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Posted on Jun 23, 2014

Theater & Costumes: A Shakespeare Guide

Theater & Costumes: A Shakespeare Guide

William Shakespeare is widely regarded as being the greatest English language writer, and dramatist in history. Known for famous works such as Romeo and Juliet, and Hamlet, throughout his life Shakespeare is credited with creating 154 sonnets, 38 plays, and two long narrative poems. Shakespeare’s work is known the world over, and has been translated into every major language. His plays are performed more than that of any other playwright.

Shakespeare Biography

william-shakespeare-portrait

William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, England in April of 1564. At the age of 18, he married 26 year old Anne Hathaway, and their first child, Susanna, was born a year later. In 1585, Anne and William had twins, and named them Judith and Hamlet. Shakespeare’s first play was believed to have been written a few years later, sometime between 1589 and 1590. The second part of the play was completed the following year.

By 1592, Shakespeare was working as a playwright in London, and just two years later he became the owner of a playwright company named Lord Chamberlain’s Men. The company was successful, leading Shakespeare to become well known in the London theater scene. Throughout his life, Shakespeare wrote some of the most famous works of all time, such as Macbeth, and A Midsummer’s Night Dream. He passed away at the age of 52 in 1616.

Shakespeare’s Works

romeo-and-julietRomeo and Juliet, painted by Ford Maddox Brown, 1830

Throughout Shakespeare’s life, he completed numerous famous works. His works can be divided into four different categories including comedy, history, tragedy (includes many of his most famous works), and poetry. Some of his most famous work is listed below.

  • Romeo and Juliet – A tragedy that tells the story of two lovers who come from rival families and tried to have a relationship despite their fighting families.
  • Hamlet – A tragedy that tells the story of a prince who thinks that his father, who is the king, has been murdered by his brother-in-law, who took control of the throne in addition to Hamlet’s mother.
  • A Midsummer’s Night Dream – A comedy that tells the story of four mismatched lovers in the city of Athens, along with a group of noblemen, fairies, and well-humored work men.
  • Macbeth – A play about the supernatural and witches.
  • The Comedy of Errors – A take on an original Roman comedy that involves two sets of twins dealing with romance and war.
  • Antony and Cleopatra – Tells the story of two powerful people who lose their lives because of their love affair.
  • Julius Caesar – A tragedy that tells that story of a famous political leader and how he was cut down by those he trusted.
  • As You Like It – A comedy that shows the contrasts between the country side and the Elizabethan court in addition to complex people that expose the faults of humans.
  • Much Ado About Nothing – A comedy about the lives of lovers and the people in them.

While it is not the case today, back when Shakespeare was alive, all of the people cast in his plays were men. They wore various costumes, and were responsible for playing female parts. In Shakespeare’s time, laws dictated what type of clothing a person could wear, so an actor’s costumes also reflected a person’s social status in society, from royalty to wealthy merchants to commoners.

Shakespearean Language

One of the big complaints often heard when it comes to reading Shakespeare is that it does not read like “regular” English and can be difficult to understand. This is because Shakespeare wrote for his audience more than 400 years ago when expressions and word meanings were different than they are today. The language of Shakespeare was early modern English. He wrote during the Elizabethan era, a time in which the English language was rapidly growing. During these times, there was really no standardization of language, making it even more difficult. In order to understand Shakespeare, you must understand grammar, word usage, versification, and wordplay. Learning these fundamental concepts will make reading Shakespeare much easier and more enjoyable.

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