Though Shakespeare’s works are notoriously difficult to date, scholarly studies show that his works Titus Andronicus, The Comedy of Errors, The Taming of the Shrew and The Two Gentlemen of Verona were works of Shakespeare’s earliest portfolio and possibly influenced by numerous playwrights, including Shakespeare’s contemporary, Christopher Marlowe. His first true recorded works are Richard III and the Henry VI plays, written and performed in the early 1590s, histories and dramas that were easily influenced by historical records and known facts about previous Kings of England. Shakespeare’s middle period is marked by his comedies – A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Merchant of Venice, Much Ado About Nothing and Twelfth Night. After these plays, Shakespeare introduces some comedic scenes into what are otherwise known as his tragedies… Richard II, Henry V, Romeo and Juliet and Julius Ceasar. In his final writings, Shakespeare wrote romances and combinations of tragedies and comedies… the likes of which had not been seen in Elizabethan England as of yet. He produced the plays The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest, among others – tragedies in theory, but they end with reconciliation and forgiveness, rather than mistakes and death.
One interesting thing to note about this master of the English language is that for decades there has been some controversy over whether or not the man named William Shakespeare actually penned all the work attributed to him. If so, he was a very busy writer and a very clever person! If not, it means that work belonging to his contemporaries has been shuffled into the mix and he was given credit for things he did not create. Much of the controversy stems from a lack of personal documents that might (if they existed) remain today. Some Anti-Stratfordians (the term for those who believe that William Shakespeare of Stratford-Upon-Avon is not the author of the works attributed to his name) believe that the Shakespeare household was an illiterate one, as both his parents and daughters’ surviving signatures are simply marks, a common signature for the uneducated. Other supporters believe that there are codes to be found in some of his and the works of his contemporaries to suggest that Shakespeare did not even exist. Even we admit that it is quite strange that his will makes no mention of any documents, papers or unpublished plays (of which there were over a dozen). The only theatrical reference in the will is for some of the theater contemporaries to be gifted mourning rings – a line that seems to be added after the other mundane writing in the will, and therefore highly suspicious to Anti-Stratfordians. However, though the issue of authorship has become a popular topic in academia, the group of those who believe Shakespeare’s work to be that of a group of others is extraordinarily small in comparison to those who support Shakespeare’s authorship.
It is commonly acknowledged that Shakespeare died on the 23rd of April (a date that is in contention with scholars as it coincides with the annual recognition of his birthday), 1616, at the age of 52. The only note that speaks to his death is a notebook written by the vicar of the small town of Stratford, noted down almost 50 years later, that “Shakespeare, Drayton and Ben Jonson had a merry meeting and, it seems, drank too hard, for Shakespeare died of a fever there contracted.” His death was indeed sudden, as its suddenness was mentioned in tributes from his contemporary authors. He was buried in the Holy Trinity Church two days after his death. His epitaph carries a warning to those wishing to steal his bones… “Good frend for lesus sake forbeare. To digg the dvst encloased heare. Bleste be man spares thes stones, And cvrst be he [the] moves my bones.” A clever and carefully worded epitaph indeed, but not one we might expect from someone that is commonly regarded as one of the fathers of English Literature!