Sunday, April 23, 2017

Born Today April 23: William Shakespeare


England's most famous writer William Shakespeare is thought to have been born on this date in Straford-Upon-Avon, England.  The son of an alderman and glover John Shakespeare.  Though no official records survive as to when his actual birthday was, it is traditionally celebrated on April 23rd.  He was baptized for sure on the 26th of April, so the 23rd is as good a guess as any.  There are also no records regarding Shakespeare's early education, but it is generally accepted that he attended King's New School in Stratford.  After marrying young at the age of 18 and starting a family, he fell completely off the historical map.  He surfaces again in 1592, identified as being part of the theatrical community in London.  Because of the biographical black hole, so to speak, it is not known when Shakespeare began to write.  Though it had to have been some many years before 1592, because, by this time, he was well known enough among theater goers to be attacked in print by another playwright.  By 1599, a group from a larger theater company, of which he was a leader of, banded together to build a theater of their own on the River Thames, the now very famous Globe.  In 1608 that same company took control of Blackfriars Indoor Theater.  By this time, there is every indication that Shakespeare had amassed an impressive about of wealth.  He was not, however just a writer and theater manager.  He was an actor as well, and he is listed as continuing to act beyond a time when he would needed to, so it is logical to assume that he enjoyed it and possessed a talent for it.  What is additionally known, is that throughout his career, he evenly divided his time between London and his home town.  Being that you can make a case that he is the most famous playwright in history, it not surprising that he work as source material in film dates back to the 19th century.  In 1898 "The Scottish Play" Macbeth became the first Shakespeare play to be filmed (note: the existence of this film is still somewhat in question).  It is a short film featuring English actor Johnston Forbes-Robertson as Macbeth.  The following year the film King John (1899) was produced by the British Mutoscope and Biograph Company, a portion of this film still survives and can be found in the Silent Shakespeare DVD collection.  The first film in the 20th century to be produced from his work was Romeo and Juliet, a French production, followed by Le duel d'Hamlet, both in 1900.  In 1912, The Life and Death of King Richard III was released, the film is feature length and stars Frederick Warde, it was for it's day, a true epic in every sense of the word, featuring outdoor full blown staged war scenes.  It's not that Richard III had not been filmed before, it had (notably in 1911 this version of Richard III, although a short, was impressive for it's time, and again is featured in Silent Shakespeare); but this version was the first true film staging of one of Shakespeare's plays, taking the action completely off the stage itself.  Frederick Warde indeed said that as a stage actor, the outdoors action scenes required him to invent a whole new approach to acting; one could make a case that he was film's very first action hero.  The film is also famous because for a very long time, it was one the most coveted completely lost films.  Every film historian that covered the silent era lamented the lose of the film, some even more than other famously lost films.  One of the reasons for it's fame, is precisely that it was a first in film history: it is now the oldest surviving feature length film from the United States, and I use "surviving" because a complete print was found in 1996 in Portland, Oregon.  It is now restored and has a soundtrack composed by famed film composer Ennio Morricone.  It is such an irony that both this film and the body of the historical Richard III were famously lost and found (something that I wrote about last year for a blogathon).  There are literally hundreds of films that have been produced from Shakespeare's work, and many, many of them were in the silent era, so it would be beyond the scope of this humble "Born Today" post to tackle, but follow links below for many more details on the writer and the films.  To my knowledge, the first sound film produced from his work came very early on in 1926 with a De Forest Phonofilm in Julius Caesar.  There was even a silent film from India based on Shakespeare's work:  Khoon-E-Nahak (1928).  The first full length sound film of one of his plays also came early on in The Taming Of The Shrew (1929) a Mary Pickford vehicle, featuring the Western Electric Sound System.  Close to two dozen projects are currently in the works based on his plays, but the most recently released film is a Turkish adaptation of Romeo and Juliet: Kirik Kapler Bankasi.  Shakespeare died in his hometown on the same day that he is thought to have been born April 23rd.  He would have just turned 52.  The cause of his death is just as mysterious as many missing historical moments from his life.  He was buried there two days later, near the alter of Holy Trinity Church there.  

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