The Shakespeare Column

When someone says, William Shakespeare, I immediately think of the beautiful classic, but slightly ridiculous, Romeo and Juliet. However, there is so much more to Shakespeare than the general public knows. Yes he wrote these timeless love stories and tragedies, but what else do you know about him?


Well, sit right down ’cause you are about to get a brief history of the Life of William Shakespeare before his name filled all of our literature books. Since we have done some of Shakespeare’s sonnets and are reading The Twelfth Night, I decided to go a little deeper into where this great playwright and poet came from.


Master Shakespeare was born in April 1564, however his actual birthdate is unknown. He was baptized on April 26th so it is just assumed that he was born shortly before.  His was born 1 of 8 children to John Shakespeare and Mary Arden in the cutest town of Stratford-Upon-Avon.  Literally, this charming town is a perfect place to retire with a good book. Just look at it. Absolutely stunning. I don’t know why WS ever left.


But he did and went to the up and happening city of London. Before he did the great three hour move, he met the love of his life, Anne Hathaway.


No, not this one.

This Anne Hathaway, born 1556. And yes, if you do the math correctly, she is 8 years older than young Will. When they got married in 1582, she was 26 and he was only 18. Not too common nowadays, but can still happen. However, their ages were not the scandalous part. Anne was three months pregnant when they married. Gasp! A child out of wedlock? Heavens no! So maybe there was a rush into the marriage? Even if there was, they both seemed to be pretty smitten with each other.

They ended up having three children together,  Susanna and the twins, Hamnet (yes, you read that correctly) and Judith. Unfortunately Hamnet, Shakespeare’s only son to carry on the name, died of unknown causes at age 11. Susanna married John Hall, a physician in Stratford. She lived to be 66. Judith grew up to marry Thomas Quiney, a vintner.  They had 3 children, all which Judith outlived, and she died at the age of 77.

WS moved to London in the late 1580s to begin his writing career. It is not exactly known when he began writing, but his plays have been dated back to being on the London stage by 1592. His first play was written when he was 25 and his last at 49. He wrote more than 30 plays but only published 18 of them. Those great, or not so great, works were never recovered.

He often acted in acted in many of his plays, including those that were performed at The Globe Theatre.  This theatre was built in 1559 by Shakespeare’s playing company, Lord Chamberlain’s Men. It was burned down in 1613 but rebuilt, only to be closed in 1642. However, a modernized replica of the theatre was built 750 feet from the original site and notably named, Shakespeare’s Globe.

unspecified I actually took this one!!

Among all the hype that WS was getting, there was a period of quietness from Shakespeare during 1592 -1594 because of the Plague outbreak. During this time, shows were not really being preformed and the playhouses were closed due to the easy and constant spread of the disease. Shakespeare took this time to reflect and focus on his sonnets, all 154 of them. Some people believe, according to his texts and sonnets, that WS was bisexual.

I could see it.

Although he had such great success, WS never went to university. He finished grammar school at 14, but never continued his education. It is not really known why he did not go to university. Some say it was too expensive for his poor family, and others say it was because he got married and had a child shortly on the way.

Shakespeare’s death was unknown, but he is said to have died on St. George’s Day, April 23, 1616 at age 52. This was the same day that he was “supposedly” born on. He is buried with his family in the Church of the Holy Trinity in his hometown. As witty as he was , you know he couldn’t die without one last bang. He put a curse on his grave threatening if anyone moves it.

The curse warns:

“Good friend for Jesus sake forbeare,
To dig the dust enclosed here.
Blessed be the man that spares these stones,
And cursed be he that moves my bones.”


There also has been x-ray scanners over his grave that show his head is missing. Some say his skull was the one used in productions of Hamlet. That would be kind of cool, and creepy, but I don’t think Shakespeare would want his head flying around onstage. But on second thought, he probs would.

But hey, now you can answer the Shakespeare column on Jeopardy!



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The Art Of The Medieval Play


Medieval Theater: yep, people have been running around and saying crazy stuff on stage to a less-than-knowledgeable audience ever since the Dark Ages. However, as much as it has stayed the same, theater way back when definitely had its own distinguishable category in the history of live theater.

Theater performances around the Medieval time period started in the Church and were specifically designed for the Church. Before 1200 most plays were still being done in Latin and inside Mansions or Plateas. Mansions were specific scene structures created to indicate location. Plateas were general acting areas, usually adjacent to the Mansions. The physical church building usually served as the Mansion, for example, the altar could serve as Jesus’s tomb and the loft could serve as Heaven. By 1200, some of these plays were moving outside due to size and demand. Most of the plays were focused around religious retellings or beliefs; it was a fundamental way to inform the common people of bible stories and teach them how they should be living in regards to their faith. By 1350, the plays were now recited in the vernacular and had moved almost completely outside of the church, showing a fundamental shift in the control of the Catholic church. The church no longer controlled every aspect of social and religious life. As secularization began, theater became less for church purposes and more for social purposes, shifting outside of church control.


Around 1500, performances took place almost solely outside of the church. Plays outside the Church still existed to teach and promote Bible teachings and themes. The plays themselves, however, became more than just re-telling bible and hero stories. They now incorporated anachronisms and comedic elements to create an actual story with complex characters and a hidden moral. The audience was usually the common people who had very low literacy rates, resulting in the plays containing no references to historical events and ignoring historical timelines, as the audience had very little knowledge about such things. The plays themselves were performed in cycles, with different plays being performed in the same sequence at different towns and events every few days depending on the time of year and event. Typically there were three types of plays, Mystery, Miracle, and Morality. The mystery plays focused on Christ and the Old Testament (The Second Shepard’s Play). This was the most common form to be performed cyclically.  The miracle plays focused on the lives of the Saints, both historical and legendary. Lastly, the Morality plays usually depicted the common man’s quest for salvation and his challenges along the way. All their motives remained consistent, to reinforce religious doctrine all while entertaining and educating at the same time.

Although they were less common, there were secular plays occurring around this time period (1500) as well. Farces were very popular. There were three types: moralities, mummings and interludes. Moralities focused on political content and allegories based on Greek gods and heroes. Mummings were narrated stories you could dance to, usually given at wealthy homes for special occasions. Interludes were performed between the courses of meals, usually focusing on allegorical compliments to the guests. Most often these non-religious plays were performed by professional working actors.

One of the most distinctive and defining characteristics of medieval theater was the simultaneous staging. There were two distinguishable types, fixed and moveable. Fixed staging had mansions set up in a certain design depending on the stage. Moveable staging was a wagon that moved through the streets performing plays over and over again while the audience stayed in the same place. The most important people in the play were the actors, Keeper of the Register and the Master of Secrets. The actors obviously performed the play and entertained the audience. The play itself was written on usually a piece of animal skin called the register and the Keeper of the Register was in charge of keeping it safe and directed many of the aspects of the rest of the play. The Master of Secrets was in charge of special effects. The most common techniques were flying, trap doors and fire. Often these techniques were very intricate, often taking up to 20 people to hoist people up during flying scenes.

Theater is just words and actions being performed in front of an audience, yet it and it’s culture has still evolved and increasingly changed with time. The current theater industry is very different than what the industry was back in the medieval times. Analyzing medieval theater gives us a glimpse into the culture and daily lives of those living in that time period and comparing it to the current theater industry reflect the evolutions of society throughout  history. Proving once and for all, that life does indeed imitate life.

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The Commodification of a Blade of Grass: Enclosure in England

The History of Enclosure in England

Maggie Shaw

mapA long time ago, agricultural practices in England had a more altruistic and laid-back form than the privatized and corporatized beast that agriculture has transformed into in England and globally. Land was public under the common-field system, where property was divided by patches of uncut grass that informally set divisions for owners when it came time to plant crops and harvest, but generally shepherds could come through land as they pleased allowing their herds to graze freely. Open Field systems were a version of feudalism in which land was given by Lords of villages to peasants to work upon, areas of land were designated for growing crops while other plots of land were designated for common grazing, and by extension these grazing lands were public. The Open Field System placed large emphasis on the communal goods and equal distribution; a crop rotation system ensured that no farmer received a better plot of land than another, and theoretically since everyone worked the land, everyone had claims upon the food produced and the resources available.


The Failure of an Age Old System

Often, the open field system is referenced as an example of the theory of the Tragedy of the Commons, because as time passed and populations grew, the land became increasingly occupied, increasingly worked upon, and as a result increasingly unusable.


Enclosure in the Cosheepuntryside

Around the 12th century, landowners ceased to benefit from the open field system, the system was unsustainable and unprofitable for them, so the beginning of a several century long upheaval of public land began to take place as smaller plots of land were consolidated into a larger plot of land with a single holding. Soon, the process of ‘enclosure’ would begin as fields became over-farmed and less and less suitable for growing crops while a market for wool grew with an increased reach of trade during the 14th and 15th centuries. Landowners and lords found that through fencing off lands and turning them into privately owned sheep pastures. The enclosures of public land essentially forced the serfs and peasants off of lands they once lived and worked on. This eviction of the common people can mark a shift in the values of English society from one that operated on communal ideals towards a dominant society that valued profit of the individual over the profit of a village.


The Bitter Push of Progressillustration

The Agricultural revolution and enclosure go hand in hand in the history of England. As farming tools that were invented that simplified farming or decreased the number of farm workers necessary, those people who depended upon the functions of the old systems and ways would be uprooted, sent away from the land, and left impoverished  by a system that would solely benefit those with enough money to fence off and own their own lands. The movement towards enclosure could be viewed as the creation of ‘the poor’ in England because it undid the feudalism that allotted predetermined roles for Lords and peasants, whereas peasants’ displacement left them without a specific role in society.

Acts of Enclosure to Actively Exclude

In the 1600’s, enclosure began to be legislated. Parliament legitimized the previously informal acts of enclosure through a series of Acts that spanned 1604 to 1914. Public outrage from small-time landowners and non-land-owning laborers swelled during the passing of enclosure acts, because they had to submit to banishment from lands they could no longer afford to own in the face of powerful or noble landowners or were no longer permitted to work upon. A large portion of society became disenfranchised by those with more power and means. To the common man, enclosure meant the advancement of the rich and further subjugation of the poor.

shipton-enclosure1       leaflet

The Big Fenced-in Picture

The movement towards enclosure holds historic and philosophic importancecartoon2. Enclosure shaped the economy in England today, the displacement of the poor from rural areas lead to a mass movement of poor to urban areas, spurring the Industrial revolution as a working class people developed. The act of enclosure holds significant meaning to the definition of culture and society within England. People were literally fenced out from s way of life they had been accustomed to for centuries and forced to adapt under a new culture that approached progress much more selfishly. The Enclosure Acts would serve as a cause for disquiet in society for hundreds of years, its criticism can be seen in works from the 14th century in Wakefield’s  Second Shepherd’s Play and criticisms remain in works from the 2oth century. The comparison between Enclosure and the Open Field System are often used in arguments for economic-political systems, the movement of Enclosure exhibiting traits and similarities to the movements of capitalism while the communal aspect of the Open Field System can be compared to Marxist ideas for communism. Supporters of either side point to the failings of the other system in support of their political ideals. In the 17th century, an anonymously penned poem criticizes enclosure stating “The law locks up the man or woman/Who steals the goose off the common/But leaves the greater villain loose/Who steals the common from the goose.” Ultimately, the enclosure movement can be reduced to a division between rich and poor in society, they are a significant example of the times when progress and industrialization sacrificed the common good, entrenching a class system that would still present problems more 700 years after its institution.


Further Reading

The Enclosures in England and Economic Reconstruction

Enclosing the Land

Land and Enclosure

A Short History of Enclosure in Britain



Geoffrey Chaucer: The Man Behind the Canterbury Tales

Geoffrey Chaucer: The Man Behind the Canterbury Tales

By Dylan Clark




picture1The name ‘Chaucer’ is synonymous with articles such as romance, humor, and poetic prowess. He has written several masterful works; however, his most entertaining and powerful piece came in the form of 24 tales told by travelers on their way to Canterbury, England. Even though it was never finished, The Canterbury Tales is considered one of the most influential and magnificent pieces of English literature ever. The man behind the stories is even more interesting than the stories themselves, as Chaucer led a colorful life and touched the hearts of many with his work.

Early Life and Court Career

Chaucer was born around 1340, in London, England. His family was wealthy, and he lived a comfortable early life, possibly attending school at St. Paul’s Cathedral School. Living a cushy life, Chaucer was most likely exposed to upper-level literature at a young age, and he developed a passion for writing early on. As a young man, Chaucer fought in the Hundred Years’ War, and he was captured and held for ransom. Luckily, the poet had some powerful connections, and he was able to obtain his freedom and become a diplomat for the Royal Service. Around this time, Chaucer married Phillipe Roet. Through Phillipe, Chaucer’s court career grew with her success. On diplomatic missions, Chaucer became acquainted with works from Dante and other famous writers. However, Chaucer was quite busy with all of his court responsibilities, and he was unable to focus on his writing career. After Phillipe died in 1387, Chaucer lost most of his income and was forced to go back to living a lower-middle class life. Despite this setback, our beloved author’s life was about to take a turn for the best

picture1-png2Chaucer’s work career became quite tumultuous after Phillipe died. He held several jobs, including Clerk of the Works and a sub-forester in a garden. Richard II had been paying Chaucer a pension, but that fund had run dry, leaving Chaucer poorer than before. Finally, after the deposition of Richard II, Henry IV reinstated Chaucer’s pension. After this, Chaucer was finally able to live a comfortable life at St. Mary’s Chapel in Westminster.

Writing Career

It is clear that Chaucer’s work was influenced by his bouts of poverty, as many of his characters are not well-to-do. His major works include Parliament of Fouls, Troilus and Criseyde, The Legend of Good Women, and others. The former was an allegorical piece, the middle a Trojan War poem, and the latter an unfinished poem containing short narratives. His most widely popular and produced piece, however, is The Canterbury Tales. The story about the caravan to Canterbury contained 24 tales,picture1-png3 but Chaucer really wanted each character to tell four stories each, adding up to a whopping 120 stories! Even though he never completed his goal, Chaucer gave readers a marvelous tale of tales combining some of the greatest characters and storytelling elements in English history. What makes the piece even more outstanding is that it was meant for the common folk as well as nobility, and it drew much popularity from all social and economic circles. When we look back on the life of Geoffrey Chaucer, we can see where he drew inspiration as he spun his tales with satirical prowess and rich storytelling dynamics. The Canterbury Tales remains a quality read for reader enthusiasts and students alike to this day, thanks to the poet behind the pen.

Marriage in 14th Century England

During the time of The Canterbury Tales (14th Century), marriage looked a little different in England than it does in today’s culture. While there are some similarities, there are definitely distinctions that set it apart from the marriage culture of the present.


Back in those days, all that was really required to get married was verbal consent, and not being related to one another. They could even be twelve years old and get married. There was no official certificate or anything such as that in order for two people to get married. Another difference was that money and status played a much bigger part in marriage than it does today. Things such as money, land, and family names/alliances were much more important to the families of the people getting married than they are to families today, (although there are certainly those families who place a great deal of stock into these matters), but even so, the wedding couple did not need the consent of their families in order to get married, although wishes of the parents were a heavy influence. Also, as far as money and land are concerned, generally these items were in control of the husband, but there were several different ways in which the wife could take control of the land/money, such as if the husband had died, and not given all their land away. Widows were actually both financially and legally independent.

The act of getting married could be just as simple as saying “We agree to get married,” but there were definitely more elaborate weddings more like what we would see today, although these bigger weddings were often the result of wealthy/prestigious people getting married.


Church life had a great deal to do with marriage. God Himself could be the witness for your marriage and that was good enough to be considered married. There were also many religious rules set in place regarding marriage such as having to be married to other Christians, instead of to non-believers.

There was also no divorcing like in today’s time. The only ways marriages ended in this time were either by death, or by managing to prove there was never a marriage to begin with.

Love was also not necessarily the main reason behind getting married. The desire of getting married was more of keeping up with the social norms of the time than it was about finding true love or anything of that nature. This being said, there were definitely plenty of cases when love was actually in play when two people decided to get married.


As far as similarities, there are several parts of weddings/marriages that were still used today such as the repeating of vows, weddings rings, and so forth. The marriage was pretty standard in senses like, they were only married to each other and not multiple people, they lived together, and they had families together. In today’s culture, marriage still carries on much the same as it did in 14th century England, although the big difference are that there are many more laws surrounding marriage today, and also that the reason for marriage often revolves around love between the couple, rather that just getting married for the sake of getting married.

Marriage was often a frequent topic in stories of the time, such as The Canterbury Tales. Often these tales may take creative directions when describing the marriages in the story, and sometimes may not depict marriage in the most accurate way. So while marriage was maybe more of a simpler ideal in those times than it is today, it was still an ideal big enough to incorporate into many stories, and was dynamic enough to creative narratives surrounding the idea that would draw the interest of all types/classes of people. Even the modern stories of today do the same, taking the very general idea of marriage and love, and taking a creative direction with it, making a narrative that is intriguing because marriage is such a key part of our culture.


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