1902 Encyclopedia > William Shakespeare > William Shakespeare - Introduction

William Shakespeare
(Part 1)


William Shakespeare - Introduction

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE(1564-1616), the national poet of England, the greatest dramatist that modern Europe has produced, was born in April, in the year 1564, at Stratford-upon-Avon, in the county of Warwick. The known facts of the poet's personal history are compara-tively few, and before giving them in order we purpose considering in some detail the larger educational influences which helped to stimulate his latent powers, to evoke and strengthen his poetical and patriotic sympathies, and thus prepare and qualify him for his future work. In dealing with these influences we are on firm and fruitful ground. The know, for example, that Shakespeare was born and lived for twenty years at Stratford-upon-Avon; and we can say therefore with certainty that all the physical and moral influences of that picturesque and richly-storied Midland district melted as years went by into the full current of his ardent blood, became indeed the vital element, the very breath of life his expanding spirit breathed. We know a good deal about his home, his parents, and his domestic surroundings; and these powerful factors in the development of any mind gifted with insight and sensibility must have acted with redoubled force on a nature so richly and harmoniously endowed as that of the Stratford poet. It would be difficult indeed to overestimate the combined effect of these vital elements on his capacious and retentive mind, a mind in which the receptive and creative powers were so equally poised and of such unrivalled strength. This review of the larger influences operating with con-centrated force during the critical years of youth and early manhood will help to connect and interpret the few and scattered particulars of Shakespeare's personal history. These particulars must indeed be to some extent connected and interpreted in order to be clearly understood, and any intelligible account of Shakespeare's life must therefore take the shape of a biographical essay, rather than of a biography proper. We may add that the sketch will be confined to the points connected with Shakespeare's local surroundings and personal history. The large literary questions connected with his works, such as the classifica-tion, the chronology, and analysis of the plays, could not of course be adequately dealt with in such a sketch. It is the less necessary that this wider task should be attempted as the main points it embraces have recently been well handled by competent Shakespearian scholars. The best and most convenient manuals embodying the results of recent criticism and research will be referred to at the close of the article. Meanwhile we have first to look at the locality of Shakespeare's birth, both in its material and moral aspects.

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