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Who was William Shakespeare?
We know he looked something like this, but because he lived
so long ago we don't know a huge amount about his life.
But what we do know is that he is one of the greatest
writers of plays the world has ever known.
Shakespeare wrote plays about almost everything.
He wrote about funny things.
He wrote about scary things.
Macbeth. Macbeth. Macbeth.
He wrote about very sad things.
Death that hath sucked the honey of thy breath
Hath had no power yet upon thy beauty.
But in everything he wrote, William Shakespeare explored what
it's like to be a human being, what it's like to be alive.
And, even now, when we watch his plays,
we can learn a lot about our world and about ourselves.
William Shakespeare was born in the year 1564
in the town of Stratford upon Avon.
All those years ago it was just a small town
surrounded by countryside.
This is the farm just outside Stratford where William's mother,
Mary Arden, used to live when she was young.
When Mary grew up and married a man called John Shakespeare, they moved
here to this house in Henley Street, where Mary gave birth to William.
His father was bailiff, which is the equivalent of Mayor of Stratford,
which gave the Shakespeares a good social status in the town.
Aged seven, William went to school.
You had to go to school at 6am in the morning
during the summertime, and 7am during wintertime.
And you had two half days off, Thursdays and Saturdays,
and you had hardly any school holidays.
When he was 14 or 15, William Shakespeare left school.
Not long afterwards, he fell in love with Anne Hathaway,
who lived in this cottage.
She became pregnant, and in those days that meant
they had to get married.
Anne was 25 and William was just 18.
They had a first child,
and then a year later they had a set of twins, so Shakespeare
by the time he was 21 years old was the proud father of three children.
With a family to look after,
William needed to find a job so it seems he decided to become a writer.
He would have heard merchants coming back from London
arriving in Stratford
and saying there are amazing entertainments going on in London.
You can see these great stories, because that's at the heart
of Shakespeare's plays are great stories.
So Shakespeare came to London and London was this huge,
bustling place, and it would have been mucky and horrible and smelly.
But also it was the place where the Queen was
so that meant it was the palace and so there would have been
courtiers and soldiers in the street.
Certainly when he first came here, it would have been absolutely
strange and bewildering and amazing.
This was a world in which William Shakespeare could
use his great talents to earn him a living.
He worked as both a writer and a player - in those days actors
were called players and he was good at both of them.
But his plays were what began to set him apart from the crowd
and make him such a success because his plays were massive hits.
Shakespeare wrote the blockbuster films of his day and people
from all walks of life could enjoy them at places like this, the Globe.
But his success made some other writers jealous.
When he started writing some people were a bit
snobbish towards him.
They called him an "upstart crow",
which is quite a funny thing to call someone.
It was as if they were saying, "Who do you think you are writing plays?"
Shakespeare didn't care.
He continued to write brilliant plays like Romeo and Juliet,
plays that were enjoyed by everyone, rich or poor.
You'd only have to pay a penny to stand in the yard around the stage.
And you could fit about 1,500 people in the yard in those days.
Then as you move up, you probably pay a little bit more, and then
you pay another penny to get a cushion so you can sit comfortably.
And then you have these decorated boxes, the gentlemen's boxes.
Only gentry could sit in those boxes.
I see no more!
Audiences flocked to see plays like Macbeth,
the story of an ambitious and ruthless man who commits
ghastly murder so he can become all powerful.
What? There is this sound.
Today, more than 400 years later,
some people say they don't get Shakespeare
because the old words he sometimes uses are hard to understand.
Sometimes you think, "Well, what does that mean?"
But quite a lot of Shakespeare you get almost just from the feel of it.
Just think about Macbeth. He does these horrible things
and he goes, "Tomorrow and..."
.."creeps in this petty pace..."
"..until the last syllable of recorded time."
And you might think, "What's a petty pace?
"And what's the last syllable?"
But we can feel his misery and then maybe some of those difficult
words and phrases like petty pace we can fill in later.
It is a tale told by an idiot...
..full of sound and fury, signifying nothing!
Those words were first spoken on a London stage in the year 1606.
Today, they can still be heard in theatres all over the world.
Shakespeare's plays have proved to be timeless.
William Shakespeare's amazing career came to an end in 1613.
It seems he became poorly, stopped writing and returned to Stratford.
He died in 1616.
He was just 52 years old but by Tudor standards
had lived quite a long life. He left behind 37 plays
and hundreds of poems and he was buried here
at the Church of the Holy Trinity.
Not everyone can be a William Shakespeare,
but everyone can have a go at writing a play.
Why not get together with your friends and give it a go?
It doesn't have to be very long just a few scenes that tell
a story that means something to you.
Remember what Shakespeare once wrote,
"To thine own self be true, and it must follow,
"as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man."
He's showing off now.
To help us learn more about William Shakespeare and his plays
we need to go back in time to more than four centuries ago.
Shakespeare was born, grew up and started working
when Elizabeth I was Queen of England.
Elizabeth was the last monarch of the period of history
we call the Tudor age.
The Tudor Age was a great voyage of discovery.
There was new discoveries of new lands
and therefore new wealth pouring into the country.
Shakespeare would have been aware of these new discoveries.
This is a pocket atlas printed in 1603.
It's the sort of book William would have had access to every day.
You can almost imagine him
flicking through the pages, deciding where to set his next play.
Perhaps he would choose somewhere like Verona or Sicily.
It must have been very exciting times.
They were exciting times but dangerous, too,
because people argued violently about religious beliefs.
England had stopped being a Roman Catholic country
and become a Protestant one.
Everybody had to go to church on a Sunday.
If you didn't you were fined
because if you didn't, it was thought you were a Roman Catholic,
and if you were a Roman Catholic in Shakespeare's time, there was
a possibility that you were an enemy of the state.
But even though people were told what religion to believe in,
that didn't mean Elizabethans gave up old ideas and superstitions.
People talk about good luck and bad luck.
In Shakespeare's time, people would have really believed
that you could have bad luck and you would have bad luck
because you had done something that offended the spirits.
The most famous of those spirits was a naughty hobgoblin called
Robin Goodfellow, also known as Puck.
He messes things up in A Midsummer Night's Dream
and is told off by Oberon, king of the fairies.
I go. I go.
What happens to Romeo and Juliet tells us
something else about the beliefs shared by Tudor people.
Romeo and Juliet were the star-crossed lovers
and the story of their short lives was written across the night sky.
In plenty of Shakespeare's plays you have the idea that what's
going on has been scripted before, that's to say that the
people are doing things because something else is in charge.
We might call that destiny, we might call it fate.
And never from this palace of dim night...
So in Romeo and Juliet, yes, it is their fate to die
and you have a sense it is their destiny, that it is going to happen.
Here will I set up my everlasting rest
And shake the yoke of inauspicious stars from this world wearied flesh.
Eyes look your last...
Most people probably believed in ghosts of some sort or another.
Whether they believed that you could actually see the ghost or
the ghost was present, that's quite an interesting debate,
it happens in quite a few of Shakespeare's plays.
Macbeth kills King Duncan
and then pays murderers to kill his friend Banquo.
Afterwards he is haunted by Banquo's ghost and driven almost mad.
You cannot say I did it!
-Never shake they gory locks at me!
His Highness is not well.
Not only does Macbeth kill a king he also comes face to face
They seem to predict that Macbeth is destined for greatness,
which encourages him to commit dreadful murders
but the predictions are not quite what they seem.
The clever trickery of the witches leads him to his own death
when Macduff fights him and cuts his head off.
Hail, King of Scotland!
Did people believe in witches?
Well, yes, they were persecuting witches in Shakespeare's time
because they believed that the woman
at the end of the street because she was a bit old or because she had
said something the wrong way, was a witch and she had power over you.
Hubble bubble, toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble...
Shakespeare enjoyed exploring old ideas and new ideas -
and his genius weaved them into something very special.
He was a fantastic story teller.
He knew how to make people gasp, he knew how to make people laugh
just by standing and sitting in a theatre like this. So you would sit
here or stand over there, look at the play and go, "That's a ghost!"
What? There is this sound!
Or someone would come on and do some mucking around of some sort...
..and you would laugh, you would weep with laughter.
Then other times, say in a play like Romeo and Juliet,
you would be crying, you would be desperate.
And let me die.
In Shakespeare's plays all these ideas are there.
You've got witches and fairies and ghosts and people
cursing each other and a new kind of theatre is being invented.
Eye of newt and toe of frog
Wool of bat and tongue of dog...
Suppose you are living in Shakespeare's time
and writing about witches.
Could you come up with a spell like that one?
What would you put in your cauldron?
Could you list all the things just as Shakespeare did
and write them down in a poem?
And if you have a vision of the future in which Ricky becomes
a powerful king.
Don't bother telling me because I like my head.
I'm rather attached to it.
What was it like going to the theatre
when William Shakespeare was writing plays?
And so everyone according to his cue.
We can take a pretty good guess because, here in London,
is a reconstruction of the Globe Theatre, the theatre
Shakespeare himself helped to pay for when it was built in 1599.
In Shakespeare's time more than 200,000 people
lived in London.
20,000 of them would go to the theatre every week,
despite the weather, which gives you an idea of how popular it was.
Even in the wind and the rain, it didn't matter
if you were rich or poor - everybody wanted to go to the theatre
because it was the most exciting entertainment of its day.
See how she leans her cheek upon her hand.
That I were a glove upon that hand that I might touch that cheek.
Theatres were open to the elements
but even if it snowed, plays made fantastic things seem real.
Londoners couldn't get enough of it.
-So here we are.
-This is The Globe.
-Bigger than you thought?
-Amazing, isn't it?
In Shakespeare's day it may have held up to 3,000 people.
Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind.
And therefore is winged cupid painted blind.
We have 600, 700 people standing in this yard, there's
a fantastic atmosphere, because when you stand you have all this energy.
That's why children sit at desks at school, to stop them having energy,
so when you stand you've got quite an uncontrollable energy, so people
didn't stand like this as if they were at church, they moved around.
And they allowed their emotions to go.
Just like the modern theatre, how comfortable you were and what sort
of view you had depended on how much money you could afford to spend.
Who would be down here?
Shakespeare called them the groundlings and they paid
a penny and they stood on the ground they were ground-ling.
That was the cheapest place,
probably the equivalent of £6 or £7 today, so even cheaper
than going to the cinema, so this was real popular entertainment.
It was like a game. It was a play house, it was a house for play.
So it was quite cool
Sometimes in theatres you see classes of children
and they're thinking, "How can I get out without my teacher noticing?"
In Shakespeare's day it was,
"How can I get IN without my teacher noticing?"
Who else would be filling the seats in the theatre?
As you went higher up you paid more money.
At the top you were actually removed from the smelly yard.
Sometimes the groundlings were called penny stinkards,
so the higher you went, the higher you were in society.
But the most expensive seats were up there,
what we call the lords' rooms.
The audience were allowed to sit behind the stage?
Wouldn't they just get the view of an actor's head?
They might do but the point is they could be seen.
-They were showing off!
-There was a bit of showing off.
All the actors who worked at the Globe
were known as the Lord Chamberlain's Men when Elizabeth I was alive.
When she died and James VI of Scotland became James I of England,
they changed their name to the King's Men.
And that's the thing - they were just men, all of them.
Women didn't act in Shakespeare's day - it was thought to be
unladylike and just not done.
But that meant all the women's parts were played by men.
So how did the men play women's parts?
Well, I'm about to find out.
We need to sit you down first of all.
The stockings will fall down if we don't add something to them.
They've got no elastic.
A cross-garter. Under your knee, over the knee
and then ties on.
-A pair of shoes.
These are deerskin with a pattern on them.
One of the shape-changers.
It actually gives you a false figure.
It's not very feminine.
-This is bizarre!
-Hips and bum.
-Hips and bum.
OK, give me my bum.
-This will make a conical shape.
We've got a petticoat going on.
This is called a partlet.
It's got a bit of lace trimming on it.
Waistcoat. Sounds manly.
Oh, my goodness!
You've been working out, haven't you?
You can get away with using this.
I think it will create the look.
There you go.
I'm dying to see how I look.
It's not a perfect fit.
It's not. I'm not sure about the hat.
I think I'd prefer a wig.
Just like today when we watch TV and movies,
Shakespeare's audiences wanted to see amazing things happen.
For I must now to Oberon.
If you're sitting somewhere like where we are now, you can't
really see that there's a trap door in the ceiling.
When shall we three meet again?
You can't really see that there's a trap door in the floor.
So if some devils emerge from the hell area underneath the stage,
they'd emerge with a puff of smoke and loud banging noises.
Or you might see a god being lowered from the stage canopy and that
would be quite spectacular as well, with fantastic costumes and make-up.
Shakespeare's plays at the Globe were as much about showmanship
and excitement as they were about beautiful writing and great stories.
The amazing thing about Shakespeare is we've got these great big books
full of plays and I sometimes think it's like you've got a special
magnifying glass where you can look into this time in the past and see
how people thought and behaved. You can come to a place like this
and see it acted out in front of you.
Hail, King of Scotland!
-Hail, King of Scotland!
I think it's pure magic.
Suppose you were creating a theatre in Shakespeare's time.
What would it look like? How would the actors appear and disappear?
What other special effects would you have?
Why not give it a go?
Grab some paper and a pencil and, just like Shakespeare,
let your imagination rip.
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
Shakespeare wrote the play Romeo and Juliet early in his career.
It was one of his most popular plays throughout his lifetime.
First performed in London in the winter of 1594,
it's the story of young lovers who are doomed to die.
My true love is grown to such excess I cannot sum up half my worth...
I find sometimes when I watch Romeo and Juliet I feel so sad.
For never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet
and her Romeo.
Because I think at the heart of it is a girl who is brave
And she's prepared to do things even though everybody has told her
that she mustn't because she loves somebody.
The saints do not move though grant for prayer's sake.
Then move not, while my prayer's effect I take.
They are from opposing families in Verona,
the Montagues and the Capulets are at daggers drawn.
And Romeo and his friends gatecrash a Capulet party.
What lady's that which did enrich the hand of yonder knight?
Where he sees Juliet and falls in love at first sight.
Ah, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!
Romeo's a bit older and they decide secretly to get married.
Come, come with me
and we will make short work for by your leaves you shall not
..till holy church incorporates two in one.
Romeo fights with Juliet's cousin, Tybalt, and he's banished,
but not before he manages to spend his wedding night with Juliet
and leaves in the early hours of the morning.
She's forced into another marriage to a man she doesn't
want to marry by her father.
And she agrees to do this but manages to escape
through taking a potion, which makes it look like she's died.
She's buried in the family vault.
Romeo, in his banishment, hears that she's died,
comes back, intends to kill himself, sees his dead Juliet.
He thinks she's dead, kills himself.
She wakes up, finds Romeo dead, and kills herself.
The families come back together again
because they are so devastated at the waste of young life.
I will raise her statue in pure gold that
while Verona is by that name known, there shall no figure at such
rate be set as that of true and faithful Juliet.
So this is a play about what should young people be allowed to do.
Tell me, daughter, Juliet.
So part of it is to say, it's the older people,
the mums and dads in the play, who are wrong
because they try to control the feelings of their children.
Therefore stay yet.
Here's a challenge for you.
Suppose you're a 21st-century news reporter
in the time of Romeo and Juliet.
How would you tell their story?
Pretend you're writing it for the Newsround website.
You'll need to get all the background of the Montagues
not getting on with the Capulets
and explain how it ends in the terrible deaths of the young lovers.
Come up with a grabby headline - something like...
Or maybe love story ends in teen tragedy?
Or that. Have fun.
-It's really good.
-It's very important how you deliver...
A Midsummer Night's Dream was much loved by Tudor audiences
and it was a massive hit.
It was fast and funny and a brilliant example of what
we would call today a romantic comedy or a romcom.
It also took place in a world which lots of Tudor people really
believed in, a world of sprites and fairies,
some of whom loved nothing more than playing practical jokes on humans.
In A Midsummer Night's Dream there are four lovers.
But it's all a bit confusing.
Demetrius loves Hermia but Hermia loves Lysander.
Hermia's dad wants her to marry Demetrius
but Hermia has other ideas.
This makes Hermia's dad really cross
and he goes to complain to the Duke about Lysander.
Lysander does not want to know and comes up with his own solution.
Then there's Helena.
Helena was engaged to Demetrius but Demetrius dumped her.
But unfortunately Helena is still madly in love with Demetrius
and Lysander knows this.
Hermia and Lysander decide to make a break for it
so they run off into the woods together.
Anyway, before all of this happened, Oberon, king of the fairies
and his wife, Titania, have an enormous row and Oberon
decides to play a trick on Titania.
He orders his hobgoblin Puck to prepare for some magic.
Fetch me that flower.
I'll put a girdle round about the earth in 40 minutes!
Now it gets even more complicated
because there are some other people in the woods.
This is a group of working men who are planning to put on a play
and deciding who will play all the parts.
One of these men is called...
Nick Bottom, the weaver.
Ready. Name what part I am for, and proceed.
You, Nick Bottom, are set down for Pyramus.
What is Pyramus?
Oberon overhears Helena saying how sad she is that Demetrius
doesn't love her and he decides to help her out.
With the magic potion made from the special flower
he can help Demetrius change his mind.
Unfortunately, Puck makes a right mess of it and puts
the potion on Lysander's eyes who then falls in love with Helena.
Oberon puts the potion on Demetrius' eyes and he realises he is madly
in love with Helena - so now she's got both of them chasing her.
Have you not set Lysander to follow me and praise my eyes and face?
And made your other love, Demetrius...
And then, to keep Oberon happy,
Puck gives Nick Bottom a donkey's head.
Then Oberon puts some of the love potion on Titania's eyes
so when she wakes up
and sees Nick Bottom with a donkey's head, she falls in love with him.
It is a complete mess but Oberon
starts to feel sorry for Titania so he breaks the spell
that he put on her to make her
fall in love with Bottom, and he orders Puck to make everything right.
Oh, and by the way, Nick Bottom is turned back into a man again.