William Shakespeare (1564-1616) of Stratford-upon-Avon is England's and the world's most noted playwright. Shakespeare lived during the reigns of Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603) and King James I (1603-1625), who commissioned the Authorized King James Version of the Holy Bible, published in 1611.
William was born to John and Mary Arden Shakespeare, the third of eight children. The only record available from his childhood is his baptism at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford on April 26, 1564. It is evident from his plays that he was moved by his studies of Greek and Latin classics. He married Anne Hathaway at age eighteen, and they had three children, Susanna, and the twins Hamnet and Judith. The death of his only son Hamnet at age eleven was devastating for Shakespeare, and proved a powerful influence on his Tragedy Hamlet.
Shakespeare's popularity rests on his perceptive understanding of human nature. The 36 plays published in the First Folio of 1623 are generally divided into Tragedies, such as Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, Julius Caesar, and Antony and Cleopatra; Comedies, as The Merchant of Venice, A Midsummer's Night Dream, Love's Labour Lost, As You Like It, All's Well That Ends Well, Much Ado about Nothing, Twelfth Night, and the Taming of the Shrew; the Comedies known as Romances such as The Winter's Tale and one of his last plays The Tempest, one of the themes being the painful necessity of a father letting his daughter go; and Histories, such as The Life and Death of King John, King Richard II, King Henry IV, Parts I and II, with the comical character Falstaff, King Henry V, King Henry VI, Parts I, II, and III, King Richard III, and All Is True (on Henry VIII). Historical and legendary figures are found throughout his plays, such as Robin Hood is noted in Henry IV Part 2, As You Like It, and The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Shakespeare is also noted for his 154 Sonnets, A Lover's Complaint, and other poems.
This beautiful piece on mercy is from The Merchant of Venice, first performed in 1596 and published in 1600. Portia speaks to Shylock in Act IV, Scene I:
The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings.
But mercy is above this sceptered sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings;
It is an attribute of God himself;
And earthly power doth then show like God's
When mercy seasons justice.