Everyone knows that writers have borrowed from William Shakespeare. He was an influential man who inspired other writers in how they thought and wrote. As Shankar Raman stated, “Shakespeare is not only the world’s greatest artist but also the world’s best teacher.” People have learned much from him and continue to learn from him. Shakespeare’s contemporaries helped Shakespeare as much as Shakespeare helped them.
However, few people realize the influence Shakespeare’s contemporaries had on him. He was influenced greatly by writers of his time who had similar styles as him. As Shakespeare’s Contemporaries stated, “It is tempting, with our hindsight, to say that others borrowed from Shakespeare, but the truth is more likely that he borrowed as much as he gave.” Shakespeare probably would not have gotten the fame he had and has now if it were not for people who influenced him.
Also Lord Chamberlain’s men helped Shakespeare get where he was. When he joined they had already been together for a year and people liked them. They were successful, and they helped get Shakespeare started. Also actors in his plays helped make them great. Richard Burbage acted the main parts in many of his plays, and did them very well.
It is true that he was the greatest of his era, and the most influential, but there were many other writers of his era that deserve some of the credit he received, and his group the Lord Chamberlain’s men helped his become successful. William Shakespeare was a great writer who taught many people, but much of his popularity was because of his contemporaries, actors in his plays, and the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, who helped him get where he ended up.
Shakespeare wrote in the early seventeenth century in England, a setting that included many other great writers. He wrote both poetry and prose, as many other authors did. Many authors of the time borrowed from each other. The writers were very well acclaimed and some are still being read and praised by today’s audience. As William Hazlitt said, “Mr. Wordsworth says of Milton, that ‘his soul was like a star, and dwelt apart.’ This cannot be said with any propriety of Shakespeare, who certainly moved in a constellation of bright luminaries, and ‘drew after him a third part of the heavens.’ If we allow, for argument’s sake (or for truth’s which is better), that he was in himself equal to all his competitors put together; yet there was more dramatic excellence in that age than in the whole of the period that has elapsed since.” In other words, even though Shakespeare was greater than others of his time, he did not go out of his way to show it, and also his contemporaries were still great, and better than writers of many other periods of
Shakespeare’s contemporaries, such as Middletown, Deckar, and Chapman, were all great authors. Their influences can be seen in Shakespeare’s works. They helped him get to where he was. (Hazlitt). As William Hazlitt stated regarding Shakespeare’s contemporaries “The sweetness of Deckar, the thought of Marston, the gravity of Chapman, the grace of Fletcher and his young-eyed wit, Johnson’s learned stock, the flowing vein of Middleton, Heywood’s ease, the pathos of Webster, and Marlow’s deep designs, add a double luster to the sweetness, pathos, and sublime conceptions of Shakespeare’s muse. They are indeed the scale by which we can best ascend to the true knowledge and love of him.” During the seventeenth century, dramatists borrowed many of their ideas from each other, competed, and admired each other (Shakespeare’s Contemporaries). “Our admiration of them does not lessen our relish for him, but, on the contrary, increases and confirms it.” Shakespeare fit into this category, since he borrowed from others and others borrowed from him. His contemporaries were great writers for any time period. As William Hazlitt said about Shakespeare, “If his contemporaries, with their united strength, would hardly make one Shakespeare, certain is it that all of his successors would not make half a one.”
Benjamin Jonson was one of Shakespeare’s great contemporaries. He wrote satire about people of the era, poking fun of greed and religious hypocrisy. He also wrote lyric poetry. Two of his most famous elegies were for his son and daughter. Jonson influenced many playwrights of the era, including Shakespeare. Shakespeare acted in some of Jonson’s plays, and Jonson helped him get started in the acting business. He was a great author who most thought was on the same level of Shakespeare and who himself thought he was even better than Shakespeare himself (Encyclopedia Britannica).
However, as Shakespeare’s Contemporaries stated, “Shakespeare’s light naturally dims those of even the greatest of his peers.” To most people he went beyond what others did, and he was more popular than most of his contemporaries. Shakespeare was probably best known for the poems Venus and Adonis during his probably more popular than the poems of other writers of that time. As Shankar Raman stated and quoted of Bache and Loggins’ Shakespeare’s Deliberate Art, “Their grounding premise – no surprise here – is that of the universality and timelessness of Shakespeare’s genius: ‘Spenser, Jonson, Donne … were, in one way or another, hostage to their extraordinary time: they can be considered true disciples of the Renaissance. They were Shakespeare’s contemporaries, but Shakespeare is our contemporary.”
As William Hazlitt said of Shakespeare, “He was not something sacred and aloof from the vulgar herd of men, but shook hands with nature and the circumstances of the time, and is distinguished from his immediate contemporaries, not in kind, but in greater degree and greater variety of excellence.” Shakespeare did not see himself as above his contemporaries, but rather on the same page as them. He knew they helped him get where he is and influenced him greatly. As William Hazlitt went on to say, “Shakespeare did not look upon himself in this light, as a sort of monster of poetical genius, or on his contemporaries as ‘less than smallest dwarfs,’ when he speaks with true, not false modesty of himself and them, and of his wayward thoughts, ‘describing this man’s art, and that man’s scope.'” Shakespeare got much of his fame through his acting groups. Since theaters closed often because of the plague, it caused the professional acting companies to tour with the smaller companies (Gray). Shakespeare was in groups such as these. He was in many acting companies, such as the Queen’s Men, Pembrook’s Men, and Lord Strange’s Men (Gray). However, the biggest company he was with was Lord Chamberlain’s Men.
The company was originally formed under Lord Strange, who died in 1594. After he died it was then changed to the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (Shakespeare’s Contemporaries). The Lord Chamberlain’s men were a famous acting troupe in the Elizabethan Era. They later became known as the King’s men. The original members were Will Kempe, Thomas Pope, John Hemmings, Augustine Phillips, and George Bryan. The Stars of the troupe, Richard Burbage and William Shakespeare, joined within a year of the beginning of the group (Heighway).
The group acquired much fame, and all of the writers and actors involved in it were well known, Shakespeare became extremely popular in this period due to the group. As Heighway said, “Shakespeare is the only one known who not only wrote plays for his company, acted in the plays, and shared the profits, but who was also one of the housekeepers who owned the building.” Lord Chamberlain’s men performed at the Theatre and the Curtain; until the Globe was built in 1599. Within a year they became the leading acting company in London. They were very respected by everyone, and through the company Shakespeare earned much of his high reputation. Lord Chamberlain’s Men became the King’s Men in 1603 under James I. After the name change they continued to make plays everyone respected, and Shakespeare became more and more popular.
Shakespeare wrote many plays while he was with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, including Romeo and Juliet, Richard II, King John, and Love’s Labour’s Lost. These plays were very well received by the public and his contemporaries.
Shakespeare produced an average of two plays per year from the late 1570s until around 1612 while he was with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. Being a sharer in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men helped form Shakespeare’s foundation of his lifelong financial success. Also, being in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men brought him a great reputation (Gray). When the Lord Chamberlain’s Men became the King’s Men under King James I, they were given minor positions in the royal household called “Grooms of the Chamber.” In 1572 the Act for Punishment as Vagabonds was passed through Parliament by Elizabeth I’s ministers. This required entertainers to obtain a noble patron to be responsible for their conduct as they traveled. Theatres and acting companies began to profit because of this. Shakespeare started to be well off and so he was able to devote as much attention as he desired to writing.
Most of Shakespeare’s wealth came from being a partial owner of the Globe (Mabillard). He loved the Globe and it took up much of his life. A cannon ball was misfired during a performance of Henry VIII in 1613 and the Globe was burned down. However, the Globe reopened within a year and lasted until 1644 when it was demolished and replaced with houses. During the life of the Globe it housed many plays, and helped Shakespeare and others tremendously (Mabillard).
Shakespeare owned the Globe Theatre along with William Kempe and Richard Burbage. During this period Cathbert and Burbage controlled half of the interest in the company while Shakespeare, John Heminge, Augustine Phillips, Thomas Pope, and William Kempe split the other half. Richard Burbage and his brother helped build the Globe Theatre. The Lord Chamberlain’s Men performed at the Globe Theatre which soon became London’s most popular theatre. Burbage was a well known actor during the Elizabethan Era and was the leading actor of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. He had the lean role in many of Shakespeare’s plays, including Richard III, Hamlet, Lear, and Othello. Some may say that the popularity of Shakespeare’s plays had to do with this main actor (Jessica H). According to Heighway, “It is likely that Richard III was the most popular of all of Shakespeare’s plays with the Elizabethan public: it provided a superlative part for Burbage.” Burbage was great in this play and became very popular. He also helped Shakespeare become popular because of his acting in Shakespeare’s plays. Burbage acted all the great parts in Shakespeare’s plays. He was the most popular English actor of his time.
Shakespeare was a great writer, but he would not have gotten where he did without a little help. Contemporaries he borrowed from, people who gave him opportunities, and his Globe Theatre all helped him achieve a level of success. He could not have done it himself, as great as he was. He borrowed from peoples’ styles, got advice from some, and was helped. The Lord Chamberlain’s Men helped him financially and with his acting and writing. People like Benjamin Jonson helped him get where he got by giving him acting opportunities and helping him get started. William Shakespeare was a great writer who taught many people of writing and of life, but much of his popularity was because of his contemporaries, actors in his plays, and the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. These people should get at least some of the credit people have given to William Shakespeare throughout the years since he began writing poetry and prose in the early seventeenth century.
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