Prompt 1—Shakespeare Essay Argumentative Essay Essay Checklist: 1. Did I write an introduction with a hook, a claim, and three reasons? 2. Do I have 2-3 body paragraphs explaining each reason for my claim? 3. Do I have a conclusion that summarizes my main points and emphasizes my main lesson? 4. Does each paragraph have 3-7 sentences? 5. Did I include textual support with citations from sources? 6. Did I proofread for errors in grammar and spelling? 7. Did I list or cite my sources in correct MLA format? 8. Did you use a mainly academic tone, with one or two conversational phrases for effect?
***4 WORKS (SOURCES) CITED***
Write or present a convincing argument with supporting textual evidence from the texts in the course, as well as others of your own choosing, as to why Shakespeare still matters or does not matter. Explain whether his writing reflects the human condition or not. Is Shakespearean literature still relatable today? Explain with reasons and textual evidence.
If writing: In an essay, convince your audience as to why Shakespeare still matters or does not matter. Does his writing reflect the human condition today? Explain your ideas clearly with two to three reasons why Shakespeare still is or is not important today.
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READ: Emilia gazed out her window at the sparkling sapphire waters of the Mediterranean Sea. On most days, looking out onto the deep blue sea and thinking about the mysteries unfolding beyond their waves made her feel exhilarated, but today she wanted the still waters to turn into angry waves to mirror the turbulence she felt within her heart. Tomorrow she would be wed. She knew she was supposed to feel happy and grateful. She remembered the joy her older sister felt the day before she was married in 1427, just a few years ago. On the other hand, she also knew the despair Maria had felt since her wedding day. She took a deep breath and ranted at the sea.
“I do not understand why I have to do this. Didn’t Mama and Papa learn anything from the mistake they made with Maria, and don’t they see how unhappy she is? Why don’t they care? Bittersweet memories flood my mind as I stand in this spot. Maria and I huddled close together at this same window, staring out at the sea and dreaming about her future. We had not yet met Alfonzo, Maria’s betrothed, but Papa and Mama told us he was a wealthy merchant from a respected family. They heard he was very handsome and generous and kind to his mother, and they swore he would be a perfect match for Maria.
“I feel so foolish to think about how giddy we felt imagining what Maria’s life would be like once she was married. She would be the lady of her own household, free to do as she pleased. That is to say, she would finally have the chance to do what we both desired more than anything else. She would finally be able to see what lay beyond the vast Mediterranean Sea as she traveled the world at her new husband’s side. But, in reality, after Maria became Alfonzo’s wife, her world became smaller. Yes, Alfonzo travels all the time, but he never takes Maria with him. Instead, he leaves her to care for his mother, and Maria has to do everything according to the old woman’s rules. From how she decorates their home to how she raises their children, Maria has no power to make any decisions on her own. It was not the life our parents had been promised for their daughter, but it was too late.”
After the family had learned the truth about Alfonzo, Emilia begged her father to let her choose a husband for herself, but he rejected her plea. “That is not how the world works, my child,” he explained. “Although your happiness means everything to me, I have no sons to carry on our family name. It is the responsibility of my daughters to make connections with the right people so that our family tree can continue to blossom and thrive.”
Emilia did not think her sister was thriving. On the contrary, Maria was wilting in front of their eyes. Every time Emilia saw her sister, she seemed smaller and quieter. When her father announced that Emilia, too, would marry a man she had never met, her heart shrank with fear that her life would turn out like Maria’s had.
Meanwhile, Emilia’s wedding day was almost here, and there was nothing she could do to change her future. Emilia mused to the salty sea air. “Mama and Papa have promised that Diego is different than Alfonzo. For instance, Diego makes his swords nearby, and he must stay in town to run his shop, so he will not sail away and leave me alone. But how am I to know that he will not invent another reason to abandon me with our children? They say that he is kind and, as an illustration, they recall tales told by his apprentices about his patience and generosity, but that does not prove that he will be kind and patient with a woman. There is so much about this arrangement that I do not understand, yet there is nothing I can do to stop it. I must send my fears out into the sea and accept my fate as Diego’s wife. I do not know if Diego will be a good husband, but he may be. I must remember that I am not Maria, and he is not Alfonzo.”
At the end of this declaration, Emilia closed her eyes, bowed her head, and stepped away from the window. She needed to get some rest. Her new life would begin tomorrow.
Please note: This is not a Shakespearean text, but highlights our theme of human love and emotion. It is organized within a stream-of-consciousness soliloquy style, which can be compared to the different Shakespearean styles and forms in other texts you have read in this course. Note the writer’s use of certain connecting words and phrases to help create meaning in this complex text.
In As You Like It, William Shakespeare wrote, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” Shakespeare would know, because he had firsthand experience of being such a “player.” Before writing the plays that would make him an icon, Shakespeare was an actor.
William Shakespeare is a frustrating man to study. He left behind no diary and no personal letters explaining how he went from a young man in the small town of Stratford-upon-Avon to being the world’s most famous playwright.
Historians know that in 1582, when he was 18 years old, Shakespeare married a woman named Anne Hathaway. Within three years, the couple had three children. Historians call the period after the wedding “the lost years” because we have no written records of how Shakespeare supported his new family. Suddenly, in 1592, he is mentioned as an “upstart” actor and playwright in a pamphlet written by a critic and dramatist named Robert Greene.
Somehow between 1582 and 1592, Shakespeare left his family in Stratford and established himself in the London theater scene. It is unlikely that Shakespeare left home on his own. At the time, actors needed to work for official acting companies, which were supported by rich patrons. Luckily for Shakespeare, these acting companies spent time traveling around England performing in towns like Stratford. They would stay and perform for a few nights or a week. Then they would pack up their costumes and move to the next town. Some scholars propose that Shakespeare joined a company called the Queen’s Men when they passed through Stratford in 1587. It just so happened that the leading actor of the Queen’s Men had died in a fight right before the performance in Stratford. They would have needed someone to fill in. Did a young Shakespeare volunteer? We don’t know for sure. If he did, Shakespeare would have accompanied them back to London.
In London in the late sixteenth century, plays were not a new form of entertainment. However, the theater itself was a new concept. Before the 1570s, plays were performed in public spaces like parks or in private homes. Actors earned money by passing around a hat after performances and asking for pennies. That all changed when James Burbage built the Theatre in London in 1576. Like modern theaters, the Theatre was a dedicated building for showing plays. These playhouses could charge admission, which guaranteed an income for actors and playwrights.
In the 1590s, Shakespeare performed with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, first at the Theatre and later at the Globe Theater. Though we don’t have any contemporary reviews that mention Shakespeare as a good or a bad actor, theatergoers in the 1590s were not quiet, polite audiences like today. If they disliked an actor on the stage, they spent the entire performance heckling him—all actors were men during this time—and even threw the apples and oranges sold in the theater at him. If Shakespeare were a poor actor, he would not have kept his job.
How did Shakespeare move from actor to playwright? Unlike contemporary Broadway theaters that show the same play every night for weeks or years, theaters in Elizabethan England were repertories. That means they performed a different show every night. On Friday audiences could see Romeo &Juliet, but Saturday might be Richard III. Theaters needed to get audiences to return to the theater regularly and keep handing over their pennies. Because of this system, acting companies performed around 40 plays a year—20 new plays and 20 popular plays from previous years. To fill the Globe, Shakespeare stepped up and started writing.
From the beginning, Shakespeare’s plays were a draw, filling seats in theaters and inspiring unofficial published versions of the texts. Did Shakespeare act in his own plays? He was listed as a principal player with his company even after he started writing, so probably, but we don’t know for sure which roles he played. He was not a leading actor. Therefore he may never have played his most famous characters, such as Macbeth or King Lear. Some historians believe that his last role was Hamlet’s father in Hamlet, written around the year 1600.
By that point, Shakespeare was involved in both the business and creative side of the theater. In addition to writing and acting, he was one of the managing partners of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men and a part-owner of the Globe Theater. These businesses, not publishing his plays, made Shakespeare wealthy. The plays weren’t collected and printed in the First Folio until 1623, seven years after his death.
Using Domain-Specific Language.
Domain-specific words are words and phrases that are used in a certain subject. Here are examples of domain-specific words from English class: theme, stanza, and thesis statement. Here are domain-specific words from “Shakespeare: More than a Playwright”:
- acting companies
- principal player
From Chapter 9: Claimants
There is an extraordinary—seemingly an insatiable —urge on the part of quite a number of people to believe that the plays of William Shakespeare were written by someone other than William Shakespeare. The number of published books suggesting—or more often insisting—as much is estimated now to be well over five thousand.
Shakespeare’s plays, it is held, so brim with expertise—on law, medicine, statesmanship, court life, military affairs, the bounding main, antiquity, life abroad—that they cannot possibly be the work of a single lightly educated provincial. The presumption is that William Shakespeare of Stratford was, at best, an amiable stooge, an actor who lent his name as cover for someone of greater talent, someone who could not, for one reason or another, be publicly identified as a playwright.
The controversy has been given respectful airing in the highest quarters. PBS, the American television network, in 1996 produced an hour-long documentary unequivocally suggesting that Shakespeare probably wasn’t Shakespeare. Harper’s Magazine and the New York Times have both devoted generous amounts of space to sympathetically considering the anti-Stratford arguments. The Smithsonian Institution in 2002 held a seminar titled “Who Wrote Shakespeare?” The best-read article in the British magazine History Today was one examining the authorship question. Even Scientific American entered the fray with an article proposing that the person portrayed in the famous Martin Droeshout engraving might actually be—I weep to say it—Elizabeth I. Perhaps the most extraordinary development of all is that Shakespeare’s Globe Theater in London—built as a monument for his plays and with aspirations to be a world-class study center—became, under the stewardship of the artistic director Mark Rylance, a kind of clearinghouse for anti-Stratford sentiment.
So it needs to be said that nearly all of the anti-Shakespeare sentiment—actually all of it, every bit—involves manipulative scholarship or sweeping misstatements of fact. Shakespeare “never owned a book,” a writer for the New York Times gravely informed readers in one doubting article in 2002. The statement cannot actually be refuted, for we know nothing about his incidental possessions. But the writer might just as well have suggested that Shakespeare never owned a pair of shoes or pants. For all the evidence tells us, he spent his life unclothed as well as bookless, but it is probable that what is lacking is the evidence, not the apparel or the books.
Daniel Wright, a professor at Concordia University in Portland, Oregon, and an active anti-Stratfordian, wrote in Harper’s Magazine that Shakespeare was “a simple, untutored wool and grain merchant” and “a rather ordinary man who had no connection to the literary world.” Such statements can only be characterized as wildly imaginative. Similarly, in the normally unimpeachable History Today, William D. Rubinstein, a professor at the University of Wales at Aberystwyth, stated in the opening paragraph of his anti-Shakespeare survey: “Of the seventy-five known contemporary documents in which Shakespeare is named, not one concerns his career as an author.”
That is not even close to being so. In the Master of the Revels’ accounts for 1604-1605—that is, the record of plays performed before the king, about as official a record as a record can be—Shakespeare is named seven times as the author of plays performed before James I. He is identified on the title pages as the author of the sonnets and in the dedications of two poems. He is named as author on several quarto editions of his plays, by Francis Meres in Palladis Tamia, and by Robert Greene in the Groat’s-Worth of Wit. John Webster identifies him as one of the great playwrights of the age in his preface to The White Devil.
The only absence among contemporary records is not of documents connecting Shakespeare to his works but of documents connecting any other human being to them. As the Shakespeare scholar Jonathan Bate has pointed out, virtually no one “in Shakespeare’s lifetime or for the first two hundred years after his death expressed the slightest doubt about his authorship.”