Shakespeare’s life is equated with the Elizabethan Age. Such is his genius. One might wonder how can a young lad with modicum of education, -typical grammar school syllabus with its devotion to Ovid, Bible and Prayer Book , unlike his contemporary Marlow who went to the University, surpass all others to be the representative man of the Age. It is such a serious question that defies a rational answer and many scholars have hazarded a theory to aver Bacon as the real author. As with every theory it has its supporters but literature is not respecter of class or scholarship. It has to smell life in its naturalness, even coarseness has its part. Scholarship can make a horse run to win the Derby but cannot make it fly like Pegasus. Here is the difference between Shakespeare and his rivals. His line trots and when flies it takes our breath away.
So what was the secret of William Shakespeare? I shall come to it by and by. Beginning as a player he became the most celebrated playwright of the Age. It was a time when poets were considered a cut above the players similar to the subtle social distinctions that marked a composer than a flautist in the Baroque Age. He made wise career moves in taking shares of the Lord Chamberlain’s Company at its inception in 1594 and his star rose as with the fortunes of the Company. Its popularity was such its players were elevated to be regarded as the King’s Men on James I accession in 1603. He ended up as part owner of the Blackfriar’s theatre. In short his sound business acumen made him as the Stratford lad who made good in the City of London.
Intelligence he had aplenty as his life in bare essentials would prove. His imagination was of such ethereal quality that he could put words in the mouth of Mercutio and we feel we know Queen Mab as though from direct experience. Never has any one excelled in poetic fancies as shown in the plays like Othello or Antony and Cleopatra. One can imagine it coming out like a single sweep of imagination, theme and coloring adding to the line- richness and vibrancy as the Renaissance palette of a Tintorotto or a Vernese. In the latter play especially ‘his language reaches heights and depths never reached before or excelled since.’
“Not poppy, nor mandragora,
Nor all the drowsy syrups of the world,
Shall ever medicine thee to that sweet sleep..” (Ot.AcIII sc.3: 330)
Negative capability as defined by John Keats explains the ability of Shakespeare, whose academic credentials were merely rudimentary, to have excelled himself in writing plays that bear his name. The Bard of Avon despite his negative capability made up by exercising his imagination. Such is imagination and it belongs to the inner world.