"No, I'll not weep. / I have full cause of weeping, but this heart / Shall break into a hundred thousand flaws / Or ere I'll weep. O fool, I shall go mad!" (Lear speaking, Shakespeare, King Lear, Act 1, Scene 1, 228-238).
William Shakespeare—playwright, poet, actor, man of the theater—is probably the best-known writer in the English language, and perhaps its most highly regarded. Writing during a time of great social upheaval and political turmoil, he was part of a theatrical world where the complex interplay between entertainment, literature, market forces, urbanization, politics, and religion resulted in an extraordinary age of dramatic and literary achievements. His surviving works—some 38 plays, 154 sonnets, and several other poems—cover a tremendous array of subjects, testify to a wide-ranging engagement with literature, history and philosophy, and display incredible formal and stylistic mastery and inventiveness.