December 8, 1660: A new production of Othello opens. Othello is a play written by William Shakespeare and first hit the stage on November 1, 1604. It was first performed at Whitehall Palace and mentioned in a Revels account. In this entry, the play was called The Moor of Venis. The play was said to have been written by Shaxberd. We also know the play was offered at the Globe Theatre on April 30, 1610 and again at Oxford in September of 1610. The play was performed in numerous venues and continued to see performances through 1635. Political instability led to a decline of the fine arts.
However, with the Restoration in 1660 after Charles II came to the throne, some stability – at least for a time – was back and the fine arts were again permitted to thrive. Samuel Pepys, the great diarist of the time, saw the play at the Cockpit Theatre on October 11, 1660. Up until this time, even though there are roles for women in the play, men took on those roles. Women were not seen on the stage. Until this day when the play was put on by the new King’s Company at their Vere Street theater. Desdemona was played by Margaret Hughes, gaining her the supposed title of first professional actress to appear on a public stage in England.
Shakespeare’s play, The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice, was based on an Italian short story by Cinthio with a translated title of A Moorish Captain. This story was first published in 1565. Shakespeare’s play has four central characters: Othello, a Moorish general in the Venetian army; his wife Desdemona; Cassio, his lieutenant; and Othello’s trusted ensign, Iago. The tale hinges on many themes woven together including those of racism, love, jealousy, and ultimately betrayal. It is still popular today as it still speaks to issues of our time.
Othello is a dark-skinned Moor. Although he is brave and competent as a soldier, he is not Venetian by birth. He falls in love and elopes with Desdemona, the daughter of a respected Venetian senator. The much younger, beautiful Desdemona is able to persuade her father to bless her union, convincing him of the happy couple’s unfailing love for each other. Othello is deployed to Cyprus and his trusted ensign, Iago, is able to convince him that his wife has had an affair with Cassio, a young, handsome lieutenant. Othello, enraged, kills Desdemona. He then learns of the deceit and kills himself.
Put out the light, and then put out the light: / If I quench thee, thou flaming minister. – Othello (William Shakespeare)
I will wear my heart upon my sleeve / For daws to peck at. – Iago (William Shakespeare)
Reputation, reputation, reputation! Oh, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial. – Cassio (William Shakespeare)
I kissed thee ere I killed thee, no way but this, / Killing myself, to die upon a kiss. – Othello (William Shakespeare)
Also on this day:
June 29, 1613: London’s Globe Theatre burns to the ground. The theater is associated with William Shakespeare and was built by his playing company in 1599 on Maiden Lane (today called Park Street) in Southwark, London. Lord Chamberlain’s Men was a playing company established around 1594. They performed at The Theatre in Shoreditch until problems with the landlord forced a move to Curtain Theatre close by. The company worked there from 1597 until December 28, 1598 when The Theatre in Shoreditch was dismantled. The beams were transported to Southwark and used in building the new venue, Globe Theatre.
The Globe Theatre was owned by the actors of the troupe, Lord Chamberlain’s Men as well as six other shareholders. Richard and Cuthbert Burbage, brothers, each owned double shares or 25% each. The remaining 50% was divided between John Heminges, Augustine Phillips, Thomas Pope, and Shakespeare. The Burbage family had owned the previous theater dismantled to construct the newer one after a dispute over the land lease where the previous theater was built.
The Globe was a grand building built by Peter Smith. It could hold several thousand people. However, the great building didn’t just host plays, but was also a brothel and a gambling den. Maps of the day clearly show the huge building included in drawings of the area around the Thames River. In an illiterate society, flags placed atop the theater alerted people to what was going on inside. Black flags indicated a tragedy was being performed that day while a white one indicated a comedy and a red flag meant a history was the day’s selection. With the much larger building available, with a greater stage area, more elaborate or sophisticated plays could be offered.
Special effects were the cause of the fire. A canon was fired to herald great entrances. It was loaded with gunpowder and when fired, it lit the thatched roof and the blaze spread, consuming the building. There is no record of casualties. Immediate reconstruction began and the new Globe Theatre opened in 1614, often called Globe 2. It remained open until 1642 when Puritans were able to pull support from the arts, as they might be damaging to the moral and ethical well being of the citizenry. A modern replica of what we assume the theater looked like was built in 1997. Shakespeare’s Globe was built just 750 feet away from where the original stood.
All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.
Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.
Better three hours too soon than a minute too late.
But O, how bitter a thing it is to look into happiness through another man’s eyes.
Everyone ought to bear patiently the results of his own conduct. – all from William Shakespeare
Also on this day:
I Love You Lighthouse – In 1860, the last stone to the I Love You lighthouse was placed.
Sound Recording – In 1888, a wax cylinder was used to record music.
Pygmy Mammoth – In 1994, the first near-complete pygmy mammoth fossil was found.
May 20, 1609: A book of poems purportedly by William Shakespeare is published. The title page reads “SHAKE-SPEARS SONNETS; Never before Imprinted.” There are 154 sonnets included in the work. Two of them (Sonnets 138 and 144) had been published in 1599 and the other 152 had never been printed previous to the edition put out by T. T. The publisher is thought to be Thomas Thorpe and it is unknown if the manuscript was authorized or not. There is an odd dedication to Mr. W. H which is signed by T.T. Mr. W. H.’s identity is unknown but several names have been offered as possibilities: William Herbert (Earl of Pembroke), Henry Wriothesley (Earl of Southampton), William Harvey, William Hall, Willie Hughes, Shakespeare himself, and other.
Sonnets 1 through 126 are written to a young man with the first 17 encouraging him to marry and procreate, to share his beauty with posterity. Sonnets 18-126 have the poet expressing his love for the young man. Some give a platonic explanation for these poems while others contend Shakespeare was homosexually involved. Sonnets 127-152 are written to the poet’s mistress with another aspect of love surfacing. The final two sonnets are allegories. The final sonnets, about the last thirty, point to issues of love – the young man and the mistress engaged in infidelity, control of the poet’s lust, issue with the world at large.
There is ongoing debate about who wrote William Shakespeare’s entire body of work. Some say there was one other writer, others point to a group of writers. There is little biographical information about the Bard of Avon and no reliable image exists today allowing us to know what he looked like. There are some paintings believed to be Shakespeare, but they are not verified. His vocabulary was vast with ≈ 29,000 different words used in his writing. Some point to his lack of formal university education being at odds with his brilliant use of the English language.
Shakespeare not only wrote poetry, he also wrote a variety of plays. He wrote twelve comedies, eleven tragedies, ten histories and five romances. William married Anne Hathaway in 1582. The couple had three children. Then in 1585, all record of Shakespeare ends until he showed up in London in 1592, a period known as the “Lost Years.” There is little hard fact about the literary great and much speculation continues. The works, whoever wrote them, are enduring.
From fairest creatures we desire increase, / That thereby beauty’s rose might never die, – from Sonnet 1
O thou, my lovely boy, who in thy power / Dost hold Time’s fickle glass, his sickle, hour; – from Sonnet 126
If it were, it bore not beauty’s name; / But now is black beauty’s successive heir, – from Sonnet 127
In loving thee thou know’st I am forsworn, / But thou art twice forsworn, to me love swearing,: – from Sonnet 152, all from William Shakespeare
Also on this day:
April 23, 1616: William Shakespeare, one of the best known authors in the English language, dies. He was a poet, playwright, and actor. He was born in Stratford, England in 1564 and married Anne Hathaway in 1582. Soon after his marriage, Shakespeare left for London. Anne stayed in Stratford. Shakespeare went on to become the “Bard of Avon” and is often called England’s national poet.
Shakespeare’s plays are divided into four periods. His first period was filled mostly with comedies influenced by Roman and Italian forces. His second period began with the tragedy Romeo and Juliet and ended with Julius Caesar and was filled with his greatest tragedies and histories. The third period contained mostly tragedies and his last was mainly tragicomedies or romances. Comedies in Elizabethan England were classified as plays ending happily, usually by characters getting married. Tragedies had protagonists who were admirable, but with a character flaw. Histories were not always exactly historically correct.
Shakespeare was the author of 154 sonnets, numerous other poems, and 38 plays. He wrote comedies and tragedies, which is uncommon in itself, and he excelled in both genres. Not only do we have the gift of his brilliant plays, rich in characterization and filled with beautiful turns of phrase, but we also have increased the vocabulary with his neologisms, or newly created words. Lewis Carroll, another British author, was also a master at this type of expansion of the language.
There has been some controversy over the years as to who actually wrote Shakespeare’s plays. However, some proof of his authorship comes from Robert Greens, a critic of the time, who wrote in 1592 that Shakespeare was “an upstart crow.” Ben Johnson, a rival, also discusses Shakespeare’s works. Some of his works were printed during his lifetime, but the proliferation of printed text came after his death.
“This above all: to thine own self be true.”
“All the world ‘s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts.”
“Now is the winter of our discontent.”
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.”
“How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child!” – all from William Shakespeare
Also on this day, in 1635 Boston Latin School was founded.