American Forum

Read Complete Research Material


American Forum

American Forum

Part 1

This question, followed almost immediately by "If he's so dead, what makes him so good?", are the two almost anyone asks when confronted with one of his plays, or some of Shakespeare's poetry. The questions are valid, and I'll try to answer them below. Please understand that I love the plays and poetry, and teach them to my grade 10 and 11 students shamelessly as the best things ever written, bar none (Berger, 1998).

Young William was the son of a town glove-maker, John Shakespeare, in Stratford. His father at times held posts of Town Clerk, junior judge (called an 'Affeeror'), High Bailiff (like a Mayor), and was finally granted his own coat of arms (which was an important possession because it proved you were a "Gentleman", not Yeoman or just plain Freeman..) John Shakespeare became High Bailiff in 1568, when William was four. It was a family of 'quality'.

William was baptized on April 23rd, 1564. Since baptism records were kept carefully at that time, and birth records were not, celebrating Shakespeare's birthday on April 23rd. is a tradition that is quaintly incorrect, but satisfying (Cone, 2000).

His early years were probably spent doing what most boys and young men did at that time; work, learn the trade of his father and soak up the local culture. Oh, and go to the local Grammar school, where he learnt Latin. (Ten years after he left the school, instruction in English language writing began.) William received a free (and quite dull) education in the late Middle Ages, which fitted him for no particular work but maintained a tradition of what it meant to be educated. No math (or even arithmetic) (Ganeri, 1995). No science. No geography or history except Latin/Roman history. There was no such thing as an atlas yet (and would not be for almost a century). The big piece of learning that Shakespeare took with him was how to actually write … to make a pen (from a quill) and write and he wrote in English. He wrote the way he spake, or spoke, and since there was no such thing as a dictionary, he spelt perfectly!

By his mid-teen years, young William had seen several plays put on by touring acting companies that had come through Stratford, and he was familiar with the tradition of the Miracle Play, telling various stories from Christian life (as approved by the Church).

The touring companies of players were strictly controlled by Acts of Parliament, because it was important to be 'official' in some way, not just a roving band of marauding riffs (who would never be allowed inside a Town's gates) (Godden, 1996). At this time, even London was still partly a walled city, and even today some of the old gate names are used, such as Auldgate, Moorgate and Ludgate. You had to have an official Protector of some sort, a sort of sponsor and official guarantor of the legitimacy of your ...
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