1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare

From The London Times:

Shakes_1 A heavy snowstorm shrouded London on December 28, 1598. Through it a group of men bristling with swords and axes closed in on a building in the city’s northern suburbs. The building was The Theatre — London’s oldest playhouse, once the scene of full-blooded dramas by Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Kyd, but empty for the past two years since the Chamberlain’s Men whose base it was had quarrelled with their cantankerous landlord, Giles Allen. Now, while Allen unsuspectingly spent Christmas in the country, members of the troupe gathered to dismantle the playhouse which (unlike the leased land it stood upon) technically belonged to them. Carted away and ferried across the Thames, its timbers would be re-erected as a new theatre, The Globe. Among those taking part in this rushed and risky act of reclamation were the company’s star tragedian Richard Burbage, its celebrity-comic Will Kemp and its 35-year-old resident playwright William Shakespeare.

For Shakespeare the next 12 months would be momentous. 1599, James Shapiro compellingly displays, was his annus mirabilis: the year that, deepening and complicating his imagination, took him from outstanding accomplishment to unsurpassed genius. That genius, romantically disposed commentators such as Coleridge have maintained, was “of no age” but arose from “the unfathomable depths of his own oceanic mind”. Shapiro, who can be breathtakingly acute at fathoming Shakespeare’s mind, couldn’t disagree more. Shakespeare’s creativity, he contends, was decisively fuelled and fired by contemporary events — and never more so than in his four great artistic undertakings of 1599: the completing of Henry V, the writing of Julius Caesar and As You Like It, and the drafting of Hamlet.

More here.