yet I know not why, hates nothing more than he. Yet he's gentle; never schooled and yet learned; full of noble device; of all sorts enchantingly beloved; and, indeed, so much in the heart of the world, and especially of my own people, who best know him, that I amaltogether misprised: but it shall not be so long; thiswrestler shall clear all: nothing remains but that I kindle the boy thither, which now I'll go about.
SCENE II. A Lawn before the DUKE'S Palace.
[Enter ROSALIND and CELIA.]
CELIA.I pray thee, Rosalind, sweet my coz, be merry.
ROSALIND.Dear Celia, I show more mirth than I am mistress of; and would you yet I were merrier? Unless you could teach me to forget a banished father, you must not learn me how to remember anyextraordinary pleasure.