Don Pedro, Prince of Arragon, pays a visit to Leonata, the governor of Messina while returning from a victorious campaign against his rebellious brother, Don John. Accompanying him are two of his officers, Benedick and Claudio. While in Messina, Claudio falls for Leonato’s daughter, Hero; Benedick verbally spars with Beatrice, the governor’s niece. The budding love between Claudio and Hero prompts Don Pedro to arrange with Leonato for the marriage.
Meanwhile, the trickery begins as Don Pedro (with the help of Leonato and Claudio) attempts to sport with Benedick and Beatrice in an effort to make the two of them fall in love. Likewise, Hero and her waiting-woman help to set up Beatrice. Both Benedick and Beatrice will think that the other has professed great love for them.
Prices start at $12
Prices start at $11
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The marriage of Claudio to Hero is set to go. Don John—ostensibly reconciled with his brother—despises Claudio, however, and plots against him. First, he tells Claudio that Pedro wants Hero for himself; next, he enlists the aid of his henchman Borachio and one of Hero’s gentlewomen disguised as Hero to stage an encounter that will bring Hero’s virtue into question. Claudio falls for the ruse and denounces Hero at the altar. Friar Francis helps her, hiding her away and enlisting the aid of Leonata, who announces that his daughter has died of grief from the proceeding.
Fortunately for Hero, Borachio is arrested while drunkenly boasting of his part in the plan (and the 1,000 ducats paid him). With Borachio’s confession, Hero is to be exonerated. Leonato demands a public apology from Claudio, then tells him that he will allow Claudio to marry one of his nieces in Hero’s place—a niece that turns out to be none other than Hero herself. Claudio and Hero are reunited, Benedick and Beatrice will wed alongside them, and they receive the news that the bastard Don John has been apprehended.
For all his fame and celebration, William Shakespeare remains a mysterious figure with regards to personal history. There are just two primary sources for information on the Bard: his works, and various legal and church documents that have survived from Elizabethan times. Naturally, there are many gaps in this body of information, which tells us little about Shakespeare the man.
William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, allegedly on April 23, 1564. Church records from Holy Trinity Church indicate that he was baptized there on April 26, 1564. Young William was born of John Shakespeare, a glover and leather merchant, and Mary Arden, a landed heiress. William, according to the church register, was the third of eight children in the Shakespeare household—three of whom died in childhood. John Shakespeare had a remarkable run of success as a merchant, and later as an alderman and high bailiff of Stratford, during William’s early childhood. His fortunes declined, however, in the 1570s.
There is great conjecture about Shakespeare’s childhood years, especially regarding his education. It is surmised by scholars that Shakespeare attended the free grammar school in Stratford, which at the time had a reputation to rival Eton. While there are no records extant to prove this claim, Shakespeare’s knowledge of Latin and Classical Greek would tend to support this theory. In addition, Shakespeare’s first biographer, Nicholas Rowe, wrote that John Shakespeare had placed William “for some time in a free school.” John Shakespeare, as a Stratford official, would have been granted a waiver of tuition for his son. As the records do not exist, we do not know how long William attended the school, but certainly, the literary quality of his works suggest a solid education. What is certain is that William Shakespeare never proceeded to university schooling, which has stirred some of the debate concerning the authorship of his works.
The next documented event in Shakespeare’s life is his marriage to Anne Hathaway on November 28, 1582. William was 18 at the time, and Anne was 26—and pregnant. Their first daughter, Susanna, was born on May 26, 1583. The couple later had twins, Hamnet and Judith, born February 2, 1585, and christened at Holy Trinity. Hamnet died in childhood at the age of 11, on August 11, 1596.
For seven years, William Shakespeare effectively disappears from all records, turning up in London circa 1592. This has sparked as much controversy about Shakespeare’s life as any period. Rowe notes that young Shakespeare was quite fond of poaching, and may have had to flee Stratford after an incident with Sir Thomas Lucy, whose lands he allegedly hunted. There is also rumour of Shakespeare working as an assistant schoolmaster in Lancashire for a time, though this is circumstantial at best. It is estimated that Shakespeare arrived in London around 1588 and began to establish himself as an actor and playwright. Evidently, Shakespeare garnered envy early on for his talent, as related by the critical attack of Robert Greene, a London playwright, in 1592: “…an upstart crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tiger’s heart wrapped in a player’s hide, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you: and being an absolute Johannes factotum, is in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country.”
Greene’s bombast notwithstanding, Shakespeare must have shown considerable promise. By 1594, he was not only acting and writing for the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (called the King’s Men after the ascension of James I in 1603) but was a managing partner in the operation as well. With Will Kempe, a master comedian, and Richard Burbage, a leading tragic actor of the day, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men became a favourite London troupe, patronized by the royalty and made popular by the theatre-going public. When the plague forced theatre closings in the mid-1590s, Shakespeare and his company made plans for the Globe Theatre in the Bankside district, which was across the river from London proper.
Shakespeare’s success is apparent when studied against other playwrights of this age. His company was the most successful in London in his day. He had plays published and sold in octavo editions, or “penny-copies” to the more literate of his audiences. It is noted that never before had a playwright enjoyed sufficient acclaim to see his works published and sold as popular literature in the midst of his career. While Shakespeare could not be accounted wealthy, by London standards, his success allowed him to purchase New House and retire in comfort to Stratford in 1611.
William Shakespeare wrote his will in 1611, bequeathing his properties to his daughter Susanna (married in 1607 to Dr John Hall). To his surviving daughter Judith, he left £300, and to his wife, Anne left “my second best bed.” William Shakespeare allegedly died on his birthday, April 23, 1616. This is probably more of a romantic myth than reality, but Shakespeare was interred at Holy Trinity in Stratford on April 25. In 1623, two working companions of Shakespeare from the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, John Heminges and Henry Condell, printed the First Folio edition of the Collected Works, of which half the plays contained therein were previously unpublished. The First Folio also contained Shakespeare’s sonnets.
William Shakespeare’s legacy is a body of work that will never again be equalled in Western civilization. His words have endured for 400 years and still reach across the centuries as powerfully as ever. Even in death, he leaves a final piece of verse as his epitaph:
Minnesota’s Shakespeare and Company productions
Shakespeare & Company is an outdoor classical repertory theatre performing at the Outdoor Theatre Complex on the West Campus of Century College, located in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, just north of the Twin Cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis
1981 – Much Ado About Nothing, Coriolanus, As You Like It
1992 – Cyrano de Bergerac, Comedy of Errors, Much Ado About Nothing
1997 – Much Ado About Nothing, Love’s Labour’s Lost, She Stoops To Conquer my lord chamberlens menns plates Entred
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