Happy Birthday Shakespeare!

Today is the 448th birthday of the bard, William Shakespeare.

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

That actual birthday of William Shakespeare is unknown, but experts have deemed that April 23 (three days before Shakespeare’s baptism) is the official birthday of the most influential writer in the history of the English language.

The author of 38 plays, 154 sonnets, and several poems, Shakespeare is considered by many as the greatest writer of all time.  While Shakespeare was a respected writer during his life, his popularity really took off 300 years after his death (which happened to be on April 23 as well).

In honor of this great and talented man’s birthday, here are some great books on his life:

Hidden Shakespeare:

It is widely acknowledged that William Shakespeare was the greatest writer who ever lived, but what is the basis of this reputation? In Hidden Shakespeare, Nicholas Fogg examines the circumstances that made him such: his background and education, his faith and morality, the power of contemporary language and the rise of the Elizabethan theater as a vehicle for nascent genius.

The backdrop of the many stories told about him is examined for the light they might shed on his life. Did he leave school at the age of thirteen? Did he have a shotgun wedding or an arranged marriage? What do his sonnets, the only part of his works written in the first person, reveal of him? More is known of Shakespeare than almost any other Elizabethan, but there are huge gaps in the narrative. Nicholas Fogg seeks to provide reasoned answers to the many questions that continue to pervade our view of this towering figure, both a universal genius and a man of his times.

Shakespeare’s London:

Shakespeare’s London was a bustling, teeming metropolis that was growing so rapidly that the government took repeated, and ineffectual, steps to curb its expansion.

From contemporary letters, journals and diaries, a vivid picture emerges of this fascinating city, with its many opportunities and also its persistent problems. By far the largest city in the country, it was the center of government, the law and the church, the focus of politics and culture. It had a vigorous economy, with a range of industries and a lucrative trade in luxury goods for the courtiers and wealthy citizens. Growth produced overcrowding and high mortality, with shockingly high death tolls during the periodic plague epidemics, yet London attracted an endless stream of people, who were absorbed into its diverse communities and economic structures. Here the first playhouses were built, patronized by large audiences, who were treated to a rich and varied diet of plays to keep them, and the court, entertained. The London that Shakespeare knew was an expanding, changing and exciting city.

Who Wrote Shakespeare’s Plays?:

For over 150 years many intelligent, highly educated men and women have questioned whether William Shakespeare wrote the works attributed to him. From an obscure family in a small provincial town, Shakespeare had no formal education after the age of thirteen. His surviving handwriting consists of six signatures on legal documents. His will makes no mention of his books or manuscripts. His two daughters were illiterate. There is, in other words, a seemingly enormous gap between the meagerness of Shakespeare’s background and his achievements as the greatest and most famous writer in the English language. Over the years, numerous ‘candidates’ have been proposed as the true author. Often dismissed by the orthodox Shakespeare establishment in Britain and America as crackpots, the Anti-Stratfordians, as they are known, have become increasingly visible and numerous during the past thirty years.

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