I have been intimately acquainted with five of his plays as an actor, designer or director the others I have only read. To the theatre world what I’m about to say is sacrilege – not on the "U2-charist" level - but not the popular held view. And it is this: William Shakespeare is the most overrated playwright in the world. There I said it.
Out of Will’s 28 plays he did write 10 or 12 plays that are sublime but the rest are boring and rhetorical, (Cymbeline immediately comes to mind). The idea of a Shakespeare industry is laughable and crude.
As Lee pointed out there is really very little verifiable information about Shakespeare’s life yet every few years we are treated to new batch of biographies. Last year we were given to a new approach – that Shakespeare was a Catholic - hiding in plain sight of a militantly Protestant government and that his plays were really Catholic apologetic tracts done in iambic pentameter. Lee mentioned about a new bio “Ackroyd does try to fill the gaps based on evidence in the play and some reasonable speculation…” When you base a biography on reasonable speculation doesn’t that make it a Historical Novel? Also to base any playwright’s bio from evidence gleaned from his plays is on the same level as saying you know a man by what he plants in his garden.
Will’s occasional genius lies in the fact that he can show us (in an entertaining way) man’s decent into madness and how easy it is to get there. Whether it is in the covetingly lustful pursuit of power, wealth or love man can spiral out of control. From this are we to conclude that Will was guilt racked for leaving his family and constantly afraid of going insane or that he his preaching to us about the consequence of sin or that he is simply a brilliant observer of the human condition and writing plays to keep the wolf from his door?
That said if none of his plays survived and all we had were his sonnets the world would be just as rich and if we lost his sonnets and only had his plays the world would be a little sadder. His sonnets are matchless and nothing in the English language compares to them.
To visit these gems of rare beauty go here.