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Let Us Read
18. Before you read the text think and say what you know about William Shakespeare. Do you know:
On April 23, 1564 a son, William, was born to John and Mary Shakespeare in Stratford-upon-Avon. His mother was the daughter of a farmer. His father was a glove-maker. William went to a grammar school in Stratford and had quite a good education. There he learned to love reading. While still a teenager, William married Anne Hathaway, a farmer’s daughter some years older than himself. We don’t know how he earned his living during these early years, perhaps he helped his father in the family business. During these years his three children were born: Susannah, the eldest, then twins — a son, Hamnet (not Hamlet), and another girl, Judith. In 1587 Shakespeare went to work in London, leaving Anne and the children at home. We don’t know exactly why he did it. Some people say that the reason was his love of poetry and theatre. But there is another story which says that he had to run away from law because he killed some deer belonging to a rich man.
In London Shakespeare began to act and to write plays and soon became an important member of a well-known acting company. Most of his plays were performed in the new Globe Theatre built on the bank of the River Thames. In 1613 he stopped writing and went to live in Stratford where he died in 1616.
Four hundred years later his plays are still acted — not only in England but in the whole world.
THE ACTORS COME TO TOWN
(from the book “William Shakespeare” by Jennifer Basset)
The story is told by Will Shakespeare’s friend, Toby. 40. Will married Anne Hathaway in November and she came to live in Henley Street. John Shakespeare was pleased that his oldest son was married but I don’t think Will’s mother wanted him to marry so young: Will was only eighteen.
Susannah was born the next year. All babies look the same to me but Will was very pleased with her.
“Look, Toby, she’s got my eyes,” he said happily. “She’s going to be as beautiful as the Queen of Egypt and as clever as King Solomon.”
“Oh yes!” I said. “All parents talk like that about their children.” I knew Will’s wife Anne didn’t like me. To her, I was one of Will’s wild friends who got him into trouble. She came from a very serious, puritan1 family. A lot ofvchurch-going and no singing or dancing. But Will and I still went around together when we could.
Soon there was another baby on the way2 and one evening in February 1585 I hurried round to Henley Street to hear the news. Will’s sister, Joan, opened the door, and then Will came running down the stairs.
“It’s two of them!” he said. “Twins! A girl and a boy. Isn’t that wonderful!” Will called the twins Hamnet and Judith. John Shakespeare was very pleased to have his first grandson and everyone was happy. For a while.
Will was still reading and writing but he had changed. He was twenty-three now and he was not happy with his life.
“Stratford’s too small, Toby,” he said. “Too slow. Too quiet. Too boring. I’ve got to get away.”
“Yes, but how?” I asked. “You’ve got a family — three young children, remember.”
He didn’t answer.
In the summer months companies of players often came to small towns and in 1587 five different companies came to Stratford. Will and I always went to see the plays. Will loved to talk to the actors and to listen to all their stories of London.
The Queen’s Men came to Stratford in June and we went to see the play. I don’t remember what it was. I know that I laughed a lot, and that Will said it was a stupid play with not a word of poetry in it.
“Why don’t you write a play yourself?” I asked him.
“Write a play?” he laughed. “Anne will never speak to me again.”
I didn’t say anything and Will looked at me and laughed again.
It happened a few months later. I walked into the Shakespeares’ kitchen one evening and there was Anne with a red, angry face, shouting at the top of her voice.
“How can you do this to me? And what about the children?” Then she saw me and stopped.
Will was sitting at the table and looked pleased to see me. “I’ve told Anne,” he said quietly, “that I’m going to live in London. I want to be an actor and to write plays if I can.”
“Plays!” screamed Anne. “Acting! Actors are dirty, wicked people! They’re all thieves and criminals! They drink all day and they never go to church...”
“Don’t be stupid, Anne. You know that’s not true. Listen. I’ll come home when I can but I must go to London. I can’t do anything in Stratford.” He looked at me across the room. “Are you coming with me, Toby?”
“How soon shall we start?” I asked.
19. Say if it is true or false.
20. Get ready with test reading of Toby’s story (ex. 18, 40).
21. Read the last part of the text (ex. 18) beginning with the words “The Queen’s Men came to Stratford in June” in reported speech.