English poet and playwright William Shakespeare is widely considered to be the best English language writer and dramatist of all time. A prolific writer, his enduring contributions to literature include 154 sonnets and popular plays such as Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet. His influential works continue to be studied and performed all over the world.
William was born in April 1564 in the market town of Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, to John Shakespeare and his wife Mary Arden. He was baptised on 26 April 1564 at Holy Trinity, Stratford, and entered in the parish register as: "Gulielmus filius Johannes Shakspere" (William son of John Shakspere). His exact date of birth is not recorded, but is widely celebrated on 23 April, St George's Day. This date is not supported by contemporary sources and originates from an error by 18th century scholars.
|John Shakespeare's house in|
Henley St, Stratford-upon-Avon
His family lived in Henley Street, Stratford, in the building now known as Shakespeare's Birthplace. His father worked as a glover and for a time prospered, buying the house in Henley Street and other local properties. He served as an alderman from 1565 and held the office of bailiff of Stratford, the town's civic head, in 1568-9. As the years passed, John Shakespeare fell on hard times. Struggling to pay his creditors, he was replaced as alderman in 1586, and in 1592 recorded as recusant from church services "for feare of processe for debtte."
William was the eldest son and third of eight children. Most modern biographers agree he was educated at the King's New School, a free school not far from his home in Stratford, although no record has survived of his attendance. According to one local tradition, he was apprenticed to his father.
|Anne Hathaway's Cottage in Shottery|
The date and location of their wedding are unknown, other than it was held after the Bishop of Worcester granted them a marriage licence on 27 November 1582. A marriage bond for £40 given the next day by two friends of the Hathaway family states:
if hereafter there shall not appere any lawfull lett or impediment ... William Shagspere one thone partie, and Anne Hathwey, of Stratford in the Dioces of Worcester, maiden, may lawfully solemnize matrimony together, and in the same afterwards remaine and continew man and wiffe
The licence dispensed with the usual requirement for marriage banns to be read out on three consecutive Sundays before the wedding, and instead allowed them to marry after a single reading of banns.
Their haste to get married is probably explained by Anne being about three months pregnant. Their first child, Susanna, was baptised on 26 May 1583. Two years later, she was followed by twins, Hamnet and Judith, probably named after two of the Shakespeare family’s friends, Hamnet and Judith Sadler. The parish register of Holy Trinity, Stratford, records:
Very little is recorded about Shakespeare’s life between 1585 and 1592. This period, known by scholars as his "lost years," has been the subject of much speculation. According to one anecdote, he worked as a "schoolmaster in the Countery," and an apocryphal story first published in 1709 accused him of fleeing Stratford after he was caught poaching deer from the nearby estate of Sir Thomas Lucy.
|Title page of Shakespeare's|
First Folio, published in 1623
The earliest surviving record of Shakespeare's rise in the London theatre scene is from 1592, when Robert Greene's pamphlet, Groates-worth of Witte, attacked him as:
an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tyger's heart wrapt in a Players hyde, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blanke verse as the best of you: and beeing an absolute Johannes fac totum, is in his owne conceit the onely Shake-scene in a countrey.
By this time he is thought to have written the parts of Henry VI, Taming of the Shrew, perhaps The Comedy of Errors and other plays, although it is difficult to date them with precision. The success of Henry VI, Part 1 prompted playwright Thomas Nashe to write in 1592:
How would it have joy'd brave Talbot (the terror of the French) to thinke that after he had lyne two hundred yeare in his tomb, he should triumph againe on the stage, and have his bones newe embalmed with the teares of ten thousand spectators at least
An outbreak of the plague forced the closure of London's theatres for much of the two years from June 1592. When the plague abated in 1594, the Lord Chamberlain's Men, a new company of actors founded by Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon, emerged as a leading playing company in London. Shakespeare was one of the company's original members and wrote plays exclusively for them from that time on. After the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603, the new King, James I, became the company's patron and they continued under the name the King's Men.
|Romeo and Juliet's balcony scene|
(Ford Madox Brown, 1870)
Shakespeare shared in the profits of the company and by 1597 had accumulated enough wealth to purchase New Place, reportedly the second largest house in Stratford-upon-Avon, including two barns, two gardens and two orchards. He is thought to have divided his time between his work in London and living with his wife and children in Stratford. His only son, Hamnet, died at age 11 and was buried at Holy Trinity, Stratford on 11 August 1596.
In 1599, six members of the Lord Chamberlain's Men, including Shakespeare, opened the Globe theatre, an open-aired amphitheatre on land owned by Nicholas Brend, just south of the River Thames in Southwark, Surrey. In 1608, the partnership also acquired the lease of the Blackfriars Theatre, a more prestigious indoor theatre, and the company played both venues.
Throughout his career Shakespeare performed in his own and other plays, but his forte was writing. He composed 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, and other verses. His 36 or more extant plays include comedies, histories, tragedies and romances, with A Midsummer Night's Dream, Hamlet, Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet among his acclaimed works.
His playwriting career continued until 1613. According to his early biographers, he retired to Stratford "some years before his death," although evidence suggests he continued to travel to London until at least 1614.
(Dugdale's Warwickshire, 1656)
He died at Stratford on 23 April 1616 from an undocumented illness. He had made his will less than one month earlier on 25 March 1616 in which he is described as being "in p[er]fect health & memorie."
Good frend for Jesus sake forbeare,
To digg the dust encloased heare:
Bleste be ye man yt spares thes stones.
And curst be he yt moves my bones.
He was survived by his wife Anne and their two married daughters. Susanna, the elder of the two, was the wife of Dr John Hall, a physician, and Judith, had recently married Thomas Quiney, vintner.
|Shakespeare's signature on his will, 1616|
Under his will, his only bequest to his wife Anne was his "second best bed w[i]th the furniture." He gave £300 to his daughter Judith, subject to conditions, and smaller legacies to his sister, nephews and others. He gave his daughter Susanna a life interest in his houses in New Place and Henley Street, Stratford, and Blackfriars, London, and also made her and her husband residual beneficiaries and executors of the will. He appointed Thomas Russell and Francis Collins as overseers.
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Categories: This Day In History April 23 | English Poets | English Playwrights | English Actors | English Authors | Stratford upon Avon, Warwickshire | Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon | The Globe | Lord Chamberlain's Men | Authors, England Managed Profiles | Notables