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William Shakespeare

Historien om William Shakespeare.

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Not much is known about William Shakespeare’s life, not even his birthday is known for sure. The lexicon and history books say that he was born on April 23, 1564 in the midlands town of Stratford- upon-Avon. He was an English playwright and poet that later became famous all over the world as one of the greatest righter in the history.  His father John Shakespeare worked hard and became in 1568 a mayor. His mother Mary Arden, was a comfortably countrywoman. William was going on the Latin school in town. But when his father in 1576 got in economic problems, Williams’s education became more casual. John Shakespeare and Mary Arden had seven other children. William was the third child and their first son.  William went to the King Edward VI Grammar School. Usually the boys were sent out to work, but if their parents could not afford the work, they were sent to school. Girls often were taught at home and didn’t learn to read or right.


When William turned into the age of 15 he began to work and stopped going on school. He didn’t go to a university but probably read as much books he could get at home. When William was 18, he married Anne Hathaway, who was eight years older than him. The next year Susanna Shakespeare was born and two years later followed the twins Judith and Hamnet. After his age of 20 nobody knows for sure what he did, but it is possible he worked as a teacher, lawyer, soldier or with his father in Stratford. It is also known that he wrote at least six plays by the end of 1594.


In 1597 William bought a large, expensive Stratford house, “New Place”. He was still working in London at that time but it gave his wife and children their own home.  In 1599, William and six other men bought a new outdoor theatre in London called The Globe, which was one of the biggest theatres in England. James I, King of England took the throne in 1603 when his cousin Queen Elizabeth I, died.


King James supported Shakespeare and his men and gave them license to call themselves the King's Men in return for entertaining the court regularly.

The King's Men became the leading theatrical group for their time.


So far his plays have been both happy and optimistic, but about 1601 there is a change. The reason for this change is unknown, it might have been because of something happening in his private life or in the society around him. Later in his life he wrote a collection of poems in sonnet form, and some say these are the finest poems ever written.


This was also during the time when William was writing his most famous plays such as his tragedies Antony and Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth and Othello.

Only four plays were produced in Shakespeare's last eight years. His last play, Henry VIII is dated 1613.


William moved back to Stratford, to live with his family. He also died here on his birthday in 1616, as a well-known writer and actor.  William’s last direct descendant died in 1670. It was his granddaughter Elizabeth who never had any children.



The tragedies


William’s tragedies are the most famous and popular plays. In this plays all of his best-known characters are such as Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Othello and Hamlet. All of William’s tragedies have a tragic hero. He is often a man of high rank, such as a king or prince. And in every play the hero is put into a difficult situation, which he must try to resolve.  For example:


Macbeth would like more power and one day he meets three witches who predict that he will be king. Macbeth believes that if he kills Duncan, he will rule in his place. Macbeth’s wife would like him to be a king too. She puts pressure on him to kill Duncan, and accuses him of being cowardly. Duncan decides to visit Macbeth at his castle. His wife encourages him to kill. The pressure is too much and Macbeth kills Duncan. He regrets it at once, but by then it to late...





William’s comedies are well known for not necessarily being funny but usually have happy endings. The comedies can be divided into three main groups:


Happy comedies: which are often funny and its used lots of jokes and slapsticks to get laughs. The plot is very important and characters are not always very realistic. For example in The Comedy of Errors, it contains about identical two twins living separated. The mix-ups get more and more complicated, only the audience knowing which twin is which.


Problem plays: 

Problem plays deal more with the serious issues, for example Measure for Measure.



Romances are more similar to the fairytales. Pericles and Cymbeline are an example for romances.



The earlier history plays


The history plays are more than just historical events acted out on stage. They are dramatic works that use history as a starting point. These plays are not concentrated on fact, but examined the individuals who make history. They try to tell people what’s making a good king, an example for a play is: Henry VI, Parts 1, 2 and 3 and Richard III, covers the period 1422 to 1485, when the Wars of the Roses raged in England between the families, or “houses”, of Lancaster and York. 



Shakespeare’s poems and songs


William’s most famous poems are his sonnets (a sonnet is a short poem with fourteen lines and strict rhyme scheme, a sequence of short poems about love, fame and mysterious relationship.

This is a sonnet:

From fairest creatures we desire increase,

That thereby beauty's rose might never die,

But as the riper should by time decease,

His tender heir might bear his memory:

But thou contracted to thine own bright eyes,

Feed'st thy light's flame with self-substantial fuel,

Making a famine where abundance lies,

Thy self thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel:

Thou that art now the world's fresh ornament,

And only herald to the gaudy spring,

Within thine own bud buriest thy content,

And tender churl mak'st waste in niggarding:

Pity the world, or else this glutton be,

To eat the world's due, by the grave and thee.

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