“A young man from a small provincial town — a man without independent wealth, without powerful family connections and without a university education — moved to London in the late 1580’s and, in a remarkably short time, became the greatest playwright not of his age alone but of all time. His works appeal to the learned and the unlettered, to urban sophisticates and provincial first-time theatergoers. He makes his audiences laugh and cry; he turns politics into poetry; he recklessly mingles vulgar clowning and philosophical subtlety. He grasps with equal penetration the intimate lives of kings and of beggars; he seems at one moment to have studied law, at another theology, at another ancient history, while at the same time he effortlessly mimics the accents of country bumpkins and takes delight in old wives’ tales. Virtually all his rivals in the highly competitive theater business found themselves on the straight road to starvation; this one playwright by contrast made enough money to buy one of the best houses in the hometown to which he retired when he was around 50, the self-made protagonist of an amazing success story that has resisted explanation for 400 years.”
More here by Stephen Greenblatt in the New York Times Magazine.