William Shakespeare, 1564 - 1616 Although there are many myths and mysteries surrounding William Shakespeare, a great deal is actually known about his life. He was born in Stratford-Upon-Avon, son of John Shakespeare, a prosperous merchant and local politician and Mary Arden, who had the wealth to send their oldest son to Stratford Grammar School. At 18, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway, the 27-year-old daughter of a local farmer, and they had their first daughter six months later. He probably developed an interest in theatre by watching plays performed by traveling players in Stratford while still in his youth. Some time before 1592, he left his family to take up residence in London, where he began acting and writing plays and poetry. By 1594 Shakespeare had become a member and part owner of an acting company called The Lord Chamberlain's Men, where he soon became the company's principal playwright. His plays enjoyed great popularity and high critical acclaim in the newly built Globe Theatre. It was through his popularity that the troupe gained the attention of the new king, James I, who appointed them the King's Players in 1603. Before retiring to Stratford in 1613, after the Globe burned down, he wrote more than three dozen plays (that we are sure of) and more than 150 sonnets. He was celebrated by Ben Jonson, one of the leading playwrights of the day, as a writer who would be "not for an age, but for all time," a prediction that has proved to be true. Today, Shakespeare towers over all other English writers and has few rivals in any language. His genius and creativity continue to astound scholars, and his plays continue to delight audiences. Many have served as the basis for operas, ballets, musical compositions, and films. While Jonson and other writers labored over their plays, Shakespeare seems to have had the ability to turn out work of exceptionally high caliber at an amazing speed. At the height of his career, he wrote an average of two plays a year as well as dozens of poems, songs, and possibly even verses for tombstones and heraldic shields, all while he continued to act in the plays performed by the Lord Chamberlain's Men. This staggering output is even more impressive when one considers its variety. Except for the English history plays, he never wrote the same kind of play twice. He seems to have had a good deal of fun in trying his hand at every kind of play. Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets, all published on 1609, most of which were dedicated to his patron Henry Wriothsley, The Earl of Southhampton. He also wrote 13 comedies, 13 histories, 6 tragedies, and 4 tragecomedies. He died at Stratford-upon-Avon April 23, 1616, and was buried two days later on the grounds of Holy Trinity Church in Stratford. His cause of death was unknown, but it is surmised that he knew he was dying.
The most important Welsh poet of the twentieth century, Thomas was born in Swansea, about which he remembered unkindly "the smug darkness of a provincial town." He attended Swansea Grammar School but received his real education in the extensive library of his father, a disappointed schoolteacher with higher ambitions. Refusing university study in favor of immediately becoming a professional writer, Thomas worked first in Swansea and then in London at a variety of literary jobs, which included journalism and, eventually, filmscripts and radio plays. In 1936 he began the satisfying but stormy marriage to the bohemian writer and dancer Caitlin MacNamara that would endure for the rest of his career. His life fell into a pattern of oscillation between work and dissipation in London and recovery and relaxation in a rural retreat, usually in Wales. Thomas worked in a documentary film unit during the war. Besides his poetry, he wrote plays and fiction. In the early 1950s, he gave three celebrated poetry-reading tours of the United States, during which his outrageous behavior vied with his superb reading ability for public attention. Aggravated by chronic alcoholism, his health collapsed during the last tour, and he died in a New York City hospital. In his poetry, Thomas embraced an exuberant romanticism in the encounter between self and world and a joyous riot in the lushness of language. His work falls into three periods---an early "womb-tomb" phase during which he produced a notebook, which he later mined for further poems, a middle one troubled by marriage and war, and a final acceptance of the human condition. The exuberant rhetoric of his work belies an equally strong devotion to artistry, what he once called "my craft or sullen art." His great "Fern Hill," for example, builds its imagery of the rejoicing innocence of childhood on a strict and demanding syllabic count. A recollection of boyhood holidays on the farm of his aunt and uncle, that poem places its emotion within an Edenic framework typical of Thomas's work. The impressive sonnet sequence "Altarwise by Owl-Light" (1936) combines the internal quest of romanticism with a more elaborate religious outlook in tracing the birth and spiritual autobiography of a poet. Almost at the end of his career he produced the moving elegy "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night" (1952), written during the final illness of his father. Despite his periods of doubt and dissipation, Thomas celebrated the fullness of life. As he wrote in a note to his Collected Poems (1952), "These poems, with all their crudities, doubts, and confusion, are written for the love of Man and in praise of God, and I'd be a damn fool if they weren't."