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Context---- William Shakespeare

The most influential writer in all of English literature, William Shakespeare was born in 1564 to a successful middle-class glo e-maker in Stratford-upon-! on, England" Shakespeare attended grammar school, but his formal education proceeded no further" #n 15$% he married an older woman, !nne &athawa', and had three children with her" !round 15() he left his famil' behind and tra eled to *ondon to work as an actor and pla'wright" +ublic and critical success ,uickl' followed, and Shakespeare e entuall' became the most popular pla'wright in England and part-owner of the -lobe Theater" &is career bridged the reigns of Eli.abeth # /ruled 155$016)12 and 3ames # /ruled 16)10 16%52, and he was a fa orite of both monarchs" #ndeed, 3ames granted Shakespeare4s compan' the greatest possible compliment b' bestowing upon its members the title of 5ing4s 6en" Wealth' and renowned, Shakespeare retired to Stratford and died in 1616 at the age of fift'-two" !t the time of Shakespeare4s death, literar' luminaries such as 7en 3onson hailed his works as timeless" Shakespeare4s works were collected and printed in arious editions in the centur' following his death, and b' the earl' eighteenth centur' his reputation as the greatest poet e er to write in English was well established" The unprecedented admiration garnered b' his works led to a fierce curiosit' about Shakespeare4s life, but the dearth of biographical information has left man' details of Shakespeare4s personal histor' shrouded in m'ster'" Some people ha e concluded from this fact that Shakespeare4s pla's were reall' written b' someone else89rancis 7acon and the Earl of :;ford are the two most popular candidates8but the support for this claim is o erwhelmingl' circumstantial, and the theor' is not taken seriousl' b' man' scholars" #n the absence of credible e idence to the contrar', Shakespeare must be iewed as the author of the thirt'-se en pla's and 154 sonnets that bear his name" The legac' of this bod' of work is immense" ! number of Shakespeare4s pla's seem to ha e transcended e en the categor' of brilliance, becoming so influential as to profoundl' affect the course of Western literature and culture e er after" Shakespeare did not in ent the stor' of Romeo and Juliet" &e did not, in fact, e en introduce the stor' into the English language" ! poet named !rthur 7rooks first brought the stor' of Romeus and Juliet to an English-speaking audience in a long and plodding poem that was itself not original, but rather an adaptation of adaptations that stretched across nearl' a hundred 'ears and two languages" 6an' of the details of Shakespeare4s plot are lifted directl' from 7rooks4s poem, including the meeting of <omeo and 3uliet at the ball, their secret marriage, <omeo4s fight with T'balt, the sleeping potion, and the timing of the lo er4s e entual suicides" Such appropriation of other stories is characteristic of Shakespeare, who often wrote pla's based on earlier works" Shakespeare4s use of e;isting material as fodder for his pla's should not, howe er, be taken as a lack of originalit'" #nstead, readers should note how Shakespeare crafts his sources in new wa's while displa'ing a remarkable understanding of the literar' tradition in which he is working" Shakespeare4s ersion of Romeo and Juliet is no e;ception" The pla' distinguishes itself from its predecessors in se eral important aspects= the subtlet' and originalit' of its characteri.ation /Shakespeare almost wholl' created 6ercutio2> the intense pace of its action, which is compressed from nine months into four frenetic da's> a powerful enrichment of the stor'4s thematic aspects> and, abo e

all, an e;traordinar' use of language" Shakespeare4s pla' not onl' bears a resemblance to the works on which it is based, it is also ,uite similar in plot, theme, and dramatic ending to the stor' of +'ramus and Thisbe, told b' the great <oman poet : id in his Metamorphoses" Shakespeare was well aware of this similarit'> he includes a reference to Thisbe in Romeo and Juliet" Shakespeare also includes scenes from the stor' of +'ramus and Thisbe in the comicall' awful pla'-within-a-pla' put on b' 7ottom and his friends in A Midsummer Nights Dream8a pla' Shakespeare wrote around the same time he was composing Romeo and Juliet" #ndeed, one can look at the pla'-within-a-pla' in A Midsummer Nights Dream as parod'ing the er' stor' that Shakespeare seeks to tell in Romeo and Juliet" Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet in full knowledge that the stor' he was telling was old, clich?d, and an eas' target for parod'" #n writing Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare, then, implicitl' set himself the task of telling a lo e stor' despite the considerable forces he knew were stacked against its success" Through the incomparable intensit' of his language Shakespeare succeeded in this effort, writing a pla' that is uni ersall' accepted in Western culture as the preeminent, archet'pal lo e stor'"