We have picked over all the facts of Shakespeare’s life over hundreds, if not thousands, of times. Which means every list of “facts” out there is repetitious. Very few raise questions about what can learn from him as adults.
Looking at the facts of Shakespeare’s life from the perspective of a professional, there’s more to him than his language, his plays, or his language. What I find is he’s inspirational not just as a writer, but an entrepreneur too.
Shakespeare: He’s not just for school anymore!
Speaking of school…
They did not teach Shakespeare in schools until 1870.
Yes, you read that correctly. Shakespeare was not on school curriculum (in the US) before 1870.
Reading Shakespeare was a private practice and necessary for becoming a well-respected thought leader and a functioning member of the upper classes. Knowledge of his plays, even a passing knowledge, ensured easy access to elite society.
Most of the elite from the 1700s onward read Shakespeare. John Dryden, Samuel Johnson, Alexander Pope, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge were reading, lecturing, critiquing, and creating commentaries on Shakespeare long before he became a school subject. Even Jane Austen had exposure to Shakespeare—but in the home. Not in school.
It makes you think, doesn’t it? And make you take a second look at your reading shelf as an adult.
Shakespeare was an entrepreneur—not a starving artist.
We often only think of Shakespeare as a writer. We never think of him as an accomplished and successful business owner.
He owned shares in the playhouse itself and earned money from each of his plays that were performed. Add in some savvy investments, and the boy who had to leave school early because the family fortunes had taken a fall was buying up land in Stratford.
Since launching my own writing career, I find this aspect of Shakespeare more intriguing now that I ever did before. We’re so used to the idea of writers as “starving artists” we ignore the fact writers like Shakespeare found success and died very wealthy.
The “starving artist” is a very romantic and sentimental concept. It’s perfect for angsty teenagers and young adults who are being forced to read Modernist literature about inequality. But it’s not true, and it leads to more writers giving up on their dreams because they “can’t make a living at it.”
Perhaps we should emulate Shakespeare for more than his writing and think of our writing as a business and an art. Today, with content marketing and the high demand for content writing, this is happening.
Shakespeare wrote parts for specific people.
When we read his plays, we forget he wrote the parts for the people who were going to play them. If you think about modern business practices and team curation, that is what Shakespeare did with his plays and players.
He played to the strengths of his team and made sure his content not only matched their abilities but met the audience’s expectation.
We know, for instance, the part of Hamlet was most likely intended for Richard Burbage. We also know Will Kempe was a comedian. This may mean very little to a modern-day student, but to a professional adult, it holds a completely fresh point of interest.
Shakespeare’s language was the scenery.
Today, we have virtual reality, CGI, green screens, and a host of other tools to create scenes. It’s so ubiquitous we don’t even realize it until we sit down to watch a Shakespeare play and can’t understand most of the words.
In Shakespeare’s day, they performed plays with one thing in mind: money. So, if you could save a bit of money on scenery—why wouldn’t you? People have imaginations which are free for them to use.
Scenery limits you anyway—it takes time and money to build, refurbish, and there’s the fire and rot risk.
What do you use for scenery? Words.
Language was more descriptive in Shakespeare’s Day. This is why Shakespeare’s language can be so difficult to interpret. Today, we pack everything into a few words.
Shakespeare knew how to research.
Shakespeare’s plays came from other sources, which means he had to know where to find information on the time, place, and scenery involved.
The only play we know for certain was entirely original is The Tempest. Even then, Shakespeare was obviously well-informed about the topics of the day, such as the ideal state, world exploration, family troubles, and statecraft.
Critics have used some of the specialized pieces of information about places and things to argue Shakespeare didn’t write his own plays. Ignoring he knew a wide variety of people and came of humble origins himself. Oh, there’s that slight issue of the “Lost Years” where we don’t know where he was or what he was doing.
We also know that while Shakespeare’s own experiences may be murky, his close friends did travel and had university educations.
Did some of these facts surprise you? Which one stood out the most? Let me know in the comments below!
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