When Did Shakespeare Write His Plays?
William Shakespeare (1564-1616), widely regarded as the world’s greatest poet, playwright and actor is believed to have written his 34 plays between 1589 and 1613. His first play is thought to have been Henry VI and his last two were probably The Tempest and Henry VIII. In 1594, Shakespeare was a member of the Lord Chamberlain’s company of players which performed nearly all the time in London.
When James I succeeded to the throne in 1603, he took the company under his patronage as the King’s Men. They played at the Globe Theatre, Bankside, which was burned down in June 1613 during a performance of Henry VIII. In 1611, Shakespeare left London and lived the life of a retired gentleman in his native Warwickshire town of Stratford-on-Avon.
He is often called England’s national poet and the “Bard of Avon”. His extant works, including collaborations, consist of approximately 39 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems and a few other verses, some of uncertain authorship. His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright.
Around 230 years after Shakespeare’s death, doubts began to be expressed about the authorship of the works attributed to him. Proposed alternative candidates include Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, and Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. Several “group theories” have also been proposed. Only a small minority of academics believes there is reason to question the traditional attribution, but interest in the subject, particularly the Oxfordian theory of Shakespeare authorship, continues into the 21st century.
Shakespeare produced most of his known work between 1589 and 1613. His early plays were primarily comedies and histories, which are regarded as some of the best work ever produced in these genres. He then wrote mainly tragedies until about 1608, including Hamlet, Othello, King Lear and Macbeth, considered some of the finest works in the English language. In his last phase, he wrote tragicomedies, also known as romances and collaborated with other playwrights.
Many of his plays were published in editions of varying quality and accuracy during his lifetime. However, in 1623 John Heminges and Henry Condell, two friends and fellow actors of Shakespeare, published a more definitive text known as the First Folio, a posthumous collected edition of his dramatic works that included all but two of the plays now recognised as Shakespeare’s. It was prefaced with a poem by Ben Jonson, in which Shakespeare is hailed, presciently, as “not of an age, but for all time”.
In the 20th and 21st centuries, his works have been repeatedly adapted and rediscovered by new movements in scholarship and performance. His plays remain highly popular and are constantly studied, performed, and reinterpreted in diverse cultural and political contexts throughout the world.