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What's So Special About Shakespeare?

Published by Candlewick on 2018-03-06
Paperback: £5.01

Michael Rosen’s lively exploration of Shakespeare, reissued in an accessible new format for young middle-grade readers.

More than four hundred years after William Shakespeare’s death, his name is known in every corner of the world. Why? Celebrated poet, critic, and Shakespeare enthusiast Michael Rosen answers that question with humor, knowledge, and appreciation, offering a whirlwind tour of Shakespeare’s life, his London, and four of his plays: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth, King Lear, and The Tempest.

(Paperback, 2018-03-06)
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ASIN: 0763699950
ISBN: 9780763699956
EAN: 9780763699956



Book cover For novels: minor spoilers are fine, and kind of necessary in order to discuss the book; but do avoid huge spoilers like giving away the ending!
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MICHAEL ROSEN illustrated by SARAH NAYLER What's So Special About Shakespeare'

Text copyright ? 2001, 2007 by Michael Rosen Illustrations copyright ? 2007 by Sarah Nayler All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in an information retrieval system in any form or by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, taping, and recording, without prior written permission from the publisher. Second U.S. edition 2018 Originally published as Shakespeare: His Work and His World Library of Congress Catalog Card Number pending ISBN 978-0-7636-9994-9 (hardcover) ISBN 978-0-7636-9995-6 (paperback) 17 18 19 20 21 22 BVG 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Printed in Berryville, VA, U.S.A. This book was typeset in ITC Usherwood. The illustrations were done in pen and ink. Candlewick Press 99 Dover Street Somerville, Massachusetts 02144 visit us at

For Harold and Connie, who introduced me to Shaks M. R. 'Alas, poor Tim, he knows me well!' S. N.

Liberty! Freedom! Tyranny is dead! Run hence, proclaim, cry it about the streets. Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 1

Plot! 1598 ? 1 What's So Special About Shakespeare? ? 6 Extraordinary and Dangerous Times ? 12 Shakespeare: The Facts ? 30 Stratford and School ? 40 London ? 46 Theater in the Making ? 53 The New Theaters ? 62 Shakespeare at Work ? 70 A Midsummer Night's Dream ? 78 Macbeth ? 82 King Lear ? 86 The Tempest ? 94 The Drama of Shakespeare ? 100 The Will ? 111 The Legacy ? 117 Time Line ? 127 Bibliography ? 141 Index ? 143 Contents

Plot! 1598 ILondon, t's the middle of the night on the edge of a few days after Christmas Day 1598. The River Thames is frozen over. Snow is falling; the roofs of the timbered houses and the nearby fi elds are white with it. Four buildings stand higher than the nearby houses, shops, bowling alleys, gambling houses, and taverns ? a windmill, a church, and two theaters. One of the theaters is called the Curtain, and the other simply the Theatre. They are tall wooden buildings that have only been there for ten years or so but in that time, their walls have shaken to the sounds of swords clashing in fencing matches, actors crying of murder or lost love, and audiences roaring with laughter.

What's So Special About Shakespeare? But tonight sixteen men are pulling down the Theatre. Two of them are brothers. They run a company of actors who put on plays, and with them there's a builder and his workmen. As the men hurry with their work, it's clear that what's going on is secret and must be done as quickly as possible. Throughout the night the workmen load timbers onto wagons.

Plot! 1598 Two strangers arrive and start quizzing them. The workmen lie and say they are only taking down the parts of the building that are decaying. Really, they are dismantling the whole theater and taking it somewhere else. It's a risky business because if it can be proved that they are stealing, they will all be hanged and their severed heads put on show.

What's So Special About Shakespeare? But before long the men are taking the timbers across London Bridge to Southwark, where the theater will be rebuilt and become known as one of the world's most famous theaters: the Globe. Those two theaters on the edge of London were where the fi rst plays of William Shakespeare were put on. But Shakespeare wasn't the kind of writer who sent off his plays and sat around hoping someone might perform them. He was an actor who worked in the same company as those men who dismantled the Theatre, and what's more, he was one of the new owners of the Globe. In the more than four hundred years since then, he has become one of the world's most famous writers.

Plot! 1598

What's So Special About Shakespeare? W atching Shakespeare's plays is like being invited into a house full of amazing rooms. Go through a door at the top of the house, and you will meet a ghost walking the battlements of a castle at night. You will hear him telling a young man that he is the ghost of his father, the old king. What's more, the ghost reveals that he was murdered by his own brother. And then the ghost says: If thou didst ever thy dear father love? . . . Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder. Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 5 What will the young man do'

What's So Special About Shakespeare'

What's So Special About Shakespeare? But the girl has secretly married another But the girl has secretly married another man. What's going to happen? Walk through a different door and you will come across a rich man yelling at his daughter because she won't marry the man he has chosen for her. He shouts: An* you be mine, I'll give you to my friend. An you be not, hang, beg, starve, die in the streets . . . Romeo and Juliet, Act 3, Scene 5 *An: If

What's So Special About Shakespeare? Will they do it? Will they do it? If they do, will they get away with it? Move along into another room, and a group of men dressed in the clothes of Ancient Rome are working out how they are going to murder the increasingly powerful ruler: And, gentle friends, Let's kill him boldly, but not wrathfully. Let's carve him as a dish fi t for the gods, Not hew him as a carcass fi t for hounds. Julius Caesar, Act 2, Scene 1

What's So Special About Shakespeare? And out in the yard of the house, a bunch of silly people have come up with a great practical joke. They've tricked a stuffy, mean-minded man into thinking that the sad, beautiful lady of the house has fallen in love with him. He is reading what he thinks is a love letter to him from the lady. He says: . . . for every reason excites to this, that my lady loves me . . . I thank my stars, I am happy. Twelfth Night, Act 2, Scene 5

11 What's So Special About Shakespeare? But the letter's a forgery, written by the bunch of silly people now watching him while he reads. What will happen the next time the stuffy man meets the lady? There are lots more amazing rooms, and if you go into them, you will fi nd trial scenes, battles, love potions, cruel kings, civil wars, assassinations, riots, witches, fairies, jesters, and even a statue that comes to life. You will also meet people with deep and powerful emotions ? wild jealousy, crazed hunger for power, terrible sadness, great happiness, sneering contempt. All this may sound extraordinary, but Shakespeare lived in extraordinary and dangerous times.

Extraordinary and Dangerous Times SShakespeare o what was it like in England when was writing? These were dangerous times ? even for a writer! A few years earlier, one of the most famous playwrights of the day, Christopher Marlowe, had been stabbed to death during a fi ght. Another playwright, Ben Jonson, had killed someone and managed to get off with nothing more than having his left thumb branded, supposedly with a 'T? for Tyburn ? the place where he'd be executed if he was caught again. And, strange as it may seem, these were especially dangerous times if you were the king or queen.

13 Extraordinary and Dangerous Times When James was king, a man named Guy Fawkes and his friends tried to blow him up in the Houses of Parliament. Shakespeare lived under two monarchs: Elizabeth I and James I. Elizabeth was imprisoned in the Tower of London by her half sister. Her father, Henry VIII, had ordered her mother beheaded, and Elizabeth herself ordered the execution of her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots. Queen of Scots.

14 What's So Special About Shakespeare? Shakespeare lived at a time when ordi nary people didn't choose who ruled over them. Countries were ruled by someone who claimed that he (or, very rarely, she) had a right to rule because they belonged to a particular family. The people in this family would say there was a 'royal line? that went back and back that proved that they were the 'true? rulers. Many ordinary people looked up to these monarchs almost as if they were gods. But in Britain several families claimed that they were the 'true? rulers, and you have to remember that such families were rich enough to raise armies against one another. This meant that civil war ? war between people in the same country ? was always possible. Every year, there was news of plots and rebellions.

15 Extraordinary and Dangerous Times There was also a big war with Spain, and bloody battles raged in Ireland and Holland. Shakespeare wrote plays about the powerful families ? the lords and dukes and princes ? who wanted to rule England. In these plays, and in others set in Ancient Rome, we watch exciting scenes of civil wars, battles, rebellions, poor people's riots, conspiracies, and wars between countries. And while all this is going on, the characters often discuss what makes a good ruler. What if your ruler was no good? Would it be right to get rid of him or her and put someone else in their place? Who should decide that? Should that be an argument left to the great families who had always ruled? Some of the people who thought they should have a say were people with no royal line but who had

16 What's So Special About Shakespeare? money and power. It was only thirty-three years after Shakespeare died that such people would have the King's head chopped off and then choose a ruler, Oliver Cromwell, who had no royal lineage and who didn't even call himself a king! In Shakespeare's time people's lives were structured around religion in a way they're not today. Nearly everyone in Britain described themselves as Christian, but whereas there had once been only one Christian Church, there were now many. And wherever one kind of Christian gained control, they nearly always ended up trying to imprison or kill off the other kinds. All over Europe, people were fi ghting huge bloody battles and civil wars against one another.

17 Extraordinary and Dangerous Times In England the trouble involved the ruling family, the Tudors. When the Tudor monarch was a Roman Catholic, Protestants were persecuted, arrested, and sometimes burned at the stake. And when Elizabeth I ? a Protestant ? came to the throne, it was extremely dangerous to be a Roman Catholic. Elizabeth had one hundred and twenty-three Catholic priests executed. Protestants also fought one another. Some, nicknamed 'Puritans? and 'Quakers,' were inventing a whole new way of life and preaching an end to high living, fun and games, gambling, sports, drinking, overeating, and street festivals. Shakespeare came across these people not only as refugees from Holland but also

18 What's So Special About Shakespeare? as the new rulers of the city of London, who had the power to close theaters and ban plays. Small wonder we catch a glimpse of one or two unpleasant Puritans in his plays! In some parts of Europe, Roman Catholics were in power; in others, Protestants. So the discussions over who should be king and what makes a good ruler were intertwined in Shakespeare's lifetime with questions about the right way to be a Christian.

19 Extraordinary and Dangerous Times Shakespeare lived amid all this political and religious talk. But it wasn't all talk. There was a lot of plotting and spying and murdering going on as well. You often fi nd people in his plays talking about the making and breaking of kings, as well as treachery and treason: Peace, impudent and shameless Warwick, peace! Proud setter-up and puller-down of kings! Henry VI, Part 3, Act 3, Scene 3 Shakespeare would have known that if you backed the wrong man, you could end up stabbed to death or executed. What's more, with the streets full of soldiers and ex-soldiers, there was always someone around who knew a lot about killing:

What's So Special About Shakespeare? . . . when the searching eye of heaven is hid Behind the globe, that lights the lower world, Then thieves and robbers range abroad unseen In murders and in outrage bloody here . . . Richard II, Act 3, Scene 2 But these dangerous times were also times of great change. Explorers were heading off all around the globe, bringing back the knowledge, among other things, that the earth was round, and not fl at.

21 Extraordinary and Dangerous Times The people of England and Europe now knew that there were many different countries in the world, and that vast amounts of money could be made if you came back to England with valuable cargo. Just after Shakespeare was born, John Hawkins found another way to make money: kidnapping people from West Africa, taking them across the Atlantic Ocean, and selling them in the Caribbean as slaves. In one of Shakespeare's plays we see a slave arguing for the right to live on his own land: This island's mine, by Sycorax my mother, Which thou tak'st from me. When thou cam'st fi rst, Thou strok'st me and made much of me, wouldst give me Water with berries in 't . . . The Tempest, Act 1, Scene 2

22 What's So Special About Shakespeare? And he goes on to complain: . . . and here you sty me In this hard rock, whiles you do keep from me The rest o? th? island. The Tempest, Act 1, Scene 2 We also see Shakespeare's characters realizing just how powerful money is. Two daughters turn against their own father because of their greed; a rich merchant nearly loses his life when he loses his money; and a nobleman despairs when he sees what evil things people will do for gold. He calls gold a yellow slave: This yellow slave Will knit and break religions . . . Timon of Athens, Act 4, Scene 3 Then he says it will turn thieves into lords and then politicians will approve of them.

23 Extraordinary and Dangerous Times Extraordinary and Dangerous Times Some other people in Shakespeare's time were bringing new plants and animals from around the world to Europe. Some were

24 What's So Special About Shakespeare? studying languages, reading books from Ancient Greece and Rome, and reading new books from Italy and France. Exploration and discovery were made easier in Shakespeare's time by a revolution in how people communicated with one another. In England and Wales a hundred years earlier, most of the people who could read and write worked in the Church. Now, more and more people were getting an education. Many could read, even if they couldn't write. Jokes, stories, poetry, plays, and ideas about politics were all appearing in print. You could fi nd them written down in pamphlets, on single sheets of paper sold by ballad sellers and, of course, in books. All this meant that information was no longer something that you had to remember.

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