Regarding Shakespeare, the nineteenth-century English poet Robert Browning wrote:
As I declare our Poet, him
Whose insight makes all others dim.
A thousand poets pried at life
And only one amid the strife
Rose to be Shakespeare.
Those are lofty words from a man who himself is considered himself to be one of the greatest poets in history. It’s kind of like Jose Bautista collecting the rookie card of Derek Jeter. (And now I will apologize for my very limited knowledge of baseball and its players. Please insert your own analogy here _______________.)
William Shakespeare was a poet, a playwright and (perhaps less known) an actor. He understood the human condition and was a genius with words. He wrote thirty-seven plays and 150 sonnets. He also wrote his own epitaph:
Blest be the man that spares these stones,
And curst be he that moves my bones.
Although very little is known about his private life, here are a few historical tidbits:
– Shakespeare was born to a glove maker and the daughter of a wealthy land owner
– In grammar school, he studied literature and Latin; he did not attend university;
– He may have worked as a teacher prior in his young adulthood;
– His wife was Anne Hathaway; they had three children – Susanna, then twins Hamnet and Judith. Hamnet died in childhood;
– He moved to London from Stratford-Upon-Avon and began a career with a well-respected acting troupe called Lord Chamberlain’s Men. As an actor, he performed for Queen Elizabeth I;
– His writing career began in earnest while he was acting. He wrote for all audiences, from peasants to royalty;
– He died in 1616 at 52 years old and was buried beneath the floor of the Stratford (England, not Huron County!) church. (The epitaph above was inscribed over his burial place.)
While we don’t know a lot about the personal life of Shakespeare, we do know a lot about Hamlet. And who better to fill in some background info than the one and only David Tennant? Here is a segment from the BBC’s series, Shakespeare Uncovered. (The entire documentary is included below.) As we watch, please takes notes on anything presented that might help enhance your study and understanding of the play and the context in which it was written.
We’ll look at some other clips from the documentary as our study of the play progresses. For now, let’s dive into the opening scene of the play by looking at it from a few different perspectives: