From roughly 1590 to 1613, supposedly one playwright had seventeen plays based on comedy, ten plays base on history and ten plays base on human tragedy presented to theater goers in London, England. In 1623 thirty six of these plays were published in what is known as the First Folio. Drafted for the printers by actors John Heminge and Henry Condell they were – according to the front page – written by William Shakespeare. Heminge’s and Condell’s draft are lost to history, as are the notes and other materials they drew from in writing up the plays. Later 154 Sonnets and 5 long poems were published –again according to the front page – written by William Shakespeare.
The 884,421 total words in these complete works represent the best writing in the English language. Altogether more than 21,000 different words were used, of which 1,700 were absolutely new, plus hundreds of words were put together in phrases that have come to be intricate part of the English language.
It is said that a common farm laborer at the turn of the 17th century used about 500 words, and educated business man 3,000, the average novelist 5,000 and great scholars and public men 7,000.
Shakespeare’s vocabulary was three times that of the most learned men of the time… in fact it represents the largest vocabulary ever possessed by any member of the human race.
His plays demonstrated a professional understanding of English law, knowledge that was used in a practiced way to advance the plots. He knew the history of Denmark, the landscape of Italy, boatmanship, courtly manners, intricate relations of royalty, bawdy sex and even secret oaths and ceremonies at Oxford University.
William Shakespeare was also the world’s pre-eminent dramatist, expanding what could be accomplished through characterization, imagery, pun, plot and creative combination of myth and history.
Shakespeare’s writings enhanced what is – in 2015 – the international language of communications, science, information technology, business, seafaring, aviation, entertainment, radio, and diplomacy.
In English rarely is a conversation held, a paper written or a lecture given that Shakespeare’s way of speaking is not heard.
What do we know about the guy?
Well that’s a big question. Lot of speculation; two main theories.
First is the Stratfordian: Shakespeare – the name on the front page of the First Folio – was a common name in London during the end of the 16th century. A William Shakespeare was co-owner of a troupe of actors that built the Globe theater and there is reason to believe he once played the part of the ghost in Hamlet. With little more than that, he is the gentleman time remembers as the great author, William Shakespeare.
But please consider: This William Shakespeare, baptized 26 April 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwishire, England, was probably only exposed to an elementary school education. His father was a local businessman and town father, but illiterate. At the age of 18 this Stratfordian man married Anne Hathaway with whom he had three children. Only son died; two surviving daughters were illiterate. From 1585 to 1592 he was in London as part of the Lord Chamberlin’s Men acting troupe, though there are clear records that he had retired back to Stratford-upon-Avon in 1613 to deal in real estate and middling village business. He died 3 years later. There was no public mention of his death. There is no mention in his will about the distribution of any literary works, or any books from his house. There are six known signature attributed to William Shakespeare. Three on his will, when his health may have been impaired, were not firm and there were pauses in his script that allowed the ink to drain on to the copy. Three other signatures that are thought be William Shakespeare are halting… not what one would imagine from a hand that supposedly wrote close to a million coherent theater play and sonnet words. Writing with ink and quill is a learned skill.
Second consider: the Oxfordian theory. Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford. High born, one of the most educated man in all England, favorite of Queen Elizabeth, was known for his travel to Italy, his relative’s tour of diplomatic duty in Denmark and for being a gifted playwright… although not a single copy of plays officially credited to him exists. He was given a princely amount of money every month by the Queen to write, was known to support acting troupes, and to author plays for the Queen’s court. He was connected to the highest level of British society, though he was a scamp, a spendthrift and accused of being a bi-sexual. His family helped publish the First Folio.
His well known nickname?
There is a third consideration that I have about the origins of "Shakespearen" plays and sonnets, that doesn't have much of a following... and that is the impact of Queen Elizabeth 1 in the creation of that brilliant literature. She - herself - was an extraordinary perceptive and intelligent lady, with a great love for her people and for the arts. We know that she would commission playwrights to write up plays for her royal, private viewing. Among those were Edward de Vere.
How is it that all the research by all the thousands of scholars have not suggested that the plays are not by one man, but by a group of men, who worked for the Queen's producers in making these plays come alive. I'm goin' do some research on the Elizabethen era, and will advise if I happen upon any evidence that the "Shakespeare" is a group of the Queen's own, rather than one individual. Check back, or keep an eye open for an upcoming essay on the virgin Queen Elizabeth 1, daughter of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.