A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare Summary By James Shapiro

*This post contains affiliate links, and we may earn an affiliate commission without it ever affecting the price you pay.

A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare is a unique book that sets out to answer one major question: How did Shakespeare become Shakespeare? This question has been around for centuries, and although many biographers have tried, they were unable to find the kind of evidence needed to fully illuminate it.

But this book attempts to enlighten us with its special approach.

In these sections, it takes readers along an exciting journey as we reconstruct the world of 1599 - the amazing and remarkable year in which William Shakespeare lived.

We'll explore everything from his daily life and activities during that time period to the events and people who may have influenced him.

Whether you’re a fan of literature or simply curious about one man's incredible life, A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare provides an interesting look that’s absolutely worth reading!

A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare

Book Name: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare (1599)

Author(s): James Shapiro

Rating: 4.4/5

Reading Time: 23 Minutes

Categories: Book Summaries

Author Bio

James Shapiro is the author of A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599 and a well-renowned expert on Elizabethan drama, poetry and authorship.

As a professor of English literature at Columbia University in New York City, he has written several books regarding these topics, most notably the renowned Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?His highly praised 2006 book was lucky enough to win both the Samuel Johnson Prize and the Theatre Book Prize that same year as well.

With his reputation as an authority on William Shakespeare in hand, you can be sure you're getting quality work with this read!

Exploring 1599: How Elizabethan England Helped Shape Shakespeare’s Writings

Shakespeare's Writings

To better understand the works of William Shakespeare, it’s important to take a glimpse into his world.

1599 was an incredibly significant year in English history – and in Shakespeare’s own life.

It was during this time that he made some wise investments to ensure his financial future, as well as left his hometown of Stratford and moved to London.

The Protestant Reformation had major implications for England during this time as well.

This event catalyzed conflict with Catholic Spain, which further shaped and influenced the events that transpired during this period.

For anyone interested in getting a full picture of Elizabethan England and its place in world history, learning more about Shakespeare’s life during 1599 can be incredibly valuable.

Londoners Loved the Theater, but Lack of Talented Playwrights During the 1590s Left Shakespeare as the Only Significant Dramatist of the Era

Theater-going Londoners had a huge appetite for plays in the 1590s, and yet there were very few accomplished playwrights alive at the time.

This created a problem for both the authorities and audiences alike, as it meant that productions often failed to live up to the standard of good theater.

For instance, despite its eager and large audiences, the 1590s was a lean decade.

Notable dramatists from earlier generations like Christopher Marlowe, Robert Greene, and George Peel had all passed away by 1597.

Meanwhile, the new generation of playwrights – such as Ben Jonson – were only just finding their feet.

Into this void stepped William Shakespeare – poised between two generations of writers – who was rapidly establishing himself as England’s top playwright.

His arrival on stage saved theatres from closure while also giving audiences something to look forward to.

With one stroke of his pen, he elevated the level of drama being performed in London and gave people back their beloved theatre experience.

The Key Message of the Section is: Investing in a Permanent Playhouse Secured Shakespeare’s Financial Future

Shakespeare's Financial Future

When faced with increased competition in the playhouse business, William Shakespeare and his fellow actor-shareholders took a risk to secure their own financial future by investing in a permanent theater – the Globe.

They pitched in half of the £700 needed, £70 each, along with two entrepreneurial brothers who provided the other half.

While this might seem like an enormous sum – almost halfway up to what a day laborer would make in a year – they knew that Londoners had an insatiable appetite for theatre.

Indeed, their investments paid off as having their own 10 percent stake in the Globe meant that they could earn an income large enough to ensure them financial stability within the middle class.

Situated just outside of London’s city limits, the Globe was constructed around a circular stage and topped with a thatched roof.

Bankside, one of its neighborhoods, became popularly known from many of Shakespeare’s plays including Twelfth Night where it was referred to as “the Elephant”- possibly a reference to a brothel recently converted into an inn located there!

In addition, it opened in July and coincided with another work great work written by Shakespeare himself specifically for the occasion.

The Birth of the English Reformation and the Battle Between Elizabethan England and Catholic Spain

At the beginning of the 16th century, disruptions were occurring in both religious and political spheres in England.

The nation was Catholic-led but King Henry VIII had expressed his desire to annul his marriage which went against the Pope’s orders.

This led to a tension between religious and state authority, leading to a series of passing acts that made Henry the head of the English church and kick-starting England’s conversion to Protestantism.

Elizabeth I later completed this transition with her introduction of a new theology based on Protestant reformers such as Luther and Calvin.

This act put England in direct conflict with Spain, Europe’s largest Catholic power lead by King Philip II who saw himself as a defender of Catholicism above all else.

To protect their cause from against revolution, King Philip backed Catholic rebels struggling with English battle control in Ireland.

And attempts by Philip III to overthrow Queen Elizabeth in 1588 only further intensified tensions between both countries into an all out war.

The clash between Elizabethan England and Catholic Spain during this time stemmed from two major sources: religion and military authority.

With active support for revolutionaries within Spanish colonies, such as the Netherlands where volunteers fight for independence from Spain, Elizabeth mobilized troops for offensive action while also trying to defend herself from Phillip III’s efforts at overthrowing her as queen – ultimately leading both nations into a theological and military epicentre that threatened national security across Europe.

Shakespeare Reflects on an Atmosphere of Uncertainty and Fear in London During Preparations for a Spanish Invasion

Spanish Invasion

The city of London was on edge as rumors swirled that the Spanish Armada was coming in 1599.

People were frightened and the English forces had been sent to strategic defensive positions.

Shakespeare captured this anxiety through his plays, most notably with Julius Caesar and Henry V.

In those works, he referenced England’s monetary troubles, as well as its military issues, which were likely a major stressor for citizens at the time.

Also featured in some of his work was “A Larum For London”, a dark play detailing how Antwerp fell to Spanish forces in 1576.

This would no doubt have been unsettling for those preparing for their own experience with a possible Spanish invasion.

The same sentiment was echoed a few years later when Othello opened with generals discussing conflicting reports on the size of an approaching enemy fleet.

Meanwhile, Hamlet’s opening witnessed jittery soldiers standing guard against an invisible enemy.

These pieces showcase how Shakespeare captured the panicky atmosphere pervading London ahead of the phantom Spanish Armada’s arrival—an emotion he knew all too well from first-hand experience living through that time.

In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Assassination Is Presented as a Key Political Question in 1599, with Highlighting Unintended Consequences from Noble Acts

In 1599, Assassination was a very controversial political topic.

It had grown in importance, especially in light of the recent excommunication of Queen Elizabeth by the Pope.

This act unveiled an entirely new level of dissent for many Catholics and threatened to split the entire nation apart.

Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar examines this question in great detail, exploring not only what causes people to feel compelled to eliminate their leaders but also the disastrous consequences that come afterward.

The play focuses largely on the moral argument proposed by Brutus and Cassius – they suggest that if villains are allowed to reign unchecked, their unrighteousness will ultimately be learned at the price of innocent lives.

This heavily reflects Republicanism and its core belief of loyalty to good rulers only – bad rulers deserve neither respect nor mercy.

This perspective would later be echoed during England’s civil war in 1660s where similar justifications were given for executing a King.

Alluding to all this, Shakespeare demonstrates how even noble acts can beget negative results – something that certainly plays true for assassination as well regardless of one’s motivations or beliefs; Brutus and Cassius wanted nothing more than to be “sacrificers but not murderers,” however instead ended up bringing chaos and destruction upon Rome – showing England what it should be careful not to bring upon itself when dealing with such a delicate matter as assassination.

Shakespeare Was an Investor as Well as a Bard in Elizabethan England

Elizabethan England

When it comes to Shakespeare, many people tend to think of him only as the great bard, not realizing that he was just as successful in the realm of business.

As is clear from his financial success and investments, the playwright was more than just a renowned writer; he was also an astute businessman!

In 1597, for example, Shakespeare purchased New Place in Stratford – a large house with ten rooms, two gardens and two barns – costing him £120.

He later invested in 80 bushels of malt which were highly profitable when bought in bulk.

With short supply in the market, he was able to sell his grain at a higher price despite potential discontent from those who were unable to afford it.

Shakespeare wielded considerable clout and money among his peers – Richard Quiney even asked his “loving good friend” for a loan of 30 pounds back 1598.

This demonstrates that Shakespeare had made considerable wealth by that point even before investing in The Globe theatre the following year.

All this evidence goes to show that William Shakespeare wasn’t just a renowned bard – he was also an incredibly clever and successful entrepreneur!

The Key Message of this Section is: The Globe Was Essential to Shakespeare’s Success and Popularity

The Globe Theatre was a game-changer for William Shakespeare.

Prior to its construction, audiences would flock to different theaters for various plays – with none having a distinct identity or fame.

But when the Globe opened its doors, it quickly became the go-to theater when it comes to Shakespeare’s work.

Not only did they produce his plays with top-notch quality but it was also credited to his ability to handpick actors who could effectively bring his characters and stories to life.

The improvisation and creative freedom allowed by the theater made it possible for Shakespeare’s works to shine even brighter than before.

Theater in London changed forever with the opening of the Globe Theatre, which only rose William Shakespeare’s reputation even further as the greatest dramatist at that time.

Everyone knew that if you wanted to witness unique historical dramas such as Henry V or witty topical plays like Julius Caesar, then you had no choice but to go see them at the Globe – ultimately leading him to become a recognized brand in itself!

Wrap Up

At the end of 1599, William Shakespeare was an established figure in the theater industry.

Having invested in a permanent theater for his company, he’d secured his financial position for life and was now able to stage his latest works for a theatergoing public that enjoyed him as one of their favorite dramatists.

Throughout the year, Shakespeare’s plays explored topics such as religious conflict and assassination, which resonated with viewers who believed that he provided insightful commentary on some of their greatest shared anxieties.

By the close of the year, his name had become synonymous with impeccable drama, and he was praised for providing unique perspectives on contemporary society.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.