William Shakespeare

The Chandos portrait, artist and authenticity unconfirmed (National Portrait Gallery, London, currently on display at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.).

Born: April 1564 (exact date unknown)
Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England
Died: 23 April 1616
Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England
Occupation: Playwright, poet, actor

William Shakespeare (baptised 26 April 1564 – died 23 April 1616) was an English poet and playwright. He is widely regarded as the greatest writer of the English language and the world's preeminent dramatist. He wrote approximately 38 plays and 154 sonnets, as well as a variety of other poems. Already well-known in his lifetime, his fame grew considerably after his death and his work has been adulated by eminent figures through the centuries. He is often called England's national poet,the "Bard of Avon" (or simply "The Bard") or the "Swan of Avon".

Seer of Life

Literature mirrors life and Shakespeare is the supreme poet of life. England's greatest authority on Shakespeare, A.C. Bradley, observed: "...Shakespeare almost alone among poets seems to create in somewhat the same manner as Nature." His portrayal of the minutest details of human character and life is true to life “and it is just because he is truthful in these smaller things that in greater things we trust him absolutely never to pervert the truth for the sake of some doctrine or purpose of his own." [1]

Sri Aurobindo elevates Shakespeare to the status of a seer: “ itself takes hold of him in order to recreate itself in his image, and he sits within himself at its heart and pours out from its impulse a throng of beings, as real in the world he creates as men are in this other world... It is this sheer creative Ananda of the life-spirit which is Shakespeare... He is not primarily an artist, a poetical thinker or anything else of the kind, but a great vital creator and intensely, though within marked limits, a seer of life.” [2]

These quotations reveal clearly not only the content but also the method of Shakespeare’s revelation of life, and though we cannot expect other writers to compare with his genius, we can yet understand that which is true to life in their work as a momentary adherence to the same principles. The great artist of life does not see life through the mind and mentally translate his vision into understanding and understanding into literature. Rather he identifies with the force of life and lets it express itself through him. Mind comes in only to supply the outer form for this revelation, not the substance.

His works

Shakespeare produced most of his known work between 1589 and 1613, although the exact dates and chronology of the plays attributed to him are uncertain. He is one of the few playwrights considered to have excelled in both tragedy and comedy. His plays combine popular appeal and poetic grandeur with complex characterization and philosophical depth.

Shakespeare's plays tend to be placed into three main stylistic groups:

  • early romantic comedies and histories (such as A Midsummer Night's Dream and Henry IV, Part 1);
  • middle period romantic comedies and tragedies (including his most famous tragedies, Othello, Macbeth, Hamlet and King Lear, as well as "problem plays" such as Troilus and Cressida);
  • later romances (such as The Winter's Tale and The Tempest).

The earlier plays range from broad comedy to historical nostalgia. The middle-period plays have grander themes, addressing issues such as betrayal, murder, lust, power, and ambition. The late romances have redemptive plotlines with ambiguous endings and various fantastical elements.

His works have been a major influence on subsequent theatre and literature. Not only did Shakespeare create some of the most admired plays in Western literature(with Macbeth, Hamlet and King Lear being ranked among the world's greatest plays), he also transformed English theatre by expanding expectations about what could be accomplished through characterisation, plot, language, and genre. Specifically, in plays like Hamlet, Shakespeare "integrated characterisation with plot," such that if the main character was different in any way, the plot would be totally changed. In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare mixed tragedy and comedy together to create a new romantic tragedy genre (previous to Shakespeare, romance had not been considered a worthy topic for tragedy). Through his soliloquies, Shakespeare showed how plays could explore a character's inner motivations and conflict.

Shakespeare's works have been translated into every major living language, and his plays are continually performed all over the world. Shakespeare is the most quoted writer in the history of the English-speaking world and many of his quotations and neologisms have passed into everyday usage in English and other languages.


The complete works of William Shakespeare
Tragedies: Romeo and Juliet | Macbeth | King Lear | Hamlet | Othello | Titus Andronicus | Julius Caesar | Antony and Cleopatra | Coriolanus | Troilus and Cressida | Timon of Athens
Comedies: A Midsummer Night's Dream | All's Well That Ends Well | As You Like It | Cymbeline | Love's Labour's Lost | Measure for Measure | The Merchant of Venice | The Merry Wives of Windsor | Much Ado About Nothing | Pericles, Prince of Tyre | Taming of the Shrew | The Comedy of Errors | The Tempest | Twelfth Night, or What You Will | The Two Gentlemen of Verona | The Two Noble Kinsmen | The Winter's Tale
Histories: King John | Richard II | Henry IV, Part 1 | Henry IV, Part 2 | Henry V | Henry VI, part 1 | Henry VI, part 2 | Henry VI, part 3 | Richard III | Henry VIII
Poems and Sonnets: Sonnets | Venus and Adonis | The Rape of Lucrece | The Passionate Pilgrim | The Phoenix and the Turtle | A Lover's Complaint
Apocrypha and Lost Plays Edward III | Sir Thomas More | Cardenio (lost) | Love's Labour's Won (lost) | The Birth of Merlin | Locrine | The London Prodigal | The Puritan | The Second Maiden's Tragedy | Richard II, Part I: Thomas of Woodstock | Sir John Oldcastle | Thomas Lord Cromwell | A Yorkshire Tragedy | Fair Em | Mucedorus | The Merry Devil of Edmonton | Arden of Faversham | Edmund Ironside |Vortigern and Rowena


  1. A.C. Bradley, Shakespearean Tragedy, 2nd Edition, Macmillan & Co. Ltd., London, 1905, p. 168 and 195.
  2. Sri Aurobindo, The Future Poetry, Centenary Edition, p. 71.