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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.
DUKE OF VENICE.BRABANTIO, a Senator.Other Senators.GRATIANO, Brother to Brabantio.LODOVICO, Kinsman to Brabantio.OTHELLO, a noble Moor, in the service of Venice.CASSIO, his Lieutenant.IAGO, his Ancient.RODERIGO, a Venetian Gentleman.MONTANO, Othello's predecessor in the government of Cyprus. CLOWN, Servant to Othello.Herald.
DESDEMONA, Daughter to Brabantio, and Wife to Othello.EMILIA, Wife to Iago.BIANCA, Mistress to Cassio.
Officers, Gentlemen, Messenger, Musicians, Herald, Sailor,Attendants, &c.
SCENE: The First Act in Venice; during the rest of the Play at a Seaport in Cyprus.
SCENE I. Venice. A street.
[Enter Roderigo and Iago.]
RODERIGO.Tush, never tell me; I take it much unkindlyThat thou, Iago, who hast had my purseAs if the strings were thine, shouldst know of this,--
IAGO.'Sblood, but you will not hear me:--If ever I did dream of such a matter,Abhor me.
RODERIGO.Thou told'st me thou didst hold him in thy hate.
IAGO.Despise me, if I do not. Three great ones of the city,In personal suit to make me his lieutenant,Off-capp'd to him:--and, by the faith of man,I know my price, I am worth no worse a place:--But he, as loving his own pride and purposes,Evades them, with a bumbast circumstanceHorribly stuff'd with epithets of war:And, in conclusion, nonsuitsMy mediators: for, "Certes," says he,"I have already chose my officer."And what was he?Forsooth, a great arithmetician,One Michael Cassio, a Florentine,A fellow almost damn'd in a fair wife;That never set a squadron in the field,Nor the division of a battle knowsMore than a spinster; unless the bookish theoric,Wherein the toged consuls can proposeAs masterly as he: mere prattle, without practice,Is all his soldiership. But he, sir, had the election:And I,--of whom his eyes had seen the proofAt Rhodes, at Cyprus, and on other grounds,Christian and heathen,--must be be-lee'd and calm'dBy debitor and creditor, this counter-caster;He, in good time, must his lieutenant be,And I--God bless the mark! his Moorship's ancient.
RODERIGO.By heaven, I rather would have been his hangman.
IAGO.Why, there's no remedy; 'tis the curse of service,Preferment goes by letter and affection,And not by old gradation, where each secondStood heir to the first. Now, sir, be judge yourselfWhether I in any just term am affin'dTo love the Moor.
RODERIGO.I would not follow him, then.
IAGO.O, sir, content you;I follow him to serve my turn upon him:We cannot all be masters, nor all mastersCannot be truly follow'd. You shall markMany a duteous and knee-crooking knaveThat, doting on his own obsequious bondage,Wears out his time, much like his master's ass,For nought but provender; and when he's old, cashier'd:Whip me such honest knaves. Others there areWho, trimm'd in forms and visages of duty,Keep yet their hearts attending on themselves;And, throwing but shows of service on their lords,Do well thrive by them, and when they have lin'd their coats, Do themselves homage: these fellows have some soul;And such a one do I profess myself.For, sir,It is as sure as you are Roderigo,Were I the Moor, I would not be Iago:In following him, I follow but myself;Heaven is my judge, not I for love and duty,But seeming so for my peculiar end:For when my outward action doth demonstrateThe native act and figure of my heartIn complement extern, 'tis not long afterBut I will wear my heart upon my sleeveFor daws to peck at: I am not what I am.
RODERIGO.What a full fortune does the thick lips owe,If he can carry't thus!
IAGO.Call up her father,Rouse him:--make after him, poison his delight,Proclaim him in the streets; incense her kinsmen,And, though he in a fertile climate dwell,Plague him with flies: though that his joy be joy,Yet throw such changes of vexation on'tAs it may lose some color.
RODERIGO.Here is her father's house: I'll call aloud.
IAGO.Do; with like timorous accent and dire yellAs when, by night and negligence, the fireIs spied in populous cities.
RODERIGO.What, ho, Brabantio! Signior Brabantio, ho!
IAGO.Awake! what, ho, Brabantio! thieves! thieves! thieves!Look to your house, your daughter, and your bags!Thieves! thieves!
[Brabantio appears above at a window.]
BRABANTIO.What is the reason of this terrible summons?What is the matter there?
RODERIGO.Signior, is all your family within?
IAGO.Are your doors locked?
BRABANTIO.Why, wherefore ask you this?
IAGO.Zounds, sir, you're robb'd; for shame, put on your gown;Your heart is burst, you have lost half your soul;Even now, now, very now, an old black ramIs tupping your white ewe. Arise, arise;Awake the snorting citizens with the bell,Or else the devil will make a grandsire of you:Arise, I say.
BRABANTIO.What, have you lost your wits?
RODERIGO.Most reverend signior, do you know my voice?
BRABANTIO.Not I; what are you?
RODERIGO.My name is Roderigo.
BRABANTIO.The worser welcome:I have charged thee not to haunt about my doors;In honest plainness thou hast heard me sayMy daughter is not for thee; and now, in madness,Being full of supper and distempering draughts,Upon malicious bravery dost thou comeTo start my quiet.
RODERIGO.Sir, sir, sir,--
BRABANTIO.But thou must needs be sureMy spirit and my place have in them powerTo make this bitter to thee.
RODERIGO.Patience, good sir.
BRABANTIO.What tell'st thou me of robbing? this is Venice;My house is not a grange.
RODERIGO.Most grave Brabantio,In simple and pure soul I come to you.
IAGO.Zounds, sir, you are one of those that will not serveGod if the devil bid you. Because we come to do you service, and you think we are ruffians, you'll have your daughter covered with a Barbary horse; you'll have your nephews neigh to you; you'll have coursers for cousins and gennets for germans.
BRABANTIO.What profane wretch art thou?
IAGO.I am one, sir, that comes to tell you your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs.
BRABANTIO.Thou are a villain.
IAGO.You are--a senator.
BRABANTIO.This thou shalt answer; I know thee, Roderigo.
RODERIGO.Sir, I will answer anything. But, I beseech you,If't be your pleasure and most wise consent,--As partly I find it is,--that your fair daughter,At this odd-even and dull watch o' the night,Transported with no worse nor better guardBut with a knave of common hire, a gondolier,To the gross clasps of a lascivious Moor,--If this be known to you, and your allowance,We then have done you bold and saucy wrongs;But if you know not this, my manners tell meWe have your wrong rebuke. Do not believeThat, from the sense of all civility,I thus would play and trifle with your reverence:Your daughter,--if you have not given her leave,--I say again, hath made a gross revolt;Tying her duty, beauty, wit, and fortunesIn an extravagant and wheeling strangerOf here and everywhere. Straight satisfy yourself:If she be in her chamber or your houseLet loose on me the justice of the stateFor thus deluding you.
BRABANTIO.Strike on the tinder, ho!Give me a taper!--Call up all my people!--This accident is not unlike my dream:Belief of it oppresses me already.--Light, I say! light!
[Exit from above.]
IAGO.Farewell; for I must leave you:It seems not meet nor wholesome to my placeTo be produc'd,--as if I stay I shall,--Against the Moor: for I do know the state,--However this may gall him with some check,--Cannot with safety cast him; for he's embark'dWith such loud reason to the Cyprus wars,--Which even now stands in act,--that, for their souls,Another of his fathom they have noneTo lead their business: in which regard,Though I do hate him as I do hell pains,Yet, for necessity of present life,I must show out a flag and sign of love,Which is indeed but sign. That you shall surely find him,Lead to the Sagittary the raised search;And there will I be with him. So, farewell.
[Enter, below, Brabantio, and Servants with torches.]
BRABANTIO.It is too true an evil: gone she is;And what's to come of my despised timeIs naught but bitterness.--Now, Roderigo,Where didst thou see her?--O unhappy girl!--With the Moor, say'st thou?--Who would be a father!How didst thou know 'twas she?--O, she deceives mePast thought.--What said she to you?--Get more tapers;Raise all my kindred.--Are they married, think you?
RODERIGO.Truly, I think they are.
BRABANTIO.O heaven!--How got she out?--O treason of the blood!--Fathers, from hence trust not your daughters' mindsBy what you see them act.--Are there not charmsBy which the property of youth and maidhoodMay be abused? Have you not read, Roderigo,Of some such thing?
RODERIGO.Yes, sir, I have indeed.
BRABANTIO.Call up my brother.--O, would you had had her!--Some one way, some another.--Do you knowWhere we may apprehend her and the Moor?
RODERIGO.I think I can discover him, if you pleaseTo get good guard, and go along with me.
BRABANTIO.Pray you, lead on. At every house I'll call;I may command at most.--Get weapons, ho!And raise some special officers of night.--On, good Roderigo:--I'll deserve your pains.
SCENE II. Venice. Another street.
[Enter Othello, Iago, and Attendants with torches.]
IAGO.Though in the trade of war I have slain men,Yet do I hold it very stuff o' the conscienceTo do no contriv'd murder: I lack iniquitySometimes to do me service: nine or ten timesI had thought to have yerk'd him here under the ribs.
OTHELLO.'Tis better as it is.
IAGO.Nay, but he prated,And spoke such scurvy and provoking termsAgainst your honor,That, with the little godliness I have,I did full hard forbear him. But, I pray you, sir,Are you fast married? Be assured of this,That the magnifico is much beloved;And hath, in his effect, a voice potentialAs double as the duke's: he will divorce you;Or put upon you what restraint and grievanceThe law,--with all his might to enforce it on,--Will give him cable.
OTHELLO.Let him do his spite:My services which I have done the signioryShall out-tongue his complaints. 'Tis yet to know,--Which, when I know that boasting is an honor,I shall promulgate,--I fetch my life and beingFrom men of royal siege; and my demeritsMay speak unbonneted to as proud a fortuneAs this that I have reach'd: for know, Iago,But that I love the gentle Desdemona,I would not my unhoused free conditionPut into circumscription and confineFor the sea's worth. But, look! what lights come yond?
IAGO.Those are the raised father and his friends:You were best go in.
OTHELLO.Not I; I must be found;My parts, my title, and my perfect soulShall manifest me rightly. Is it they?
IAGO.By Janus, I think no.
[Enter Cassio and certain Officers with torches.]
OTHELLO.The servants of the duke and my lieutenant.--The goodness of the night upon you, friends!What is the news?
CASSIO.The duke does greet you, general;And he requires your haste-post-haste appearanceEven on the instant.
OTHELLO.What is the matter, think you?
CASSIO.Something from Cyprus, as I may divine:It is a business of some heat: the galleysHave sent a dozen sequent messengersThis very night at one another's heels;And many of the consuls, rais'd and met,Are at the duke's already: you have been hotly call'd for;When, being not at your lodging to be found,The senate hath sent about three several questsTo search you out.
OTHELLO.'Tis well I am found by you.I will but spend a word here in the house,And go with you.
CASSIO.Ancient, what makes he here?
IAGO.Faith, he to-night hath boarded a land carack:If it prove lawful prize, he's made forever.
CASSIO.I do not understand.
IAGO.Marry, to--Come, captain, will you go?
OTHELLO.Have with you.
CASSIO.Here comes another troop to seek for you.
IAGO.It is Brabantio.--General, be advis'd;He comes to bad intent.
[Enter Brabantio, Roderigo, and Officers with torches andweapons.]
OTHELLO.Holla! stand there!
RODERIGO.Signior, it is the Moor.
BRABANTIO.Down with him, thief!
[They draw on both sides.]
IAGO.You, Roderigo! come, sir, I am for you.
OTHELLO.Keep up your bright swords, for the dew will rust them.--Good signior, you shall more command with yearsThan with your weapons.
BRABANTIO.O thou foul thief, where hast thou stow'd my daughter?Damn'd as thou art, thou hast enchanted her;For I'll refer me to all things of sense,If she in chains of magic were not bound,