A&E produces excellent documentaries in their Biography series, and their recently released biography of William Shakespeare is no exception. Narrated by Jack Perkins, this audio book features excerpts from Royal Shakespeare Company performances, Laurence Olivier's Hamlet, and other readings, as well as commentary by Shakespeare scholars who contribute fresh insights to Shakespeare's life and times.
As with any biography, A&E begins with Shakespeare's childhood. His well-to-do and prominent family afforded him a good education which was deeply grounded in Latin and classical literature, which would influence plays such as Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, and Coriolanus. The biography also discussed other early influences that helped to shape his career as a playwright and actor.
Of course, there is also what is known as "the lost years," in which practically nothing is known about Shakespeare's life at that time. This is where the Shakespeare scholars come in - they speculate on various theories of what he was doing during these years.
Of course, Shakespeare's family life is mentioned. His wife, Anne Hathaway, was eight years his senior, and she became pregnant with their daughter Susanna before they were married. After Susanna came twins Hamnet and Judith. All of his family at some point or another influenced Shakespeare's work, as Biography discusses in depth. His marriage was not believed to be very happy, based on how marriages are portrayed in his plays. The death of son Hamnet in 1596 ended the Shakespeare lineage, and in his grief, Shakespeare produced one of his greatest plays - Hamlet. Some of Shakespeare's later plays were believed to be based on the relationship he had with his daughters: King Lear, The Tempest, Pericles, The Winter's Tale, and Cymbeline.
Little is known about Shakespeare's early years in London, and again scholars propose theories on what he may have been doing at the time. They also speculate on his patron, the Earl of Southhampton, for whom Shakespeare wrote his poems Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece. The earl is also believed to be the subject of some of Shakespeare's sonnets. The interesting nature of their relationship is also discussed.
Biography discusses some of the other influences in Shakespeare's plays, most notably, the outbreaks of the plague that would cause all the theatres to go on hiatus from time to time.
Of course, no Shakespearean biography would be complete without a mention of the Globe, which became the most prominent theatre in London and secured Shakespeare's wealth. His career also ended with the destruction of the Globe in a fire in 1613, during a performance of Henry VIII.
Biography ends with discussing the legacy that Shakespeare left behind. He contributed more to the English language than anyone, using upwards of 20,000 different words in his plays and sonnets. He died seven years before any of his work was ever published, but it was a good thing that it was, for perhaps he would've been one of those writers whose imprint on the literary world died with him. And what a loss that would've been for England and the world.
Biography: William Shakespeare was a delight to listen to. I already felt like I knew a great deal about Shakespeare's life, having studied him for years, but I learned some things about him that I did not know before.