William Shakespeare

gigatos | April 3, 2022


William Shakespeare (Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, Kingdom of England, c. 23 April 1564jul.-Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, Kingdom of England, 23 Apriljul.

According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, “Shakespeare is generally recognized as the greatest writer of all time, a unique figure in the history of literature. The fame of other poets, such as Homer and Dante Alighieri, or of novelists such as Leo Tolstoy or Charles Dickens, has transcended national boundaries, but none of them has reached the reputation of Shakespeare, whose works are now read and performed more frequently and in more countries than ever before. The prophecy of one of his great contemporaries, Ben Jonson, has therefore been fulfilled: “Shakespeare belongs not to a single age but to eternity””.

The American critic Harold Bloom places Shakespeare alongside Dante Alighieri at the pinnacle of his “Western canon”: “No other writer has ever had so many linguistic resources as Shakespeare, so profuse in Love”s Labours Lost that we have the impression that, once and for all, many of the limits of language have been reached. Shakespeare”s greatest originality, however, lies in the portrayal of characters: Bottom is a melancholy triumph; Shylock, a permanently equivocal problem for us all; but Sir John Falstaff is so original and so sweeping that, with him, Shakespeare turns a hundred and eighty degrees what it is to create a man by words.”

Jorge Luis Borges wrote about him: “Shakespeare is the least English of England”s poets. Compared with Robert Frost (from New England), with William Wordsworth, with Samuel Johnson, with Chaucer and with the unknowns who wrote, or sang, the elegies, he is almost a foreigner. England is the home of understatement, of well-bred reticence; hyperbole, excess, and splendor are typical of Shakespeare.”

Shakespeare was a revered poet and playwright even in his own time, but his reputation did not reach its current heights until the 19th century. The Romantics, in particular, hailed his genius, and the Victorians worshipped Shakespeare with a devotion that George Bernard Shaw called “bardolatry”.

In the 20th century, his works were adapted and rediscovered on many occasions by all kinds of artistic, intellectual and dramatic art movements. Shakespearean comedies and tragedies have been translated into all major languages, and are constantly being studied and performed in various cultural and political contexts around the world. Moreover, many of the quotations and aphorisms that pepper his plays have become part of everyday usage, both in English and in other languages. And on the personal side, over the years, there has been much speculation about his life, questioning his sexuality, his religious affiliation, and even the authorship of his works.

There are very few documented facts about Shakespeare”s life, although it is likely that he was born on April 23, 1564. What can be stated is that he was baptized at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, on April 26 of the same year and died in the same place on April 23, 1616, according to the Julian calendar (May 3 in the Gregorian), the supposed day of his 52nd birthday.


William Shakespeare (also spelled Shakspere, Shaksper and Shake-speare, because the spelling in Elizabethan times was neither fixed nor absolute) was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, in April 1564. He was the third of eight children born to John Shakespeare, a prosperous merchant who rose to prominence in the township, and Mary Arden, who was descended from a family of ancestry.

At the time of his birth his family lived in Henley Street in Stratford-upon-Avon. The exact day of his birth is not known, since at that time only the act of baptism was made, on April 26 in this case, so it is assumed that he was born a few days earlier (2 or 3 days) and not more than a week, as was common. Tradition has fixed the date of his birth as April 23, the feast of St. George, perhaps by analogy with the day of his death, April 23, 1616, according to the Julian calendar, but this date is not supported by any document, although it is the most likely date.

Shakespeare”s father, who was at the height of his prosperity when William was born, fell from grace shortly thereafter. Accused of illegal wool trading, he lost his prominent position in the town government. It has also been suggested that a possible affinity with the Catholic faith on both sides of the family may have played a role in his prosecution.

William Shakespeare probably did his early schooling at the local grammar school, Stratford Grammar School, in the center of his home town, which must have provided him with an intensive education in Latin grammar and literature. Although the quality of grammar schools in the Elizabethan period was rather patchy, there are indications that Stratford”s was quite good. Shakespeare”s attendance at this school is mere conjecture, based on the fact that he was legally entitled to free education because he was the son of a high local government official. However, no document exists to prove this, as the parish records have been lost. At that time it was directed by John Cotton, a teacher of broad humanistic formation and Catholic; a grammar school (equivalent to a grammar school of the Spanish XVI or to the current baccalaureate) taught from 8 to 15 years old and the education was centered on the learning of Latin; in the higher levels the use of English was forbidden to promote fluency in the Latin language; the study of the work of Aesop translated into Latin, of Ovid and Virgil, authors that Shakespeare knew, prevailed.

On November 28, 1582, when he was eighteen years old, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway, 26, a native of Temple Grafton, near Stratford. Two of Anne”s neighbors, Fulk Sandalls and John Richardson, testified that there were no impediments to the ceremony. There seems to have been a rush to arrange the wedding, perhaps because Anne was three months pregnant. After his marriage, there are hardly any traces of William Shakespeare in the historical records, until he makes his appearance on the London theatrical scene. On May 26, 1583, the couple”s firstborn daughter, Susanna, was baptized at Stratford. A son, Hamnet, and another daughter, Judith, born twins, were likewise baptized shortly thereafter. Judging from the playwright”s will, which is somewhat disdainful of Anne Hathaway, the marriage was not well-matched.

The late 1580s are known as the playwright”s ”lost years”, as there is no evidence as to where he was, or for what reason he decided to move from Stratford to London. According to one legend, which is now scarcely credible, he was caught deer hunting in the park of Sir Thomas Lucy, the local magistrate, and was forced to flee. According to another hypothesis, he may have joined the Lord Chamberlain”s Men theatrical company while passing through Stratford. A 17th century biographer, John Aubrey, records the testimony of the son of one of the writer”s companions, according to whom Shakespeare would have spent some time as a country schoolmaster.

London and its passage through the theater

By 1592 Shakespeare was already in London working as a playwright, and was sufficiently well known to merit a scornful description by Robert Greene, who portrays him as “a careerist jackdaw, embellished with our feathers, who with his tiger”s heart wrapped in a comedian”s skin thinks himself capable of impressing with white verse like the best of you,” and also says that “he is held to be the only shake-scene in the country” (in the original, Greene uses the word shake-scene, alluding to both the author”s reputation and his surname, in a play on paronomasia).

In 1596, when he was only eleven years old, Hamnet, the writer”s only son, died and was buried in Stratford on August 11 of the same year. Some critics have argued that the death of his son may have inspired Shakespeare to compose Hamlet (circa 1601), a rewrite of an earlier play which, unfortunately, has not survived.

By 1598 Shakespeare had moved his residence to the parish of St. Helen”s in Bishopsgate. His name heads the list of actors in Ben Jonson”s Every Man in His Humour.

He would soon become an actor, writer, and, finally, co-owner of the theater company known as Lord Chamberlain”s Men, which received its name, like others of the time, from its aristocratic patron, the Lord Chamberlain. The company would reach such popularity that, after the death of Elizabeth I and the accession to the throne of James I, the new monarch would take it under his protection, becoming known as the King”s Men.

In 1604, Shakespeare acted as matchmaker for his landlord”s daughter. Legal documentation from 1612, when the case was brought to trial, shows that in 1604, Shakespeare had been a tenant of Christopher Mountjoy, a Huguenot artisan in northwest London. Mountjoy”s apprentice, Stephen Belott, intended to marry his master”s daughter, so the playwright was chosen as an intermediary to help negotiate the details of the dowry. Thanks to Shakespeare”s services, the marriage took place, but eight years later Belott sued his father-in-law for failing to deliver the full amount agreed upon as dowry. The writer was summoned to testify, but he did not remember the amount he had proposed.

There are several documents concerning legal matters and business transactions that show that in his London days Shakespeare became wealthy enough to buy a property in Blackfriars and become the owner of the second largest house in Stratford.

Last years

Shakespeare retired to his native village in 1611, but found himself embroiled in various lawsuits, such as a dispute over the enclosure of communal lands which, if on the one hand encouraged the existence of pasture for sheep farming, on the other condemned the poor by taking away their only source of livelihood. As the writer had some economic interest in such properties, to the chagrin of some he took a neutral position that only ensured his own benefit. In March 1613 he made his last purchase, not in his village, but in London, buying for £140 a house with a farmyard near Blackfriars Theatre, of which sum he only paid on the spot sixty pounds, for the next day he mortgaged the house for the remainder to the seller. Incidentally, Shakespeare did not register the purchase in his name alone, but associated those of William Johnson, John Jackson and John Hemynge, the latter one of the actors who promoted the edition of the First folio. The legal effect of this procedure, as Shakespeare”s great biographer Sidney Lee writes, “was to deprive his wife, should she survive, of the right to receive on this property the widow”s dowry”; but a few months later disaster struck: the Globe Theater burned down, and with it all the playwright”s manuscripts, together with his comedy Cardenio, inspired by an episode of Don Quixote de La Mancha; we know of this play because on September 9, 1653, the publisher Humphrey Maseley obtained a license for the publication of a play he describes as History of Cardenio, by Fletcher and Shakespeare; the aforementioned Sidney Lee says that no drama of this title has come down to our days and that it should probably be identified with the lost comedy called Cardenno or Cardenna, which was performed twice before the Court by Shakespeare”s company, the first in February 1613, on the occasion of the festivities for the marriage of Princess Elizabeth, and the second on June 8, before the ambassador of the Duke of Savoy, that is, a few days before the theater of El Globo burned down.

In the last weeks of Shakespeare”s life, the man who was to marry his daughter Judith – a tavern keeper named Thomas Quiney – was accused of promiscuity before the local ecclesiastical court. A woman named Margaret Wheeler had given birth to a child, and claimed that Quiney was the father. Both the woman and her child died shortly thereafter. This affected, however, the reputation of the writer”s future son-in-law, and Shakespeare revised his will to safeguard his daughter”s inheritance from any legal problems Quiney might have.

Shakespeare died on April 23, 1616, according to the Julian calendar (May 3 in the Gregorian). He was married to Anne until her death, and was survived by two daughters, Susannah and Judith. The former married Dr. John Hall. However, neither Susannah”s nor Judith”s children had offspring, so there are currently no living descendants of the writer. It was rumored, however, that Shakespeare was the real father of his godson, the poet and playwright William Davenant.

There has always been a tendency to associate Shakespeare”s death with drinking -he died, according to the most widespread comments, as a result of a high fever, a product of his drunkenness-. Apparently, the playwright would have met with Ben Jonson and Michael Drayton to celebrate with his colleagues some new literary ideas. Recent research carried out by German scientists affirms that it is very likely that the English writer suffered from cancer.

Shakespeare”s remains were interred in the chancel of Holy Trinity Church in Stratford. The honor of being buried in the chancel, near the high altar of the church, was not due to his prestige as a playwright, but to the purchase of a tithe of the church for 440 pounds (a considerable sum at the time). Shakespeare”s funerary monument, erected by his family on the wall near his tomb, shows him in the attitude of writing, and each year, in commemoration of his birth, a new quill is placed in his hand.

It was customary at that time, when there was a need for space for new graves, to empty the old ones, and move their contents to a nearby ossuary. Perhaps fearing that his remains might be exhumed, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Shakespeare himself would have composed the following epitaph for his tombstone:

A legend claims that Shakespeare”s unpublished works lie with him in his tomb. No one has dared to verify the veracity of the legend, perhaps for fear of the curse of the aforementioned epitaph.

It is not known which of all the existing portraits of Shakespeare is the most faithful to the image of the writer, since many of them are fakes and painted a posteriori from the engraving of the First folio. The so-called Chandos Portrait, dating from between 1600 and 1610, in the National Portrait Gallery (London), is considered the most accurate. It shows the author in his forties, approximately, with a beard and a golden ring in his left ear.

The Shakespeare debate

It is curious that all the knowledge that has reached posterity about one of the authors of the Western canon is nothing more than a construct formed with the most diverse speculations. It has even been discussed whether Shakespeare is the true author of his works, attributed by some to Francis Bacon, to Christopher Marlowe (the reality is that all these imaginations derive from the simple fact that the data available on the author are very few and contrast with the immoderation of his brilliant work, which fecundates and gives rise to the most twisted interpretations.

Almost one hundred and fifty years after Shakespeare”s death in 1616, doubts began to arise about the true authorship of the plays attributed to him. Critics were divided into “Stratfordians” (supporters of the thesis that the William Shakespeare born and died in Stratford was the true author of the plays attributed to him) and “anti-Stratfordians” (defenders of the attribution of these plays to another author). The second position is, at present, very much in the minority.

Historical documents show that between 1590 and 1620 several plays and poems attributed to the author William Shakespeare were published, and that the company that performed these plays, Lord Chamberlain”s Men (later King”s Men), had among its members an actor with this name. This actor can be identified with the William Shakespeare who is known to have lived and died in Stratford, since the latter makes in his will certain gifts to members of the London theater company.

The so-called “Stratfordians” are of the opinion that this actor is also the author of the plays attributed to Shakespeare, based on the fact that they have the same name, and on the encomiastic poems included in the 1623 edition of the First Folio, in which there are references to the “Swan of Avon” and to his “Stratford monument”. The latter refers to his funerary monument in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford, on which, incidentally, he is portrayed as a writer, and of which there are descriptions by visitors to the locality from at least the 1630s. According to this view, Shakespeare”s plays were written by Stratford”s own William Shakespeare, who left his hometown and succeeded as an actor and playwright in London.

The so-called “anti-Stratfordians” disagree with the above. According to them, the Shakespeare of Stratford would be nothing more than a straw man covering up the true authorship of another playwright who would have preferred to keep his identity secret. This theory has different bases: supposed ambiguities and gaps in the historical documentation about Shakespeare; the conviction that the plays would require a higher cultural level than Shakespeare is believed to have had; supposed hidden coded messages in the plays; and parallels between characters in Shakespeare”s plays and the lives of some playwrights.

During the 19th century, the most popular alternative candidate was Sir Francis Bacon. Many “anti-Stratfordians” of the time, however, were skeptical of this hypothesis, even though they were unable to propose an alternative. The American poet Walt Whitman attested to this skepticism when he told Horace Traubel, “I”m with you, fellows, when you say ”no” to Shaksper (sic): that”s what I can come to. As for Bacon, well, we”ll see, we”ll see.” Since the 1980s, the most popular candidate has been Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, proposed by John Thomas Looney in 1920, and by Charlton Ogburn in 1984. The poet and playwright Christopher Marlowe has also been considered as an alternative, although his early death relegates him to second place. Many other candidates have been proposed, although they have not gained much of a following.

The most widely held position in academic circles is that the William Shakespeare of Stratford was the author of the plays that bear his name.

Recently, however, the rumor about Shakespeare”s authorship has increased following statements by actors Derek Jacobi and Mark Rylance. Both have released the so-called Statement of Reasonable Doubt about the identity of the famous playwright. The statement questions whether William Shakespeare, a 16th century commoner raised in an illiterate home in Stratford-upon-Avon, wrote the genius plays that bear his name. The statement argues that a man who could barely read and write could not have possessed the rigorous legal, historical and mathematical knowledge that pepper the tragedies, comedies and sonnets attributed to Shakespeare.

Throughout time there have been theories that underline that William Shakespeare was only an alias behind which other illustrious names could hide, such as Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593), the philosopher and man of letters Francis Bacon (1561-1626) or Edward de Vere (1550-1604), 17th Earl of Oxford. Jacobi claims to favor Edward de Vere, who frequented court life in the reign of Elizabeth I (1533-1603), and describes him as his preferred “candidate”, given the supposed similarities between the Earl”s biography and numerous events recounted in Shakespeare”s books.

What is one of the main reasons Shakespeare”s authorship was questioned? The World Book Encyclopedia points out “the refusal to believe that an actor from Stratford on Avon could have written such plays. His rural origin did not fit with the image they had of the brilliant author”. The encyclopedia adds that most of the alleged writers “belonged to the nobility or other privileged classes”. Thus, many of those who questioned Shakespeare”s literary paternity believe that “only an educated, refined, upper-class author could have written the plays”. However, many scholars believe that Shakespeare did write them.

Much has been said about the author”s personal life and his alleged homosexuality, speculation that finds its main basis in a highly original collection of sonnets that was published, apparently without his consent. It has also been suspected the existence of some lover who made his marriage unhappy, since the woman who was his wife and mother of his three children was much older than him and was pregnant before the wedding. This suspicion is based on a famous quote from his will: “I leave you my second best bed”, a passage that has given rise to the most disparate interpretations and not a few speculations. The most general has to do with the fact that the couple”s relationship was not entirely satisfactory. But another points in the opposite direction, since the playwright would have dedicated a sonnet to his wife entitled The World”s Wife.

Shakespeare”s cruelty towards the female figure in his sonnets and, consequently, the naivety of the man who falls trapped in his nets, has also been closely followed. The themes of promiscuity, the carnal and the falsehood of women – described and humorously criticized by the playwright – are sufficient evidence for those who assume that he would have a certain predilection for men and a repudiation of the coquetry of the ladies, in any case, always mentioned in allusion to their superficiality and materialistic interests.

See part of the following fragment of his sonnet 144:

One can clearly appreciate the harsh Shakespearean criticism of the role of a woman who, at first glance, seems to stand between the romance of the playwright and his patron. Those who refute this assumption do so by objecting that the poetic voice of the sonnet does not have to coincide with the personality of the author.

The truth is that Shakespeare parodies his perspective, as we see in the quote:

This whole problem is clouded if we stop for a moment to analyze some of his most famous theatrical passages. In one of his comedies, entitled As You Like It, Shakespeare highlights the corruption of the male world and the capacity of a woman – Rosalind – to restore the initial order and achieve peace. However, despite the fact that the heroine of the plot is a female figure, she becomes courageous and capable of great deeds only when she assumes the role of a man, Ganymede -a mythological character, Jupiter”s male lover-.

Moving into tragedy, the case of King Lear is also very representative. Here the author highlights the blindness of the men, especially Lear, who banishes his daughter Cordelia for being the only one of the three sisters to express her honesty.Feminist studies would point out that Shakespeare was attacking his contemporary society, and that he would use fictitious names and places to flee from court persecution.

He defends the woman and makes the men see that silencing her would end in catastrophe, as it does in the denouement of Lear, and other opinions about the play state that the woman could not accede to the throne, according to the playwright, because this would imply chaos and controversy. When King Lear gives power to his two eldest daughters, Goneril and Regan, they abruptly change their behavior towards their father and subject him to an oppressive torture that will gradually consume his life. The government deteriorates and the royal entourage crumbles until a man takes over again.

In 1559, five years before Shakespeare”s birth, during the reign of Elizabeth I, the Church of England separated definitively, after a period of uncertainty, from the Catholic Church. For that reason, English Catholics were pressured to convert to Anglicanism, and laws were established to persecute those who refused to convert. Some historians argue that during Shakespeare”s time there was significant and widespread opposition to the imposition of the new faith. Some critics, on the basis of both historical and literary evidence, have argued that Shakespeare was one of these opponents, although they have not been able to prove this conclusively. What is certain is that Shakespeare found himself more comfortable under the reign of the philocatholic James I than under that of the anti-Catholic Elizabeth I.

There are indications that some members of the playwright”s family were Catholics. The most important is a pamphlet signed by John Shakespeare, the poet”s father, in which he supposedly professed his secret Catholicism. The text, found inside one of the rafters of Shakespeare”s birthplace in the 18th century, was analyzed by a leading scholar, Edmond Malone. However, it has been lost, so its authenticity cannot be proven. John Shakespeare was also among those who did not attend church services, but supposedly this was “for fear of prosecution for debt,” according to the commissioners, and not for not accepting the Anglican religion.

Shakespeare”s mother, Mary Arden, belonged to a well-known Catholic family in Warwickshire. In 1606, her daughter Susannah was one of the few female residents of Stratford who refused to take communion, which might suggest certain sympathies for Catholicism. Archdeacon Richard Davies, an 18th-century Anglican clergyman, reportedly wrote of Shakespeare, “He died a Papist.” In addition, four out of six teachers at the Stratford school the writer is believed to have attended during his youth were Catholic sympathizers, and Simon Hunt, probably one of Shakespeare”s teachers, eventually became a Jesuit.

Although none of these theories reliably proves that Shakespeare was Catholic, historian Clare Asquith is of the opinion that Shakespeare”s sympathies for Catholicism are discernible in his writing. According to Asquith, Shakespeare uses positive terms, such as “high” (and negative terms-“low,” “dark”) for Protestants.

Although much is unknown about Shakespeare”s education, the fact is that the artist did not have access to a university education and his friend Ben Jonson, who did, once lamented “his scanty Latin and even less Greek”, which did not prevent him from calling him, moreover, “sweet swan of the Avon” and adding that “he is not of one century, but of all times”. In a way, his not so little education (there was a good school in Stratford, and Shakespeare was able to learn quite a few Latin classics there) was an advantage, since his culture was not molded on the common pattern of his time; as an autodidact, William Shakespeare, as pointed out by an expert connoisseur and translator of his complete works, Luis Astrana Marín, had access to extremely rare literary sources thanks to the friendship he had with a bookseller. The analysis of his writings reveals that he was a voracious reader; some of them are authentic hundreds of texts extracted from the most diverse sources. But there are basically four sources for his works.

First, the English historians, especially the second edition of Raphael Holinshed”s The Chronicles of England, Scotlande, and Irelande, published in 1587, as the source of some of his historical dramas, of the plot of Macbeth and of parts of King Lear and Cymbeline; Plutarch”s Parallel Lives in the retranslation from Jacques Amyot”s French version by his friend Thomas North (1573), from which he drew his Titus Andronicus, his Julius Caesar, his Coriolanus and his Antony and Cleopatra, and Montaigne”s Essays in John Florio”s translation (1603), which shaped some passages of The Tempest.

Secondly, we must mention as a source of inspiration the novellieri (from Mateo Bandello comes the story of As You Like It and that of Romeo and Juliet, which also inspired Castelvines y Monteses by Lope de Vega and Los bandos de Verona by Francisco Rojas Zorrilla; from Giambattista Giraldi Cinthio that of Othello; from Giovanni Boccaccio A buen fin no hay mal tiempo and from Giovanni Fiorentino The Merchant of Venice and The Merry Wives of Windsor; Giovanni Boccaccio”s A buen fin no hay mal tiempo and Giovanni Fiorentino”s El mercader de Venecia and Las alegres comadres de Windsor; Chaucer also inspired some works) and miscellaneous works of all kinds, some of them Spanish, such as Antonio de Eslava”s Noches de invierno or Pero Mexía”s Silva de varia lección.

Thirdly, he was also inspired by the English dramatic production before him, from which he drew abundant plots, characters and compositional principles. Sometimes he even reworked entire plays (for example, there was an earlier Hamlet attributed to Thomas Kyd, 1589, which was a success and has not been preserved, but inspired Shakespeare”s later one). He quoted or evoked texts from many plays, being especially sensitive to the model of Christopher Marlowe in his early works. This imitative eagerness did not go unnoticed by his contemporary Robert Greene, who took him for a plagiarist and wrote in 1592, alluding to a well-known fable quoted by Horace, as follows:

Finally, Shakespeare was also well versed in mythology (he knew Ovid”s Metamorphoses very well) and in rhetoric, although his style sometimes consciously shuns the rigid and mechanical symmetries of the latter and at other times shows itself to be too much of a player of the word, as corresponded at the time to the conceptist fashion of Euphuism, spread by John Lyly and in turn coming from the style of Antonio de Guevara, although Shakespeare spoke out against the excesses of that style.

Shakespeare acknowledged that he was a great assimilator (the power of synthesis characterizes great poets, as for example Dante Alighieri) and declared it in his Sonnet LXXVI; but he also claimed in this sonnet to be able to surpass his models by turning something radically old into something new, breathing new life into it. Instead of inventing or appealing to originality, he took pre-existing stories, such as Hamlet”s, and gave them what they lacked for eminence. Nevertheless, and in spite of everything, he also showed himself to be completely original, sometimes deliberately setting himself outside of any tradition, as in his Sonnets, which invert all the canons of Petrarchanism, elaborating a songbook destined for a man and where he demands, no more and no less, the abandonment of the narcissism of the time, the abandonment of the narcissism of the moment to engender the transcendence of eternity through love, which may seem rather abstract, but that is how abstract and enigmatic these poems are, each of which always contains a dramatic movement, an invocation to action.

Background: Elizabethan theater

When Shakespeare started in the theatrical activity, it was undergoing the changes of a transitional period. In its origins, the theater in England was a popular type of spectacle, associated with other widespread entertainments of the time, such as bear baiting (the fight of a chained bear against rabid dogs). Its roots are found in the late medieval period, in a triple dramatic tradition: the “miracles” or “mysteries” (mystery plays), with religious themes and intended to solemnize the festivities of the different guilds; the moralities or “moral plays” (morality plays), of allegorical character and represented by professional actors; and the courtly “interludes”, pieces intended for the entertainment of the nobility.

The most prominent nobles sponsored groups of actors bearing their names. Thus arose, in the Elizabethan era, companies such as The Hundson Men (later Lord Chamberlain”s Men), The Admiral”s Men, and The Queen”s Men, among the most relevant. On certain occasions, these theatrical companies performed in the palace of their aristocratic protectors. The King”s Men, for example, after the company”s sponsorship by King James I, performed at court once a month. Having the backing of a patron was essential to ensure the success of the play in the future.

The plays were first performed in the inner courtyards of the inns. Even in Shakespeare”s time, some of these places continued to host theatrical performances. However, they were not very suitable for performances, since sometimes the activity of the inn made the performances difficult. They were also opposed by the authorities, who were concerned about the disorders and brawls that originated there, as well as the “evil practices of incontinence” that took place there. The hygiene factor was also against them: plague was very frequent and the multitudinous gatherings did not exactly promote health.

For these reasons, legislation gradually emerged to regulate theatrical activity, and it became more difficult to obtain licenses to perform in the inns. This led to the construction of fixed theaters, more salubrious, on the outskirts of the city, and the consolidation and professionalization of the acting career. The first theater, simply called The Theatre, was built in 1576. Later others were built: The Curtain, The Rose, The Swan and The Globe. The latter, built in 1599 and located, like the rest, outside the city, to avoid problems with the City of London, was the most famous of all, and was the favorite of the company of which William Shakespeare was a member.

All these theaters were built following the model of the courtyards of the inns. None of them is preserved in its original state, but it is possible to know with some approximation its shape, thanks to some references of the time. They were enclosures of hexagonal or octagonal shape (there are exceptions) with a moderately covered stage that went a little into the center of an open-air arena surrounded by two or three floors of galleries. The platform consisted of two levels, one a little more than a meter above the arena, roofed and supported by columns, and another a little higher with a roof in which was hidden the apparatus necessary to operate the stage machinery and maneuver the staging. It could carry a flag and even simulate a tower.

These theaters had a very respectable capacity. It has been calculated, for example, that The Globe could seat around 2000 spectators.

At first, the social status of the comedians, especially of the most humble, was not easily distinguished from that of a tramp or a beggar. With time, however, thanks to the opening of the new theaters, the actors of Elizabethan times were achieving greater social consideration.

The rudimentary scenography made the performer bear the major responsibility for the play, so his technique tended to over-interpretation in language, gesticulation and flashy costumes. Since women were forbidden to go on stage, female roles were given to children or adolescents, which lent itself to the comic play of erotic ambiguity. The word was very important, and the fact that the stage was somewhat forward in the courtyard limited that place for frequent monologues. The absence of painted backdrops made it common for the actor to invoke the audience”s imagination and the writer to resort to hypotypes. The audience was variegated and heterogeneous, and as a result, there was a mixture of coarse allusions and bawdy and bawdy jokes to the most cultured and refined amorous gallantry and the most twisted euphuistic pedantry.

The audience went to the theater paying a variable price according to the comfort of the seat offered. The cheapest ticket required being on foot and exposed to weather changes; the less affordable ones favored the nobility and wealthy people, who could take a seat under cover and safe from the sun.

The profession of playwright was not well remunerated and all rights to the plays passed to the companies that performed them; thus the plays often underwent multiple recasting and adaptations by various pens, not always skillful or respectful, not to mention the cuts they suffered at the whim of the actors. The author”s name was only mentioned (and often inaccurately) two or three years later, so the writers did not enjoy the fruits of their labor, unless they owned shares in the company, as was the case with Shakespeare and other playwrights who worked together and shared the profits.

One of the most important characteristics of Elizabethan theater, and of Shakespeare”s in particular, is the multitude of levels on which its plots revolve. The tragic, the comic, the poetic, the earthly and the supernatural, the real and the fantastic intermingle to a greater or lesser extent in these plays. The transitions between the melancholic and the active are rapid and are often manifested through duels and fights on stage that must have constituted a lively choreography very much to the taste of the time.

The jester (in English, fool) is an important character for the Shakespearian work, since it gives him freedom of expression and looseness. It was recognized in him a mental insufficiency or physical deficiency that allowed him to say things or give his opinion on controversial issues that would have been forbidden in the mouths of characters of greater stature. Undoubtedly, this stratagem was ideal for the English author, since any criticism of royalty could be justified by assigning it to a character who does not think like the majority of other people, given the inadequacies he suffers from.

Shakespeare”s theater

In the absence of holograph manuscripts and precise dates of composition, it is very difficult to establish a Shakespearean bibliographical chronology. The First Folio, which brings together most of his literary production, was published by two actors of his company, John Heminges and Henry Condell, in 1623, eight years after the author”s death. This book divided his dramatic production into Histories, Comedies and Tragedies, and 750 copies were made, of which one third have survived to our days, mostly incomplete. Thanks to this work, half of the author”s dramatic work, which had not been printed, was preserved, since Shakespeare did not care to go down in history as a playwright.

The First Folio collects exclusively dramatic works (none of his lyric poems are found in the edition), numbering 36: 11 tragedies, 15 comedies and 10 historical plays. It does not include some plays traditionally attributed to Shakespeare, such as the comedies Pericles and The Two Noble Kinsmen, nor the historical play Edward III. While in the case of Pericles, Shakespeare”s participation seems fairly certain, the same is not true of the other two plays, so that the number of titles included in the Shakespearean canon varies, depending on the versions, between 37 and 39.

Like many Western tragedies, Shakespeare”s often depicts a protagonist who falls from the wasteland of grace and ends up dying, along with a tight proportion of the rest of the protagonic corps. It has been suggested that the playwright”s twist on the genre, is the polar opposite of comedy; it exemplifies the sense that human beings are inevitably wretched because of their own mistakes or, even, the ironically tragic exercise of their virtues, or through the nature of fate, or of man”s condition to suffer, fall, and die…. In other words, it is a representation with a necessarily unhappy ending.

Shakespeare composed tragedies from the very beginning of his career: one of the earliest was the Roman tragedy Titus Andronicus, followed a few years later by Romeo and Juliet. However, the most acclaimed were written in a seven-year period between 1601 and 1608: Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth (the four main ones), and Antony and Cleopatra, along with the lesser-known Timon of Athens and Troilus and Cressida.

Many have emphasized in these plays the Aristotelian concept of tragedy: that the protagonist must be an admirable but flawed character, with an audience able to understand and sympathize with him. Certainly, each of Shakespeare”s tragic characters is capable of both good and evil. The performance always insists on the concept of free will; the (anti)hero can degrade or regress and redeem himself by his actions. The author, on the other hand, ends up leading them to their inevitable doom.

Listed below are Shakespeare”s complete tragedies, arranged according to the approximate date of their composition:

Among the essential characteristics of Shakespearean comedy we find the comic vis, the dialectic of a language full of puns, the contrast between characters opposed by social class, sex, gender or power (a representative example would be The Taming of the Shrew, also sometimes translated as The Taming of the Brave); the erotic allusions and connotations, the disguises and the tendency to chaotic dispersion and confusion until the plot of the story leads to the recovery of what was lost and the corresponding restoration in the framework of the natural. The panorama of the comedy also involves the exploration of a society where all its members are studied equally in a very different way from how society is seen in his historical plays, mounted on the Machiavellian pursuit of power (“a staircase of sand”, because of its emptiness of content) and the disruption of the divine cosmic order that the king represents on earth. As a gallery of social types, comedy is thus a wider space in Shakespeare than the tragic and the historical and better reflects the society of his time, although the author”s talent for creating especially individualized characters, as in the case of Falstaff, also stands out in this field.

While the tone of the plot is often burlesque, at other times a disturbing tragic element is latent, as in The Merchant of Venice. When he deals with themes that can trigger a tragic outcome, Shakespeare tries to teach, in his usual way, without taking sides, proposing remedies or moralizing or preaching at all, the risks of vice, evil and irrationality of human beings, without the need to fall into the destruction that appears in his tragedies and leaves to Nature the restorative and reparative order.

The endings of comedies are usually festive and pleasant. It should be noted that vulgar language and double entendre, as well as the magnitude of diverse points of view, changes of fortune and the disruption of identities, provide an inevitable ingredient that is often accompanied by surprising coincidences. The parody of sex, the role of disguise and the magical power of nature to repair the damage and wounds caused by a corrupt society thirsty for greed are transcendent elements in Shakespearean comedy.

Man totally changes his way of thinking and acting by taking refuge in the wilderness and fleeing from civilization, lending himself to the game of oppositions. Finally, it should be noted that the social sphere Shakespeare uses in his plays is perhaps somewhat smaller than that found in most of the comedies.

As mentioned before, the jester -who was a very popular character at the court of the time- is the unwavering element about which the playwright feels freer to express what he thinks, considering that the opinions of a person with these characteristics were never considered valid -perfect excuse to elaborate-.

It is estimated that the date of composition of Shakespeare”s comedies must be around the years 1590 and 1612, as the starting point and culmination of his work as a writer. The first and least elaborate was The Two Gentlemen of Verona, followed by The Merchant of Venice, Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It, A Winter”s Tale, The Tempest, and many others listed below:

It is important to make it clear that The Tempest, Winter”s Tale, Cymbeline and Pericles are considered by many to be poetic fantasies (in English the term romance is used), since they possess characteristics that differentiate them from the rest of the comedies.

The First Folio classifies as “historical works” (histories) only those related to the relatively recent history of England. Other works with historical themes, such as those set in ancient Rome, or even Macbeth, starring a real king of Scotland, are not classified in this section. There are eleven in total (or ten, if we exclude Edward III, modernly considered apocryphal). The source used by the playwright for the composition of these plays is well known: it is the Chronicles of Raphael Holinshed.

The following is a list of these works ordered according to the approximate date of their composition.

There are serious doubts about the authorship of the first of the list, Edward III. The last one, Henry VIII, is believed to have been written in collaboration with John Fletcher, who replaced Shakespeare as the main playwright of the King”s Men company.

Within the group of his historical plays, the ten plays he wrote about the English kings are usually grouped together, known as the “History Cycle”, which Shakespeare dedicated to seven English kings. This cycle excludes the plays about King Lear (a legendary king) and Macbeth (based on the life of the Scottish king, Macbeth of Scotland) and a play about Edward III (although there is increasing evidence that it was written by Shakespeare, at least in part, its authorship has not been established). This Cycle excludes, because it does not follow the historical sequence, King John and Henry VIII.

Eight of these works are grouped in two tetralogies whose order of writing does not coincide with the chronological order of the historical events reflected. The first of these tetralogies consists of the three dedicated to the reign of Henry VI (1422-1461), together with the one devoted to the ambitious and terrible Richard III (who reigned in the period 1483-1485). All of them were probably composed between 1590 and 1594.

The second tetralogy, consisting of Richard II, the two parts of Henry IV and Henry V, goes back in time. It focuses on the reigns of Richard II (1377-1399), Henry IV (1399-1413) and Henry V (1413-1422). All these works were composed in the period 1594-1597.

Given that a large part of the public was illiterate, these plays were a good way of communicating history and consequently fostering patriotism and love for English culture, as well as instilling a sense of rejection of civil wars. In addition to providing entertainment, historical plays reaffirmed and justified the power of the monarchy to those who might question its legitimacy. In Shakespeare”s theater, the king, as in Lope de Vega”s plays, is the representative of the cosmic order on earth. This is what scholars of the stature of Greenblatt would later analyze, focusing on the prevailing discourse and the ability of Elizabethan theater to assert royal authority, maintain order, and discourage subversion.

Given the dependence of the theatrical companies on their aristocratic patrons (and, in the case of The King”s Men, on the royal authority), it is logical that plays were written and performed starring historical characters belonging to the nobility and relevant in the history of England. This is the case of Henry V, victor in the battle of Agincourt over the troops of France, England”s everlasting rival. By taking up outstanding historical facts, obviating defeats and exaggerating the heroism of the victory -which was attributed to the reigning monarch-, these works succeeded in increasing popular devotion to the crown.

In the early days of Shakespearean drama, the aim was to legitimize the authority of the Tudor dynasty, enthroned in 1485, precisely after the overthrow of Richard III, one of the most abominable characters of Shakespearean theater. The rise to the throne of the Tudors had aroused certain misgivings, both because of their Welsh origin and because of the problematic nature of their rights to the throne (apparently, Henry VII, the first monarch of the dynasty, based his rights on being a descendant of the French princess Catherine, widow of Henry V, who remarried a few years later to Owen Tudor, a Welsh nobleman with little influence in the field of national monarchy).

However, there are critics who believe that Shakespeare”s historical plays contain veiled criticisms of the monarchy, disguised to avoid possible problems with the law.

Chivalric narratives written in prose or verse were a very common genre of heroic fantasy in Europe from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance; chivalric books in English, French, Spanish, Italian and German could also contain Arthurian myths and Celtic and Anglo-Saxon legends; magic and fantasy were also involved, and nostalgia for the lost pre-Christian mythology of fairies and other superstitions was also perceptible. This legendary narrative, whose last expression and masterpiece was perhaps The Death of Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory, had already become something alternative and popular, identified with the vernacular languages as opposed to a more moralizing narrative of a Christian character, linked to the ecclesiastical sphere, for a more select public and in Latin. To define this type of popular content, the term romance or novelesque was chosen.

In Great Britain, in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, romance emerged as a fantastic genre in which, in addition to following certain characteristic conventions (knights with special powers, magic, witchcraft, alteration of reality, courtship of the female figure, exploits and daring adventures), the fact of the conquest of America was added: a melting pot of races and barbarian cultures that served as inspiration for many travelers and playwrights. In William Shakespeare, the play that brings together all the aforementioned conventions and shapes them into a theatrical production as interesting as it is unreal is The Tempest, considered Shakespeare”s dramatic testament because it was probably his last play.

It was first performed in 1611 and had a second staging around February 1613 on the occasion of the wedding of Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of King James I, with Prince Frederick of Heidelberg. In the piece can be found not a few parallels with the most prominent figures of the Jacobean period: the nuptial mask that Prospero creates for the enjoyment of Miranda and Ferdinand corresponds to the divine figures of Ceres and Juno, auspicious a happy future if the happy couple promised to keep chastity until after marriage. This could have suited the monarch, who was as well known for the rigor of his traditional morals as for his morbid interest in magic and witchcraft, which also have an important place in the play. Indeed, these practices motivated the burning of women between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries and James I sentenced to death without hesitation all those who were under mere suspicion of carrying out such ceremonies. The theme of The Tempest could not be less, then, than to manifest itself in a monarch -Prospero- interested in putting an end to the evil spell of an old witch, who was threatening to break into the social order of the island. The magical world of this period reappears, however, in other novel and fantastic comedies of Shakespeare”s last period, such as:

The Tempest is considered Shakespeare”s dramatic testament. Apparently inspired by one of Antonio de Eslava”s Winter Nights, Prince Prospero, shipwrecked on an island, semi-human and semi-divine because of his magical powers, breaks his wand at the end when he reflects on his limited power, and it is almost impossible not to put his words in Shakespeare”s own mouth:

Some of the plays Shakespeare wrote with John Fletcher have been lost, for example Cardenio, inspired by an episode of Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, or The Two Noble Knights (as this last play was not included in the First Folio, many readers question the playwright”s authorship of it. On the other hand, and in view of the vicissitudes of many of the Shakespearean productions, some argue that half of them would fit Fletcher”s profile and style.

Shakespeare possessed, like all great poets, a great power of synthesis; he wrote with the whole language and had a nuanced and very extensive lexicon. He was careful with the rhetorical stylization of his blank verse, often somewhat embedded in the baroque conceptualist tradition of Euphuism, so that today it is quite difficult to understand and decipher even for the English themselves; he consciously avoided rhetorical symmetries, too obvious oppositions of terms; the language was then a protean language and the meanings of words were not yet clearly fixed by lexical repertoires. If his overworked language is and used to be (and was even when Voltaire attacked in his English Letters the anti-classical swellings of his style) an impediment to appreciate the author”s work, it is also true that it is the foundation on which his fame and prestige as a polisher of metaphors and inventor of neologisms comparable to those of other playwrights and poets of his time of renowned trajectory, such as the Spanish Miguel de Cervantes, Lope de Vega, Francisco de Quevedo, Luis de Góngora and Calderón de la Barca, rest.

In general terms, critics have emphasized two aspects of William Shakespeare”s dramatic work.

In the first place, an almost inhuman indifference and detachment of the author with respect to the reality of his characters, which he also shares with the greatest introspection and deepening in the creation of his psychology. Shakespeare does not moralize, does not preach, does not propose faith, belief, ethics or any solution to human problems: he raises, and does it better than anyone else, some of the fundamental anxieties of the human condition (to be or not to be, ingratitude, whether filial (King Lear) or not, empty ambition), but he never gives answers: We do not know what Shakespeare was thinking, to whom the spectacle of the world is a matter of no consequence, even if his vision is pessimistic and somber in the face of the miserable and minimal position occupied by a man made of the same material as dreams in a mysterious, deep, unmanageable and meaningless universe. While Spanish baroque theater privileges the divine over the human, Shakespeare shares equally his awe (or, more precisely, his wonder) before the celestial and the earthly:

There are more things in heaven and on earth, Horatio, than all that your philosophy can dream of.

Because Shakespeare is open to everything, he imposes no religious, ethical or philosophical limits on himself; he makes Julius Caesar say that “of all the wonders I have heard, the strangest seems to me to be that men should be afraid” and in any case one can only be afraid “of the fear that others are afraid of”.

Some critics have pointed out the constant thread of misanthropy in his work and, on the other hand, only a cosmic detachment from all that is divine and human is capable of coining phrases like this one:

Life is a story told by an idiot, a story full of roar and fury, that means nothing.


Upright nature will say, “That was one man…. When is another one coming?”.

Secondly, critics have emphasized the extraordinary power of synthesis of the “Swan of Avon” as a lyricist; his fantasy is capable of seeing a universe in a nutshell; as a creator of characters, each one of them represents in itself a cosmovision, for which he has been called Poet”s poet (poet of poets). Richard III, Hamlet, Othello, Brutus, Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, Falstaff… are authentic creations. However, and for this very reason, he has also been criticized: the characters in his plays seem autistic, they do not know how to listen to each other and remain closed in their world to any deep understanding of the other. What sympathy exists between Hamlet and his poor and tortured girlfriend Ophelia? Have Mark Antony and Cleopatra ever “listened” to each other, who, despite being lovers, pathologically distrust each other? The critic Harold Bloom has pointed this out as one of the most notable and sensitive differences between Shakespeare and Cervantes. In the latter there is empathy, friendship and human connection between his characters, so that they learn from each other and evolve, whereas Shakespeare”s autistic tragic characters are unable to understand each other and realize this human rapprochement.

The study of Shakespeare has been approached from very different perspectives. At first, historicism analyzed his work from a historical and external point of view, focusing its attention on the extra-literary. As a reaction, neocriticism was more inclined to analyze the work itself, disregarding any extraliterary element. The main exponent of this critical school was Stephen Greenblatt.

In recent years, Shakespeare studies from a feminist perspective, harshly criticized by authors such as Bloom, have gained some traction in academic circles.

Shakespeare”s poetry

Apart from being a playwright of unquestionable importance, Shakespeare was also a poet and sonneteer, and it is generally believed that he valued himself more as a lyricist than as a playwright and only as such hoped to outlast his time. Although he wrote mostly long narrative and mythological poems, he is especially remembered as an exceptional author of purely lyrical sonnets.

The first mention of the latter is in the Palladis Tamia (Wit”s Treasury) (London, 1598) by the Cambridge Bachelor of Arts Francis Meres, who praises Shakespeare for his “sugar sonnets”; this mention shows that manuscript copies of them were circulating among his close friends at that time:

As the soul of Euphorbius considered himself living in Pythagoras, so the witty and sweet soul of Ovid lives in the mellifluous and gentle tongue of Shakespeare. Witness, his Venus and Adonis, his Lucretia, his Sugar Sonnets, known to his intimate friends. And just as Plautus and Seneca are considered the best for comedy and tragedy among the Latins, so Shakespeare among the English is the most excellent in both genres. For comedy are witness The Two Noblemen of Verona, his Equivocations, his Love”s Labors Lost, his Love”s Labors Won, his Midsummer Night”s Dream and his Merchant of Venice. For tragedy, his Richard II, Richard III, Henry IV, King John, Titus Andronicus and Romeo and Juliet. And as Epio Stolo said that the Muses would speak in the language of Plautus if they wanted to speak Latin, so I say that the Muses would speak in the beautiful phrase of Shakespeare if they had to speak English.

Shortly thereafter, in 1599, some of his sonnets, 138 and 144, plus three included in his comedy Love”s Labors Lost, were printed (with numerous variations on later editions) in a collection of lyric poetry entitled The Passionate Pilgrim, a miscellany of various authors falsely attributed in its entirety to the Swan of Avon and which includes among his other sonnets eight others that have been assigned to him with considerable foundation for reasons of style and content. It was only in 1609 that a mysterious complete edition appeared, probably without the author”s permission, by a certain T. T. (Thomas Thorpe, a publisher friend of writers and a writer himself). The dedication is to one Mr. W. H.

There is no way to establish with certainty the identity hidden behind these initials and different theories have been put forward about the character behind them; the most likely is that it was any of the usual patrons of the poet and the vast majority of critics are inclined to think that the initials are inverted and that it is Henry Wriothesley (1573), Earl of Southampton, since Shakespeare had already publicly expressed his appreciation with dedications of other poems: Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece. But another possible candidate and as plausible as the previous one is William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke and son of Mary Herbert, sister of Sir Philip Sidney, the famous poet who composed The Arcadia; in favor of the latter it also counts that he had an intense devotion for the theater and was patron of the King”s Men, Shakespeare”s theatrical company. Both were handsome noblemen dedicated to the patronage of art and letters, and much younger than the poet, requirements that any true addressee of poems must meet.

The order established by Thorpe”s edition has consecrated a peculiar structure very different from the usual Italianate Petrarchan songbook; in fact, there are no compositions in other meters to break the monotony, the meter is very different from that of the classical sonnet (it consists of three serventeses and a couplet, the so-called Shakespearean sonnet) and it is mostly devoted to the friendship (or love) of a man, whom he frequently interpellates to create his own image and likeness:

Create an other you, out of affection for me, so that beauty survives for you or yours.

It is thus installed in a completely renewed and original tradition, and the poet himself was ironically aware of this:

Why are my verses so devoid of new forms, so rebellious to all variation or lively change? Why with the times am I not inclined to newly discovered methods and strange attire? Why do I always write of one thing, at all times the same, and wrap my inventions in a familiar garb, while each word almost proclaims my name, reveals its birth and indicates its origin? Oh, know this, sweet love, that I am always writing of you, and that you and love are my eternal theme; thus, all my talent consists in cloaking the new in old words and reusing what I have already used. For just as the sun is every day new and old, so my love always repeats what has already been said.

It can be divided into two successive series of sonnets: one of 126, which celebrates a blond and good-looking friend of high birth, patron of the poet, to whom he proposes to leave loneliness, narcissism and pleasures and beget heirs, and the last 28, which concern a dark woman, who was married, as inferred from an allusion of sonnet 152, and was probably an educated woman, since she could play the spinet or harpsichord. Two of the sonnets are considered separately, as they are versions of the same epigram from the Greek Anthology.

On the other hand, a rival poet also appears occasionally in the trio formed by Shakespeare, the enigmatic addressee and the dark lady, a fact that further complicates the story of a love that in the language of the time could also be understood as friendship or as that special type of dilection that is established between a poet and his patron. The experts (William Minto, followed later by Edward Dowden, Tylor and Frederick Furnivall) mostly maintain that this poet was the Hellenist George Chapman, since he is identified as the author of alexandrines, verses then quite rare in English metrics and only used by that author at that time.

The themes of the Sonnets are love and time, in some way opposed to each other; in the latter theme, the theme of transience is deepened, sometimes reaching the metaphysical. Each sonnet also contains a dramatic movement; one can also appreciate in its reading, above all, the moral and spiritual value of the message and the philosophy that it leaves us with: to take advantage of the scarce time that life offers us to give oneself to it. Claudio Guillén also points out that “Shakespeare dares to say new things, completely new things, such as the non-difference between friendship and love and, also, the essential non-difference between love for women and love for men”.

The chronology of the sonnets is difficult to establish, but it is conjectured that they were composed between 1592 and 1597.

Each historical epoch has given priority to certain works according to the prevailing concerns and interests. The concept of “poetic justice” that prevailed in the eighteenth century led to the rejection of many of Shakespeare”s tragedies, since according to his criteria the theater should promote examples of virtue. The English critic Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) did not accept the outcome of King Lear, which he considered cruel and unnecessary, and Nahum Tate”s 1681 version replaced Shakespeare”s until the middle of the 19th century, surprising the reading public with its great success: in it there is a happy ending in which Cordelia and Lear manage to triumph over the obstacles, and the protagonist marries Edgardo, the legitimate heir of the Earl of Gloucester.

In 1731 the famous actor David Garrick (1717-1779) appeared for the first time playing the character of the hunchback Richard III on the stage of a theater in the suburbs of London and reaped a resounding success. When he took over the management of the elegant Drury Lane theater, he triggered with his dazzling performance a true “shakespearemania” that reached its peak in Stratford (1769), organized by Garrick himself, the first jubilee in honor of the poet, an event that promoted such enthusiasm that under its sign even Ireland came to exhume false literary documents attributed to Shakespeare. Around 1772 Garrick modified a good part of Hamlet by suppressing the scene of the gravediggers and exempting Laertes from all guilt concerning the poison he carried in his sword. Moreover, Queen Gertrude manages to survive to lead a life of repentance, which does not occur in the original. Simultaneously, the playwright”s fame spread throughout Europe; Voltaire made him known in his Letters from England and Jean-François Ducis introduced him to the Parisian stage by performing for the first time his adaptation of Hamlet (in this same year Gotthold Ephraim Lessing published in Germany his Hamburgische Dramaturgie, a collection of critical theatrical studies in which he advocated the repudiation of classical French tragedy and the new elevation of Shakespeare, as Johann Gottfried Herder would do in 1771 in his Blättern von Deutscher Art und Kunst. Like Garrick in England, Friedrich Ludwig Schröder, actor and theater director, contributed with his first performance of Hamlet in Germany (1777) to bring Shakespeare to life on the German stage. Goethe performed plays by Shakespeare and Calderón in Weimar when he was commissioned to direct the theater of the principality, and he himself and Friedrich von Schiller experienced the influence of the English genius in their own theatrical works. In Spain, Ramón de la Cruz translated the Hamlet in 1772 and Leandro Fernández de Moratín in 1798.

Shakespeare”s renaissance (as well as that of Pedro Calderón de la Barca) was a decisive event for the European history of theater, since it favored the arrival of Pre-Romanticism and at the same time made possible the appearance of German national drama and later of Victor Hugo”s French romantic drama.

In 1807 Thomas Bowdler published Family Shakespeare, a modified version to make it, according to his criteria, more suitable for women and children, which could not “offend the virtuous and religious mind”. This adaptation gave rise to the English word bowdlerize, which designates the Puritan censorship.

In Victorian times, the representations were generally characterized by the archaeological attempt to reconstruct an era and the stagers and actors were obsessed by historical realism according to the documentary methodology of positivism. The artistic avant-garde also affected the playwright: Gordon Craig tried to make a cubist Hamlet in 1911. His iconoclastic conception of the stage opened the way for various aesthetic revisions of Shakespeare”s plays in the 20th century. In 1936, Orson Welles staged an innovative Macbeth in Harlem, transposing not only the era of the play but also employing African-American actors. Laurence Olivier”s feature film Henry V, filmed in honor of World War II combatants, had certain passages highlighted to encourage British patriotism; the most significant was the monarch”s harangue to his troops before the battle of Agincourt against French troops. The same can be said of countless theatrical and film adaptations up to the present day.

Thus, the adaptation, interpretation and twisting of Shakespeare”s work was for a long time the product of specific moral, political and aesthetic interests, and they hid the somber conception of life that Shakespeare genuinely offers.

In terms of his influence on other cultures, and Hispanic culture in particular, Shakespeare was always a rich source of inspiration for modern and contemporary writers, but he did not really make his presence felt until the 19th century. In Spanish America, authors such as Rubén Darío and in particular the essayist José Enrique Rodó read The Tempest with special interest. Rodó, for example, articulated in his well-known essay Ariel (1900) a whole interpretation of America based on the myths of two of its main characters, Ariel and Caliban.

But his coronation as an author of universal literature had to wait in Spain until the end of the 18th century, when Voltaire aroused among the enlightened Spaniards a certain curiosity for the English author through what he said about him in his English Letters; Ramón de la Cruz translated the Hamlet in 1772 from the French reduction of Jean-François Ducis (1733-1816), who had adapted French translations of Shakespeare”s tragedies into verse without knowing English according to the tastes of Neoclassicism and eliminating the violent ending, among other retouches. This translation, however, was never published. On the other hand, Leandro Fernández de Moratín did print his own, also from the bad French version of Ducis, adding other deficiencies to those of his model (Madrid: Villalpando, 1798).

There were other versions of individual works (Macbé or Los Remordimientos, 1818, by Manuel García, also from the French version by Ducis), but only in the second half of the 19th century were global efforts to translate the author”s entire oeuvre undertaken, enterprises no doubt spurred on by the prestige the author had achieved with the unqualified praise lavished on him by German Romanticism.

1872 was a fundamental year in the Spanish reception of Shakespeare. The first direct translations from English were published: Obras de William Shakspeare trad. fielmente del… English with the presence of the first editions and of the texts published by the most famous commentators of the immortal poet, Madrid, 1872-1877 (Imp. Manuel Minuesa, R. Berenguuillo). The translation is by Matías de Velasco y Rojas, Marquis of Dos Hermanas, but did not go beyond three volumes; the second and third were printed in 1872, the first with his poems and sonnets, the second with The Merchant of Venice and the third with Juliet and Romeo.

Between 1872 and 1876 Jaime Clark translated Romeo and Juliet; Hamlet; Othello; King Lear; The Merchant of Venice; As You Like It; Twelfth Night and The Tempest. In 1873, the Gibraltarian William Mcpherson began printing his translation of 23 plays in white hendecasyllabic, with important prologues.

On the other hand, from 1872 to 1912, performances of his plays were frequent in Madrid; Shakespeare even appeared as a character in Manuel Tamayo y Baus”s Un drama nuevo, although he had already appeared as such in Enrique Zumel”s drama Guillermo Shakespeare (Granada: José María Zamora, 1853). Similarly, Spanish critics undertook for the first time the in-depth study of Shakespeare; the first were Guillermo Macpherson and his friend Eduardo Benot (1885) and especially Eduardo Juliá Martínez (1918), who took advantage of the centenary date to divulge the figure of Shakespeare with a kind of novel biography which, under the title Shakespeare and his time: history and fantasy (1916), aimed to expose “truths among the appearances of entertainment” (p. xii). The work is well documented, as reflected in the copious annotation and the final appendices (after this Juliá wrote his interesting Shakespeare en España (1918), which served as the basis for the homonymous work by Alfonso Par. He translated, among other dramatic works, King Lear into Catalan and Spanish. In 1916, coinciding with the third centenary of the playwright”s death, he wrote in Catalan Vida de Guillem Shakespeare, which appeared in Spanish in 1930, and in the same year Contribución a la bibliografía española de Shakespeare; his dedication would be crowned with two colossal works, one published in 1935, Shakespeare en la literatura española, in two volumes, and the other the following year, the posthumous Representaciones shakespearianas en España, also in two volumes. We should also mention here another Spanish Shakespeare scholar, Ricardo Ruppert y Ujaravi (1920), the Realist writer Juan Valera and members of the Generation of ”98 such as Miguel de Unamuno and Valle-Inclán, who dedicated some essays to the Swan of the Avon.

Among the translations, the complete works in eight volumes by the aforementioned Guillermo Macpherson (1885-1900), with their corresponding introductions, stand out. Rafael Martínez Lafuente”s Complete Works of Shakespeare also occupy a privileged place, although they are most probably retranslations from the French, since they include in their prologue fragments of Victor Hugo”s essays on the life and work of the playwright that preceded a French translation. It already includes the entire work, and even the attributed titles, Luis Astrana Marín”s version in prose, between 1920 and 1930, which was widely read by Federico García Lorca; Astrana also composed a biography that he reissued in an expanded edition and made a study of his work as a whole that he put as an introduction to his monumental edition. Also worthy of mention are the translations and adaptations carried out by the symbolists Antonio Ferrer and Robert (Noche de Epifanía (Romeo and Juliet (1918) and Hamlet (1918) by Gregorio Martínez Sierra. A considerable number of studies and translations used and accumulated by William Macpherson and Rafael Martínez Lafuente can also be found in the Library of the Ateneo de Madrid.

Among the modern translations, apart from the famous and already mentioned by Luis Astrana Marín in prose, it is worth mentioning the Obras completas de José María Valverde (Barcelona: Planeta, 1967), also in prose, and the bilingual editions with Spanish version in blank verse made by the Shakespeare Institute of Valencia, entirely devoted to this endeavor since 1980 under the direction of Manuel Ángel Conejero and Jenaro Talens. Also noteworthy are the versions of some of the plays by the most important Spanish tragedian of the second half of the 20th century, Antonio Buero Vallejo. Likewise, Ángel Luis Pujante has undertaken a new translation of his complete works for Editorial Espasa-Calpe since 1986.

Finally, at the University of Murcia, a database has been created online with the texts of all the translations of Shakespeare”s historical texts into Spanish, five biographies of the author, complementary materials and the bibliography prepared by Ángel-Luis Pujante and Juan F. Cerdá Shakespeare in Spain. Bilingual annotated bibliography

Among the film versions of the Shakespearean biography are Shakespeare in Love (1998) directed by John Madden, Miguel and William, 2007, by director and screenwriter Inés París about Miguel de Cervantes and Shakespeare, and Anonymous (2011) directed by Roland Emmerich, which raises a possible answer about the authorship of his works within a political plot.

Some 250 films have been produced based on Shakespeare”s texts, demonstrating the enormous influence of this writer”s work. The work most often brought to the screen is Hamlet, with 61 film adaptations and 21 television series between 1907 and 2000.Some films based on Shakespeare”s works are the following:


They are listed in alphabetical order. See the list in chronological order above.


They are listed in alphabetical order. See the list in chronological order above.

Historical drama

They are listed in alphabetical order. See the list in chronological order above.

Other works


  1. William Shakespeare
  2. William Shakespeare
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