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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.
CAIUS MARCIUS CORIOLANUS, a noble Roman
TITUS LARTIUS, General against the VolsciansCOMINIUS, General against the VolsciansMENENIUS AGRIPPA, Friend to CoriolanusSICINIUS VELUTUS, Tribune of the PeopleJUNIUS BRUTUS, Tribune of the PeopleYOUNG MARCIUS, son to CoriolanusA ROMAN HERALDTULLUS AUFIDIUS, General of the VolsciansLIEUTENANT, to AufidiusConspirators with AufidiusA CITIZEN of AntiumTWO VOLSCIAN GUARDS
VOLUMNIA, Mother to CoriolanusVIRGILIA, Wife to CoriolanusVALERIA, Friend to VirgiliaGENTLEWOMAN attending on Virgilia
Roman and Volscian Senators, Patricians, Aediles, Lictors,Soldiers, Citizens, Messengers, Servants to Aufidius, and other Attendants
SCENE: Partly in Rome, and partly in the territories of the Volscians and Antiates.
SCENE I. Rome. A street.
[Enter a company of mutinous citizens, with staves, clubs, and other weapons.]
FIRST CITIZEN.Before we proceed any further, hear me speak.
FIRST CITIZEN.You are all resolved rather to die than to famish?
FIRST CITIZEN.First, you know Caius Marcius is chief enemy to the people.
ALL.We know't, we know't.
FIRST CITIZEN.Let us kill him, and we'll have corn at our own price. Is't a verdict?
ALL.No more talking on't; let it be done: away, away!
SECOND CITIZEN.One word, good citizens.
FIRST CITIZEN.We are accounted poor citizens; the patricians good.What authority surfeits on would relieve us; if they would yield us but the superfluity, while it were wholesome, we might guess they relieved us humanely; but they think we are too dear: the leanness that afflicts us, the object of our misery, is as an inventory to particularize their abundance; our sufferance is a gain to them.--Let us revenge this with our pikes ere we become rakes: for the gods know I speak this in hunger for bread, not in thirst for revenge.
SECOND CITIZEN.Would you proceed especially against Caius Marcius?
FIRST CITIZEN.Against him first: he's a very dog to the commonalty.
SECOND CITIZEN.Consider you what services he has done for his country?
FIRST CITIZEN.Very well; and could be content to give him good report for't, but that he pays himself with being proud.
SECOND CITIZEN.Nay, but speak not maliciously.
FIRST CITIZEN.I say unto you, what he hath done famously he did it to that end: though soft-conscienced men can be content to say it was for his country, he did it to please his mother, and to be partly proud; which he is, even to the altitude of his virtue.
SECOND CITIZEN.What he cannot help in his nature you account a vice in him. You must in no way say he is covetous.
FIRST CITIZEN.If I must not, I need not be barren of accusations; he hath faults, with surplus, to tire in repetition. [Shouts within.] What shouts are these? The other side o' the city is risen: why stay we prating here? to the Capitol!
FIRST CITIZEN.Soft! who comes here?
SECOND CITIZEN.Worthy Menenius Agrippa; one that hath always loved the people.
FIRST CITIZEN.He's one honest enough; would all the rest were so!
[Enter MENENIUS AGRIPPA.]
MENENIUS.What work's, my countrymen, in hand? where go youWith bats and clubs? the matter? speak, I pray you.
FIRST CITIZEN.Our business is not unknown to the senate; they have had inkling this fortnight what we intend to do, which now we'll show 'em in deeds. They say poor suitors have strong breaths; they shall know we have strong arms too.
MENENIUS.Why, masters, my good friends, mine honest neighbours,Will you undo yourselves?
FIRST CITIZEN.We cannot, sir; we are undone already.
MENENIUS.I tell you, friends, most charitable careHave the patricians of you. For your wants,Your suffering in this dearth, you may as wellStrike at the heaven with your staves as lift themAgainst the Roman state; whose course will onThe way it takes, cracking ten thousand curbsOf more strong link asunder than can everAppear in your impediment: for the dearth,The gods, not the patricians, make it; andYour knees to them, not arms, must help. Alack,You are transported by calamityThither where more attends you; and you slanderThe helms o' th' state, who care for you like fathers,When you curse them as enemies.
FIRST CITIZEN.Care for us! True, indeed! They ne'er cared for us yet. Suffer us to famish, and their storehouses crammed with grain; make edicts for usury, to support usurers; repeal daily any wholesome act established against the rich, and provide more piercing statutes daily to chain up and restrain the poor. If the wars eat us not up, they will; and there's all the love they bear us.
MENENIUS.Either you mustConfess yourselves wondrous malicious,Or be accus'd of folly. I shall tell youA pretty tale: it may be you have heard it;But, since it serves my purpose, I will ventureTo stale't a little more.
FIRST CITIZEN.Well, I'll hear it, sir; yet you must not think to fob off our disgrace with a tale: but, an't please you, deliver.
MENENIUS.There was a time when all the body's membersRebell'd against the belly; thus accus'd it:--That only like a gulf it did remainI' the midst o' the body, idle and unactive,Still cupboarding the viand, never bearingLike labour with the rest; where th' other instrumentsDid see and hear, devise, instruct, walk, feel,And, mutually participate, did ministerUnto the appetite and affection commonOf the whole body. The belly answered,--
FIRST CITIZEN.Well, sir, what answer made the belly?
MENENIUS.Sir, I shall tell you.--With a kind of smile,Which ne'er came from the lungs, but even thus,--For, look you, I may make the belly smileAs well as speak,--it tauntingly repliedTo the discontented members, the mutinous partsThat envied his receipt; even so most fitlyAs you malign our senators for thatThey are not such as you.
FIRST CITIZEN.Your belly's answer? What!The kingly crowned head, the vigilant eye,The counsellor heart, the arm our soldier,Our steed the leg, the tongue our trumpeter,With other muniments and petty helpsIs this our fabric, if that they,--
MENENIUS.What then?--'Fore me, this fellow speaks!--what then? what then?
FIRST CITIZEN.Should by the cormorant belly be restrain'd,Who is the sink o' the body,--
MENENIUS.Well, what then?
FIRST CITIZEN.The former agents, if they did complain,What could the belly answer?
MENENIUS.I will tell you;If you'll bestow a small,--of what you have little,--Patience awhile, you'll hear the belly's answer.
FIRST CITIZEN.You are long about it.
MENENIUS.Note me this, good friend;Your most grave belly was deliberate,Not rash like his accusers, and thus answer'd:'True is it, my incorporate friends,' quoth he,'That I receive the general food at firstWhich you do live upon; and fit it is,Because I am the storehouse and the shopOf the whole body: but, if you do remember,I send it through the rivers of your blood,Even to the court, the heart,--to the seat o' the brain;And, through the cranks and offices of man,The strongest nerves and small inferior veinsFrom me receive that natural competencyWhereby they live: and though that all at onceYou, my good friends,'--this says the belly,--mark me,--
FIRST CITIZEN.Ay, sir; well, well.
MENENIUS.'Though all at once cannotSee what I do deliver out to each,Yet I can make my audit up, that allFrom me do back receive the flour of all,And leave me but the bran.' What say you to't?
FIRST CITIZEN.It was an answer: how apply you this?
MENENIUS.The senators of Rome are this good belly,And you the mutinous members; for, examineTheir counsels and their cares; digest things rightlyTouching the weal o' the common; you shall findNo public benefit which you receiveBut it proceeds or comes from them to you,And no way from yourselves.--What do you think,You, the great toe of this assembly?
FIRST CITIZEN.I the great toe? why the great toe?
MENENIUS.For that, being one o' the lowest, basest, poorest,Of this most wise rebellion, thou go'st foremost:Thou rascal, that art worst in blood to run,Lead'st first to win some vantage.--But make you ready your stiff bats and clubs:Rome and her rats are at the point of battle;The one side must have bale.--
[Enter CAIUS MARCIUS.]
Hail, noble Marcius!
MARCIUS.Thanks.--What's the matter, you dissentious roguesThat, rubbing the poor itch of your opinion,Make yourselves scabs?
FIRST CITIZEN.We have ever your good word.
MARCIUS.He that will give good words to thee will flatterBeneath abhorring.--What would you have, you curs,That like nor peace nor war? The one affrights you,The other makes you proud. He that trusts to you,Where he should find you lions, finds you hares;Where foxes, geese: you are no surer, no,Than is the coal of fire upon the ic,Or hailstone in the sun. Your virtue isTo make him worthy whose offence subdues him,And curse that justice did it. Who deserves greatnessDeserves your hate; and your affections areA sick man's appetite, who desires most thatWhich would increase his evil. He that dependsUpon your favours swims with fins of lead,And hews down oaks with rushes. Hang ye! Trust ye!With every minute you do change a mind;And call him noble that was now your hate,Him vile that was your garland. What's the matter,That in these several places of the cityYou cry against the noble senate, who,Under the gods, keep you in awe, which elseWould feed on one another?--What's their seeking?
MENENIUS.For corn at their own rates; whereof they sayThe city is well stor'd.
MARCIUS.Hang 'em! They say!They'll sit by th' fire and presume to knowWhat's done i' the Capitol; who's like to rise,Who thrives and who declines; side factions, and give outConjectural marriages; making parties strong,And feebling such as stand not in their likingBelow their cobbled shoes. They say there's grain enough!Would the nobility lay aside their ruthAnd let me use my sword, I'd make a quarryWith thousands of these quarter'd slaves, as highAs I could pick my lance.
MENENIUS.Nay, these are almost thoroughly persuaded;For though abundantly they lack discretion,Yet are they passing cowardly. But, I beseech you,What says the other troop?
MARCIUS.They are dissolved: hang 'em!They said they were an-hungry; sigh'd forth proverbs,--That hunger broke stone walls, that dogs must eat,That meat was made for mouths, that the gods sent notCorn for the rich men only:--with these shredsThey vented their complainings; which being answer'd,And a petition granted them,--a strange one,To break the heart of generosity,And make bold power look pale,--they threw their capsAs they would hang them on the horns o' the moon,Shouting their emulation.
MENENIUS.What is granted them?
MARCIUS.Five tribunes, to defend their vulgar wisdoms,Of their own choice: one's Junius Brutus,Sicinius Velutus, and I know not.--'Sdeath!The rabble should have first unroof'd the cityEre so prevail'd with me: it will in timeWin upon power, and throw forth greater themesFor insurrection's arguing.
MENENIUS.This is strange.
MARCIUS.Go get you home, you fragments!
[Enter a MESSENGER, hastily.]
MESSENGER.Where's Caius Marcius?
MARCIUS.Here: what's the matter?
MESSENGER.The news is, sir, the Volsces are in arms.
MARCIUS.I am glad on't: then we shall ha' means to ventOur musty superfluity.--See, our best elders.
[Enter COMINIUS, TITUS LARTIUS, and other SENATORS; JUNIUS BRUTUS and SICINIUS VELUTUS.]
FIRST SENATOR.Marcius, 'tis true that you have lately told us:--The Volsces are in arms.
MARCIUS.They have a leader,Tullus Aufidius, that will put you to't.I sin in envying his nobility;And were I anything but what I am,I would wish me only he.
COMINIUS.You have fought together.
MARCIUS.Were half to half the world by the ears, and heUpon my party, I'd revolt, to makeOnly my wars with him: he is a lionThat I am proud to hunt.
FIRST SENATOR.Then, worthy Marcius,Attend upon Cominius to these wars.
COMINIUS.It is your former promise.
MARCIUS.Sir, it is;And I am constant.--Titus Lartius, thouShalt see me once more strike at Tullus' face.What, art thou stiff? stand'st out?
TITUS LARTIUS.No, Caius Marcius;I'll lean upon one crutch and fight with the otherEre stay behind this business.
MENENIUS.O, true bred!
FIRST SENATOR.Your company to the Capitol; where, I know,Our greatest friends attend us.
TITUS LARTIUS.Lead you on.Follow, Cominius; we must follow you;Right worthy your priority.
FIRST SENATOR.Hence to your homes; be gone![To the Citizens.]
MARCIUS.Nay, let them follow:The Volsces have much corn; take these rats thitherTo gnaw their garners.--Worshipful mutineers,Your valour puts well forth: pray follow.
[Exeunt Senators, COM., MAR, TIT., and MENEN. Citizens steal away.]
SICINIUS.Was ever man so proud as is this Marcius?
BRUTUS.He has no equal.
SICINIUS.When we were chosen tribunes for the people,--
BRUTUS.Mark'd you his lip and eyes?
SICINIUS.Nay, but his taunts!
BRUTUS.Being mov'd, he will not spare to gird the gods.
SICINIUS.Bemock the modest moon.
BRUTUS.The present wars devour him: he is grownToo proud to be so valiant.
SICINIUS.Such a nature,Tickled with good success, disdains the shadowWhich he treads on at noon: but I do wonderHis insolence can brook to be commandedUnder Cominius.