Updated: Apr 24
This link for streaming Shakespeare:
Would Shakespeare enjoy modern day New York? That is the question.
Our Honorary New Yorker of the Day is William Shakespeare, born April 23, 1564 (according to scholarly consensus, although records indicate he was baptised on April 26th). Clearly, he was born in Stratford-Upon-Avon in England and never set foot in New York. Indeed, at the time of his death which is purported to have been on his birthday, April 23, 1616, the Dutch had yet to establish the trading post of New Amsterdam in Lower Manhattan. He lived long enough to perhaps have known about Henry Hudson’s exploration of New York harbor and the area in 1609.
Imagining Shakespeare in New York
If Shakespeare had the opportunity to visit New York (under normal circumstances) he would be delighted to stroll by The Delacorte Theatre and learn about the free Shakespeare plays that have been performed there since opening in 1962. If the timing were right he would enthusiastically take in a production and walk out a bit confused yet intrigued by the more modern interpretation. I personally thank Mr. Shakespeare for his plays. As a young child my parents brought be to the Delacorte every summer which made such a lasting impression on me that once entering college I decided to major in English.
He would be delighted to see the statues depicting The Tempest and Romeo Juliet in front of the theatre, and while strolling through the nearby Shakespeare Gardens he would be surprised to recognize native plants and flowers he had known back home.
Heading South through the park he would be impressed by the great John Quincy Adams Ward’s likeness of him in The Mall, surrounded by the impressive rows of elm trees. It would take Will several days to visit the Shakespeare & Co. bookstores at 2020 Broadway on the Upper West Side and at 939 Lexington Avenue on the East Side.
He would be interested in learning of the countless number of English classes offered in our colleges and universities. Perhaps he would drop in at an "Introduction to Shakespeare" class. He would pay a visit to The Shakespeare Forum in midtown which introduces his plays to underserved communities and adults and children with disabilities.
Before venturing further downtown he would enjoy a meal and a pint of ale at The Shakespeare, an English-style pub restaurant at 24 East 39th Street in Murray Hill. The decor and atmosphere would remind him of pubs back home. Seizing the opportunity to walk off lunch, he would be instantly recognized and welcomed at The Players Club on Gramercy Park South, especially since the club’s founder was the prominent Shakespearean actor Edwin Booth. After mingling with a few of the club’s members and hearing of their renditions of their favorite roles, he would borrow a key to the park so he could take a closer look at the statue of Booth playing Hamlet, the centerpiece of Gramercy Park.
Taking a seat on a nearby bench, Shakespeare wonders, could I live here? His conclusion is a resounding “yes,”, as even after only spending a few days in the City and having gotten a taste of the broad spectrum of human drama that New York offers, he sees the potential for many sources of inspiration to pen new romances, tragedies, comedies and histories that reflect the light and the darkness, the conundrums of morality, and the uncertainty of where our civilization is headed.
A Bit About Shakespeare
Known throughout the world, Shakespeare's writings capture the range of human emotion and conflict and have been celebrated for more than 400 years. And yet, the personal life of William Shakespeare is somewhat a mystery. Shakespeare was enormously prolific. In his relatively short career he authored 13 comedies, 13 historical dramas, 6 tragedies, 4 tragic comedies and 154 sonnets. Many of his plays have become classics of the stage, and his poems are revered for their mastery of language and verse. Thus, this modestly educated man of the Elizabethan age left an indelible mark on the English language and Western culture.
There are two primary sources that provide historians with an outline of his life. One is his work — the plays, poems and sonnets — and the other is official documentation such as church and court records. However, these provide only brief sketches of specific events in his life and yield little insight into the man himself.
When Was Shakespeare Born?
No birth records exist, but an old church record indicates that a William Shakespeare was baptized at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon on April 26, 1564. Thus it is believed he was born on or about April 23, 1564. Located about 100 miles northwest of London, Stratford-upon-Avon was a bustling market town along the River Avon during Shakespeare's time.
Shakespeare was the third child of John Shakespeare, a leather merchant, and Mary Arden, a local landed heiress. Shakespeare had two older sisters, Joan and Judith, and three younger brothers, Gilbert, Richard and Edmund. Before Shakespeare's birth, his father became a successful merchant and held official positions as alderman and bailiff, an office resembling a mayor. However, records indicate John's fortunes declined sometime in the late 1570s.
Childhood and Education
Scant records exist of Shakespeare's childhood and virtually none regarding his education. Scholars have surmised that he most likely attended the King's New School, in Stratford, which taught reading, writing and the classics.
By the early 1590s, documents show Shakespeare was a managing partner in the Lord Chamberlain's Men, an acting company in London with which he was connected for most of his career. Considered the most important troupe of its time, the company changed its name to the King's Men following the crowning of King James I in 1603. From all accounts, the King's Men company was exceedingly popular. Records show that Shakespeare had works published and sold as popular literature.
By 1597, Shakespeare had already written and published 15 of his 37 plays. Civil records show that at this time he purchased the second-largest house in Stratford, called New House, for his family. It was a four-day ride by horse from Stratford to London, so it's believed that Shakespeare spent most of his time in the city writing and acting and came home once a year during the 40-day Lenten period, when the theaters were closed.
By 1599, Shakespeare and his business partners built their own theater on the south bank of the Thames River, which they called the Globe Theater.
In 1605, Shakespeare purchased leases of real estate near Stratford for 440 pounds, which doubled in value and earned him 60 pounds a year. This made him an entrepreneur as well as an artist, and scholars believe these investments gave him the time to write his plays uninterrupted.
When Did Shakespeare Die?
Tradition holds that Shakespeare died on his 52nd birthday, April 23, 1616, but some scholars believe this is a myth. Church records show he was interred at Trinity Church on April 25, 1616. His exact cause of Shakespeare's death is unknown, though many believe he died following a brief illness.
In his will, he left the bulk of his possessions to his eldest daughter, Susanna. Though entitled to a third of his estate, little seems to have gone to his wife, Anne, whom he bequeathed his "second-best bed." This has drawn speculation that she had fallen out of favor, or that the couple was not close.
Too many choices here so I will end with 45 common expressions that were either coined by Shakespeare or popularized by him (at this vertiginous historical remove, it’s hard to be certain what was created and what was pinched from his immediate surroundings). This list is courtesy of Fraser MCAlpine writing for www.bbcamerica.com/anglophenia
“All our yesterdays”— (Macbeth)
“As good luck would have it” — (The Merry Wives of Windsor)
“As merry as the day is long” — (Much Ado About Nothing / King John)
“Bated breath” — (The Merchant of Venice)
“Be-all and the end-all” — (Macbeth)
“Neither a borrower nor a lender be” — (Hamlet)
“Brave new world” — (The Tempest)
“Break the ice” — (The Taming of the Shrew)
“Brevity is the soul of wit” — (Hamlet)
“Refuse to budge an inch” — (Measure for Measure / The Taming of the Shrew)
“Cold comfort” — (The Taming of the Shrew / King John)
“Conscience does make cowards of us all” — (Hamlet)
“Crack of doom” — (Macbeth)
“Dead as a doornail” — (Henry VI Part II)
“A dish fit for the gods” — (Julius Caesar)
“Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war” — (Julius Caesar)
“Devil incarnate” — (Titus Andronicus / Henry V)
“Eaten me out of house and home” — (Henry IV Part II)
“Faint hearted” — (Henry VI Part I)
“Fancy-free” — (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
“Forever and a day” — (As You Like It)
“For goodness’ sake” — (Henry VIII)
“Foregone conclusion” — (Othello)
“Full circle” — (King Lear)
“The game is afoot” — (Henry IV Part I)
“Give the devil his due” — (Henry IV Part I)
“Good riddance” — (Troilus and Cressida)
“Jealousy is the green-eyed monster” — (Othello)
“Heart of gold” — (Henry V)
“Hoist with his own petard” — (Hamlet)
“Ill wind which blows no man to good” — (Henry IV Part II)
“In my heart of hearts” — (Hamlet)
“In my mind’s eye” — (Hamlet)
“Kill with kindness” — (The Taming of the Shrew)
“Knock knock! Who’s there?” — (Macbeth)
“Laughing stock” — (The Merry Wives of Windsor)
“Live long day” — (Julius Caesar)
“Love is blind” — (The Merchant of Venice)
“Milk of human kindness” — (Macbeth)
“More sinned against than sinning” — (King Lear)
“One fell swoop” — (Macbeth)
“Play fast and loose” — (King John)
“Set my teeth on edge” — (Henry IV Part I)
“Wear my heart upon my sleeve” — (Othello)
“Wild-goose chase” — (Romeo and Juliet)