“For somebody who has been dead for nearly four hundred years, William Shakespeare remains awfully active. Hardly a month goes by, it seems, that there isn’t some fairly momentous claim or discovery relating to his life or work.”(9) – Bill Bryson, Shakespeare: The Illustrated and Updated Edition
Bryson’s introduction to one of the most current publications of Shakespeare studies accurately illustrates the subsistence of Shakespeare’s life and work in global culture today. What makes this fact even more notable is how Shakespeare has been able to exist in the world as a renewable literary resource. The only logic explanation to justify Shakespeare’s perpetual literary presence lies within the text itself. As for any distinguished writer or dramatist, the thematic reading of the given piece should reflect the social practices and moral standards of the era in which it was written (or takes place). This fact holds validity in any adaptation, any art form like film or music that transports a preexistent idea into a new context. With this in mind, it’s essential to examine Shakespearean literature in a historic light, and to identify each work as a representation of a given social environment. Looking at Shakespeare’s plays, in particular, the reader is able to recognize numerous thematic and situational reoccurrences that seem to collectively exemplify one unified proposal of the social practices existent in the time of Shakespeare. One topic; however, stands as the most prevalent and revisited subject in Shakespeare’s plays. A social dilemma so universally understood that it has carried Shakespeare for hundreds of years to the present day. A captivating social normalcy that eventually provided for Shakespeare’s literary immortality: Love.
To understand the Shakespearean perception of love, we must first acknowledge the environment in which he, himself, experienced this phenomenon. Said to have been born in April of 1564, Shakespeare’s entrance into the world seemed to ironically juxtapose the countless departures endured as a result of the plague. As Bryson astutely puts, “Shakespeare was born into a world that was short of people and struggled to keep those it had.”(40) Considering how death was such a familiar aspect of life for Shakespeare, it’s easy to draw connections between the impression of death seen in the plays and the actuality of death present in Shakespeare’s own community. Despite Shakespeare’s seemingly unending encounter with death and disease, he seems to have maintained a genuine affection towards the inner workings of love and relationships. Shakespeare’s own love story began at the age of eighteen when he married Anne Hathaway. During Bryson’s examination of Shakespeare’s marital history he mentions how “it was not unusual for a bride to be pregnant on her wedding day. Up to 40 percent of brides were in that state—It was unusual, however, for a young man to be married at eighteen, as Shakespeare was.”(62). This information gives way to various connections between the literary life and actual life of Shakespeare. There are several references to young age in Shakespeare’s plays, in particular, Romeo & Juliet. In act II scene III of the play, Friar Lawrence states, “So soon forsaken? Young men's love then lies not truly in their hearts, but in their eyes”, remarking on Romeo’s foolishness for falling in and out of love so swiftly. Shakespeare’s own marriage mirrors this same notion of a rushed relationship seeing as how he and is wife purchased a marriage bond, which “cost £40 and permitted the marriage to proceed with one reading of the banns instead of the normal three, so that it might be conducted the sooner” according to Bryson (62). The reasoning behind this rush to the altar is unknown, however, seeing as how the purpose of the banns is to enable anyone to raise any canonical or civil legal hindrance to the marriage, so as to prevent marriages that are invalid, it seems that Shakespeare was...
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