"All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their entrances". So begins a monologue in William Shakespeare's As You Like It. However for Shakespeare himself it seems that his plays and sonnets have provided him with a more permanent place in hearts and minds throughout the world. He is widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. To mark the 400th anniversary of his death Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha have commissioned Victor Ambrus to illustrate a series of atmospheric postage stamps depicting some of Shakespeare’s more colourful characters from the three dramatic genres of comedy, tragedy and history.
When William Shakespeare died in 1616 he left an unparalleled legacy. Not only to the development of drama and literature but to our very language, thoughts and ideas. His works are timeless and such was his ability to touch upon human nature that the magnitude of his influence can still be felt in the ways that we think and feel.
Very little is known for certain about Shakespeare. What we do know about his life comes from registrar and court records, wills, marriage certificates and his tombstone in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon.
He was the eldest son among 8 children. As his father was a public official we can be confident that the young William Shakespeare would have gone to school, although not to University it seems. The emphasis at the time was on Latin and classical history, providing him with ideas and characters for some of his later plays.
By 1582 his father had lost most of the family fortune and Shakespeare, then 18, married his pregnant girlfriend Anne Hathaway, the daughter of a wealthy farmer.
By 1591 he had penned his first play, the trilogy Henry VI which achieved modest success. Stratford was often visited by troupes of actors and it was probably these players who sparked his interest in the stage and perhaps provided the contacts for him in the London theatres. In 1592 he became a partner in an acting company and had already written plays in the three dramatic genres of comedy, tragedy and history. By 1599 Shakespeare and his partners had built their own theatre, known as The Globe, and as his fortunes grew he was able to write uninterrupted with some 37 plays attributed to him.
During this period the English language was going through a period of change. Words from the traditional Greek and Roman languages together with those from other Countries brought to England through wars, exploration and diplomacy were all being added to the English language. Shakespeare was adopting these words and if necessary simply making others up. Indeed he is credited with introducing some 3,000 words to the English language. As a result Shakespeare popularised many words and phrases that are still widely used today, such as “Wear your heart on your sleeve” (Othello) and “There’s the rub” (Hamlet), "dead as a doornail" (Henry VI) and "fancy free" (a Midsummer Night's Dream).
Whereas his father lost a small fortune William Shakespeare managed to amass considerable wealth during his lifetime. By the time of his retirement to Stratford a few years prior to his death aged 52 he was the owner of several properties. As with much of his life the cause of his death is not known, but a diary entry of Holy Trinity Church’s vicar John Ward indicates that Shakespeare might have celebrated a little too hard one evening and died of a fever!
In 1623, seven years after Shakespeare's death, John Heminge and Henry Condell (two actors from The King's Company that Shakespeare has been part of) had his plays published. This First Folio contained 36 plays and sold for £1. Although 18 of his plays had already been published 18 others, including Macbeth and The Tempest, were only found in this folio.
50p Malvolio from Twelfth Night. First performed in 1602 it was written for the close of the Christmas season. It was not published until it’s inclusion in the First Folio
55p Henry V from the play of the same name. First performed in 1599 The play is the final part of a tetralogy, preceded by Richard II, Henry IV Part 1, and Henry IV Part 2. Therefore the original audiences would have been familiar with the title character, who had grown from a wild, undisciplined lad to a mature man embarking on the successful conquest of France.
65p Hamlet from the play of the same name. The play was written between 1599 – 1602 and had certainly been performed by 1602. Hamlet is portrayed in the graveyard considering mortality as he holds the skull of the jester Yorick in his hand. The play is one of the most quoted works in the English language.
£1.60 Romeo and Juliet from the play of the same name. This tragedy was written early in Shakespeare’s career, between 1591 and 1595 and first published in 1597. The earliest known critic of the play was diarist Samuel Pepys, who wrote in 1662 "it is a play of itself the worst that I ever heard in my life." Prior to Romeo and Juliet romance had not been considered a worthy subject for a tragedy. Today it ranks with Hamlet as Shakespeare’s most performed play, has inspired numerous operas and ballets and could be the most filmed play of all time.
FDC: A portrait of William Shakespeare with The Globe Theatre behind.
Illustrations: Victor Ambrus
Printer: BDT International Security Printing
Process: Stochastic lithography
Stamp Size: 28.45 x 42.58mm
Sheet Format: 10
Perforation: 14 per 2cms
Release Date: 8 August, 2016
Production Co-ordination: Creative Direction (Worldwide) Ltd