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William Shakespeare - Statistics & Facts

The works of William Shakespeare are among the most revered and influential literary works in history. In the 24 years between 1589 and 1613, "the Bard of Avon" wrote at least 37 plays, 154 sonnets, several poems, and contributed to a number of other plays. Despite being more than 400 years old, these works remain among the most studied and performed across the globe.

Works

Shakespeare’s plays are usually separated into three genres; comedies, histories, and tragedies. The comedies were generally written in his earlier years, and are often tales of love and involve a happy ending. In contrast, Shakespeare’s tragedies are much longer and more complex. These stories deal with flawed characters who must overcome obstacles and challenges, both internal and external, with the main character generally dying by the play’s conclusion. For his histories, Shakespeare wrote exclusively of English Kings, their struggles for power, and the idea of divine right. Scholars have also created subgenres of Shakespeare’s plays to give further context to his works, such as Problem Plays, Romances and Tragicomedies. 36 Shakespeare plays were published in the First Folio, which makes up the core of Shakespeare’s body of work, while the co-authored Pericles, Prince of Tyre became accepted as canon in later years (additionally, many now consider The Two Noble Kinsmen to be canon; also co-authored). It is believed that a number of Shakespeare’s plays have been lost since his death, and arguments exist over his involvement in many more; in total it is possible that Shakespeare wrote or co-authored 85 plays throughout his lifetime.

The life and legacy of the Bard

William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-Upon-Avon in 1564, and was the third of eight children. While there is little documentation of his childhood, it is believed that he was fairly well educated for his time, though he did not attend a university. In what would have undoubtedly been controversial at the time, Shakespeare married a woman, Anne Hathaway, who was eight years his senior, when he was just 18 years old. The couple had their first child just six months later, and had twins the following year. Little is known about Shakespeare’s early life, until he became more publicly known in London during the 1590s. Throughout his career, Shakespeare was both a writer and a performer, and belonged to the acting company known as Lord Chamberlain’s Men, who later changed their name to the King’s Men after securing the patronage of King James I (whose own writings were thought to have been an influence on Shakespeare). This company opened the Globe Theatre in London in 1599 (a functional replica opened in 1997), and had the exclusive rights to perform Shakespeare’s plays. Following an outbreak of plague in 1609, Shakespeare began dividing his time between his work in London, and family in Stratford (where he was also a successful property owner). Shakespeare is thought to have retired some time between 1613 and 1614, and he died on April 23, 1616; some claim this to have been his 52nd birthday, although only his date of baptism (April 26, 1564) has been confirmed.

Despite the distinct depiction of Shakespeare that exists in the minds of most people today, there were no actual portraits or written descriptions from when he was alive. Although this posthumous image, first published with his First Folio, is believed to bear a resemblance to his appearance, it is symbolic of the mystery surrounding the man. In addition to the lost and disputed works, questions have been raised about his authorship, beliefs, and sexuality, with some even questioning his existence as far back as the 1700s. Nonetheless, these have always been minority views, and most accept that William Shakespeare did author all works attributed to him. Across his plays, Shakespeare is thought to have created some 420 new words, along with countless idioms; showing that his influence extends beyond literature and into daily language. Many of his plays were reworks of established stories, yet Shakespeare's storytelling skills and craftsmanship paved the way for all who followed. His works have been translated into more than 100 languages.

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