In honor of William Shakespeare we are celebrating the 400th anniversary of his death on April 23, 2016. What better way to do this, than by highlighting the writing done by first-year students in Associate Professor of English John Wesley’s first-year seminar, A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare? This first-year seminar in scholarly inquiry studies four remarkable plays Shakespeare wrote or saw into production in 1599, the same year he opened the Globe Theatre. In the first half of the course, students were introduced to the myriad ways in which Shakespeare’s 1599 plays are shaped by and give shape to the political and cultural intrigues of that year. In the second half of the course, students turned to a play (and year) of their own choosing, the historicist analysis of which is the basis of an independent research project. As part of this project, students were asked to prepare a blog post that reflected on aspects of Shakespeare’s life, a specific work, or a resource or organization associated with Shakespeare, or to provide a personal interpretation of a play. During the month of April, we’ll feature the posts from students that celebrate all things Shakespeare!
Congratulations to our wonderful first-year writers. For additional online resources about Shakespeare, check out these sites:
- British Library: http://www.bl.uk/
- Folger Shakespeare Library: http://www.folger.edu/
- Globe Theatre: http://www.shakespearesglobe.com
- Internet Shakespeare Editions: http://internetshakespeare.uvic.ca
- Shakespeare 400: http://www.shakespeare400.org/
A Man in Love with Words
by Ellen Knowles
When people picture William Shakespeare, they imagine a man filled with passion. To envision Shakespeare as a passionate man is not wrong either, but where he placed his passions is where most people are lead astray from the truth. Most would assume that Shakespeare must have had such a burning passion for love, that he must release it out onto paper. How else could Shakespeare write about a love as great as Romeo and Juliet if he himself had not experienced passion like that before? However, the reality is that Shakespeare’s true love was probably not any person, but writing.
People like to imagine Shakespeare writing his works motivated by deep love. The movie “Shakespeare in Love” is a perfect example of this idea of an intensely romanticized Shakespeare. The beginning of the movie starts with him frustrated as he has no ideas for what to write his next play about. The movie shows him finding inspiration through a woman named Violet, who he falls deeply in love with, and born from that love, Shakespeare writes one of his most famous plays to this day, Romeo and Juliet. The love we see between Shakespeare and Violet mimics that of Romeo and Juliet’s. Shakespeare and Violet are two lovers who do not belong together just as Romeo and Juliet were. The movie even shows Violet on the balcony reciting the famous lines, “Romeo, O Romeo,” (Shakespeare in Love). This movie assumes that in order for Shakespeare to have written Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare must have had a love similar to that of the famous star crossed lovers. This assumption is most likely hollow, though.
In truth, most evidence points to Shakespeare’s truest love being language. While the movie shows a handsome Shakespeare out dancing at a party attempting to woo a lady, what we know about Shakespeare, from those that knew him, is that he denied many invitations to parties. Most of Shakespeare’s days were filled with the work that came along with being both a playwright and an actor. If Shakespeare had any free time in his busy schedule he prioritized writing over women (Shapiro xviii).
Shakespeare fell in love with language at a young age. He would have met his true love at around the age of five, in his hometown of Stratford when he saw his first play. He fell further in love at the grammar school he attended as a child in his neighborhood where he learned Latin. At the grammar school was where he would have first been introduced to performing in plays, as school teachers thought the best way to learn the ancient language was to perform Ancient Roman comedies in Latin (Greenblatt 23-29). This love for literature continued throughout his life.
Although amusing to play with the idea of Shakespeare drawing from a deep love in his personal life to write his magnificent plays, it is more realistic to recognize that Shakespeare’s true love was writing. He wrote not because he was in love, but merely for the fact that he loved to write. In the marking of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death we must honor his life with what he loved most: words.
Greenblatt, Stephen. Will in the World. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2004. Print.
Shakespeare in Love. Dir. John Madden. Perf. Gwyneth Paltrow, Joseph Fiennes, and Geoffrey Rush. Universal Pictures, 1999. Film.
Shapiro, James. A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare. New York: Harper Perennial, 2006. Print
2014. The Telegraph. JPEG file.