Writers often use their own lives as a resource for their creative work. Some take events in their lives to build their fictional scenes: others relive the emotions of things that happen to them and build entirely new events around those emotions.
Scholars have tried to match Shakespeare’s work to his life. In the case of a writer like Shakespeare who creates situations and characters that are so numerous and wide-ranging, it’s almost impossible to do. He writes with ease about kings and beggars; males and females, youth and old age, nobility and commoners. His plays are set in ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt; Renaissance Italy, Mediaeval England, Scotland, Denmark and France, and the England of his time. No-one could have such diverse personal experience. The events in the plays spring from the creative mind of this great genius but where do the emotions come from?
Take one of his early plays, Romeo and Juliet, which he wrote when he was in his twenties. It deals with, among other things, teenage sexuality and forbidden love. We know little about Shakespeare’s life but one of the things we do know is that Shakespeare married at eighteen and his bride, Anne Hathaway, was pregnant.
Both William and Anne came from socially respectable families. Anne’s family were farmers and William’s were skilled artisans. His father was an alderman in Stratford and therefore a man of rank in the town. Premarital pregnancy was unacceptable in those circles. We know nothing more than that William made Anne pregnant when he was seventeen and that therefore, like Romeo, he was involved in an unacceptable love affair. Whatever emotions and feelings that relationship may have created is something we will never know. Could it be, though, that it was that experience that helped Shakespeare in his vivid portrayal of the star-crossed lovers and their anguished plight?
A writer who has such emotional intensity in his works must have experienced those emotions in some form in order to have written about them. Boiling it down to basic emotions – sexual passion, fear, envy, compassion, love, hatred – which he would have experienced in the course of living, just as the rest of us do, it’s clear that Shakespeare had the capacity to squeeze the most out of every experience. That’s one of the things that makes him such a good writer.