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William Shakespeare | Biography

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William Shakespeare, born in April 1564, was an actor and a writer in a successful theatrical company in London, the Lord Chamberlain's Men, which performed his plays. He was also part owner of the Globe, an outdoor theater across the river Thames from London. After Queen Elizabeth's death in 1603, King James I further legitimized the company and changed its name to the King's Men.

Shakespeare published most of his work from 1594 to 1613. He wrote The Tempest around 1611, which was also the year of its first performance—for King James I. The play is considered by most scholars to be the last play that Shakespeare wrote by himself (he may have contributed to other authors' plays). By the time Shakespeare wrote The Tempest, he had written dozens of plays of varying types: histories, comedies, and tragedies. In his later years he wrote a number of works that contained both tragic and comedic features but didn't fully fall into either category, which are now called his "romances," and The Tempest was his final one. Many scholars believe that through the character of the magician Prospero in The Tempest, Shakespeare gave his own farewell to the theater. Like Prospero, Shakespeare used the powers of his own art to create other worlds.

Most of Shakespeare's plays are masterfully rewritten versions of already existing stories, but if the playwright used an existing story for The Tempest, Shakespeare scholars have not found it. However, the shipwreck in the story is likely based on the famous shipwreck of a British ship on the island of Bermuda in 1609. In May of that year a fleet of nine British ships set sail from England for the colonies in Jamestown, Virginia. During a terrible storm one ship was separated from the others and crashed in Bermuda where the crew was able to make it safely ashore. The reports of the wreck intrigued many in England, particularly the descriptions of the island, which were unlike anything most British people had ever seen. In addition the utopian society that Gonzalo imagines establishing on the island is inspired by an essay titled "Of Cannibals," by the French philosopher Michel de Montaigne.

Shakespeare died on April 23, 1616.

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