Shakespeare’s Plays
The 4 periods
You can categorise Shakespeare’s plays into four different periods. The first period lasts from his first play until 1594 and was very inspired by the Roman and the medieval drama. Some of the most famous plays written in this period were Richard III and The Comedy of Errors. The second period lasts from 1594 until 1600 and it was in this periodthat Shakespeare wrote some of his most appreciated plays, because of his growth in portraying human behaviour. He based a lot of his writing on kings and the royalties describing their lives as no different from the peasants. It was also in this period that he began to interweave with the comedies and tragedies. Some of the best-known plays were Henry V and A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet. The third period spun from 1600 to 1608 and was the time that his tragedies were on their highest and his comedies on their lowest. The plays are described with the term problem plays because of his very dark view on the world. The figures of his tragedies were as taken from the stages of ancient Greece. Some of the most well known plays by Shakespeare in our time are from this period (Macbeth, Hamlet and King Lear). The last period stretched from 1608 until his death in 1616. It is knows as the period where he wrote romantic tragicomedy. His writing was very lyrical and symbolic and the themes of his plays in this time revolved around redemption. Here he wrote The Tempest and Cymbeline, which are some of his last plays. He died shortly after completing The Tempest.

The Spirit of the age
In the Elizabethan time it wasn’t common to have you plays published, because most of the audience was unable to read. The tradition around theatre was that writers wrote their plays for the playhouses, so that they could stage the performances. The performances were seen by everyone from queen to peasant. It was custom writers in between to “borrow” plots and pieces of plays – this was called plagiarism. The writers simply did not care. Shakespeare borrowed not only from contemporary playwrights, but also from Italian writers and old Greek comedies and tragedies. This is seen in almost all of his plays, however there are a few exceptions where he invented the plots himself. The most original is The Tempest, where form, theme, language, and setting are all unique, but even in this play he is inspired by the people around him. The plots in his plays normally revolved around the lives of the present and the society in general.

The earliest Shakespeare was very inspired by Christopher Marlowe, and owes him a great deal for using his material. Another person that Shakespeare was very inspired by was Rafael Holinshed. He practically stole from Holinshed’s work “Chronicles”, in order to write Macbeth and King Lear.

Shakespeare’s benefactors
Shakespeare started writing book-length narrative poetry, when the Plague, in 1592, closed the theaters for a period of two years. In this period he dedicated some of his most notable pieces ("Venus and Adonis" and "The Rape of Lucrece") to the Earl of Southampton. Despite a lack of documentation scholars accepted the Earl of Southampton as, not only Shakespeare's friend, but also one of his most important benefactors. After the reopening of the theaters in 1594 Shakespeare started writing plays again, and after this he didn't publish poetry anymore. Some of Shakespeare's other benefactors - people that he dedicated other pieces to - are Queen Elizabeth I and James I.

Shakespeare and education
Little we know on how Shakespeare got his unbelievably enormous vocabulary, but we have to assume that he obtained it from having a mind of great celerity and from the fact that he read a lot of books. It is not known what libraries were available to him, but the family that he stayed with in London presumably had French books he could absorb himself in. We don’t know much about his education either, but we know that he attended King Edward VI Grammar School in Stratford-upon-Avon from the age of seven in 1571 and then left it and formal education in general when he was fourteen in 1578. The reason why he left school was because of his father’s financial problems. Normally a boy would finish grammar school at the age of fourteen and then attend University, but that was not what happened in his case and therefore he missed out on the opportunity of any form of higher education.
It is simply a mystery and indeed a fantastic one too, that Shakespeare achieved so much in life with only seven years of education.

Written by Cecilie, Freja & Tobias