SIR – It was the 400th anniversary in April of William Shakespeare’s death in 1616 and some who may not be fans may wonder has it been ‘much ado about nothing.’ He would have regarded it as ‘the most unkindest cut of all’ if he had not been remembered.
It is believed Will received a good education at a grammar school and, gifted with natural genius, became Britain’s leading playwright, although he had a rival, Ben Johnson, whose plays are not as known and Ben was said to have been more of a publicist than Will. The quality of Shakespeare’s enormous output endured in the end.
Plays like Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet on which the 1950s’ musical West Side Story was based, Richard III, Henry V and Henry VI, Much Ado about Nothing, As You like it, Midsummer’s Night Dream, etc are played somewhere in the world every year. His famous Globe theatre was rebuilt in 1997 as it was in his time. It was designed, so audiences could sit around the stage.
He lived through the long reign of Elizabeth I, the Spanish Armada, the Elizabethan plantations of Ireland and the Battle of Kinsale in 1601.
He died 13 years after Elizabeth I. Will was one of life’s survivors and, though it is questioned if he really is the author of the plays, I like to think he was. But no matter who wrote them, he or they enriched the English language with words and hundreds of phrases like ‘forgone conclusion,’ ‘all that glitters is not gold,’ ‘letting slip the dogs of war,’ ‘bag and baggage,’ ‘cold comfort’ and ‘eaten out of house and home.’
He was unusual for his time for his understanding of human nature. Whether Shakespeare or the Earls of Derby or Oxford was the true author of the plays, he or they were an original. Books include ‘1599’ by James Shapiro on a year in his life when he wrote four plays and was at the height of his fame. Ben Johnson wrote seven years after Shakespeare died that he was not for an age, but for all time.