4 Jan 2012
I am participating in a year long Classics Challenge hosted by November’s Autumn. The challenge is to read at least 7 classic works in 2012. On the 4th of each month Katherine of N.A. will pose a question for challenge participants to answer regarding whatever classic book they happen to be reading at the moment.
January’s questions are all about the author:
- Who is the author?
This month I am reading The Tempest by William Shakespeare
- What do they look like?
We do not know for sure what Shakespeare looked like, “none of the portraits qualifies as a verified likeness of him, for no evidence exists that Shakespeare actually sat for a portrait. Artists could have executed their portraits from memory or from descriptions of Shakespeare provided by persons who knew him. Even the so-called authentic likeness of Shakespeare–the 1623 Martin Droeshout engraving of him that appeared in the First Folio, the first published collection of Shakespeare’s plays–is suspect. The artist was only 15 when Shakespeare died in 1616. Apparently, Droeshout completed the portrait shortly before the First Folio publication.” 
- When were they born? Where did they live?
Shakespeare was baptized on the 26th of April 1564. A baby had to be baptized on the Sunday following his or her birth, unless the parents could give a valid reason for not baptizing immediately. Therefore we can safely assume Shakespeare was born earlier that week. Shakespeare spent his childhood in Stratford-upon-Avon. The family was believed to live on Henley Street in the home shown below. The home has been under the care of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust since 1847
- What does their handwriting look like?
Six signatures of Shakespeare are known
Image via Lawpundit
There is also a play by Anthony Munday called Sir Thomas More, that is said to contain an addition written in Shakespeare’s hand, this is controversial though.
- What is an interesting and random fact about their life?
Something I find interesting about Shakespeare is that it is widely said he was uneducated, or more specifically he did not go to college. Yet, Shakespeare’s father was a politician in their town of Stratford upon Avon and therefore Shakespeare and his siblings were eligible for a grammar school education at no cost to the family. There is no reason to suppose the family would not take advantage of this and it seems likely Shakespeare went to school from the ages of 7 to 14.
Now a grammar school education in Elizabethan times was very different from the elementary school subjects taught now. Shakespeare would have been taught Latin and practiced translating Latin to English and English to Latin. A basic education included 7 to 11 hours a day studying the works of the great classical authors and dramatists such as Ovid, Plautus, Horace, Virgil, Cicero and Seneca  The type of education provided in grammar schools of the 16th century could be compared to a degree program in the classics today. In my opinion there is no reason to doubt that Shakespeare had the knowledge, ability, and historical education to write his plays.
One other thing I found interesting is that Elizabethan schools were not big on handwriting. If it was taught, it was by a specialist teacher who visited the school for only a few weeks.  Also the English language was very much in a state of flux at this time. So, Shakespeare’s handwriting and spelling are really not a reflection on his intelligence.
Visit the November’s Autumn blog for links to more classic challenge January participants!