(born April 1564, baptised April 26, 1564, died April 23, 1616 Julian calendar, May 3, 1616 Gregorian calendar) is widely considered to have
been the greatest writer the English language has ever known. As a playwright, he wrote not only some of the most powerful tragedies, but also many comedies. He also wrote 154 sonnetss and several major poems, some of which are considered to be the most brilliant
pieces of English literature ever written, because of Shakespeare's
ability to rise beyond the narrative and describe the innermost and
the most profound aspects of human nature. He is believed to have written most of
his works between 1585 and 1613, although the exact dates and chronology of the plays attributed
to him are not accurately known. There was no standardized spelling
in Elizabethan England, and Shakespeare's name is often rendered in
contemporary documents as Shakespear, Shaksper or
agree that actor and playwright were the same William Shakespeare for
whom we have considerable historical records. Shakespeare was born in
Stratford-upon-Avon, England, in April 1564, the son of John Shakespeare, a glove maker, and Mary Arden. The baptism of Shakespeare is recorded on April
26 of that year and the 23rd has traditionally been considered his birthday. His
father, prosperous at the time of William's birth, was prosecuted for
participating in the black market in wool, and later lost his position
as an alderman. There is some evidence that both sides of the family
had Roman Catholic sympathies.
Anne Hathaway, eight years his senior, on November 28, 1582 at Stratford-upon-Avon in a ceremony witnessed by Fulk
Sandalls and John Richardson; the marriage seems to have been rushed
by the bride's pregnancy. After his marriage, little is known of William
Shakespeare until he appears on the London literary scene.
On May 26, 1583 Shakespeare's first child, Susanna, was baptised at Stratford.
This was soon followed on February 2, 1585, with the baptisms of a son, Hamnet, and a daughter, Judith.
By 1592, he was sufficiently known to be denounced by Robert Greene as "an upstart Crow, beautified with
our feathers, that with his Tygers hart 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 factotum, is in his owne conceit
the onely Shake-scene in a countrey." (The italicised line is a
parody of the phrase, "Oh, tiger's heart wrapped in a woman's hide"
which Shakespeare used in Henry VI, part 3.)
In 1596 Hamnet died; he was buried on August 11, 1596. Because of the similarities of their names, some suspect
that his death was the impetus for Shakespeare's The Tragical History
of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.
In 1597 William sold "one messuage, two barns, two gardens, two
orchards, with appurtenances, in Stradford-upon-Avon" to William
Underhill for sixty pounds. The house on this property was that built
by Sir Hugh Clopton.
By 1598 Shakespeare had moved to the parish of St. Helen's, Bishopgate
and appeared top of a list of actors (Every man in his Humor)
produced by Ben Jonson.
an actor, writer and ultimately part-owner of an acting company known
as The Lord Chamberlain's Men — the company
was named, like others of the period, for their aristocratic sponsor.
It was sufficiently popular that after the death of Elizabeth I and the coronation of James I (1603), the new monarch adopted the company and it became known
as The King's Men.
recording legal affairs, and business transactions show that Shakespeare
grew increasingly affluent in his London years. He did well enough to
buy a property in Blackfriars, London, and owned the second largest
house in Stratford.
In 1609 he published his sonnets, love poems addressed some to a 'dark lady', and some to a young man (or 'fair lord').
He retired approximately
1611 and died in 1616, on April 23rd, perhaps the reason behind the
tradition of his birthday being this same day. He remained married to
Anne until his death. His two daughters, Susannah and Judith, survived
him. Susannah married Dr John Hall, and was later the subject of a court
His tombstone reads,
"Blest be the man who cast these stones, and cursed be he that
moves my bones."
(1564-1616) was born to John Shakespeare and mother Mary Arden some
time in late April 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon. There is no record of
his birth, but his baptism was recorded by the church, thus his birthday
is assumed to be the 23 of April. His father was a prominent and prosperous
alderman in the town of Stratford-upon-Avon, and was later granted a
coat of arms by the College of Heralds. All that is known of Shakespeare's
youth is that he presumably attended the Stratford Grammar School, and
did not proceed to Oxford or Cambridge. The next record we have of him
is his marriage to Anne Hathaway in 1582. The next year she bore a daughter
for him, Susanna, followed by the twins Judith and Hamnet two years
Seven years later Shakespeare was recognized as an actor, poet, and
playwright, when a rival playwright, Robert Greene, referred to him
as "an upstart crow" in "A Groatsworth of Wit."
A few years later he joined up with one of the most successful acting
troupes in London: "The Lord Chamberlain's Men." When, in
1599, the troupe lost the lease of the theatre where they performed
(appropriately called "The Theatre"), they were wealthy enough
to build their own theatre across the Thames, south of London, which
they called "The Globe." The new theatre opened in July of
1599, built from the timbers of "The Theatre", with the motto
"Totus mundus agit histrionem" (A whole world of players).
When James I came to the throne (1603) the troupe was designated by
the new king as the "King's Men" (or "King's Company").
The Letters Patent of the company specifically charged Shakespeare and
eight others "freely to use and exercise the art and faculty of
playing Comedies, Tragedies, Histories, Interludes, Morals, Pastorals,
stage plays ... as well for recreation of our loving subjects as for
our solace and pleasure."
Shakespeare entertained the King and the people for another ten years
until June 19, 1613, when a canon fired from the roof of the theatre
for a gala performance of Henry VIII set fire to the thatch roof and
burned the theatre to the ground. The audience ignored the smoke from
the roof at first, being to absorbed in the play, until the flames caught
the walls and the fabric of the curtains. Amazingly there were no casualties,
and the next spring the company had the theatre "new builded in
a far fairer manner than before." Although Shakespeare invested
in the rebuilding, he retired from the stage to the Great House of New
Place in Statford that he had purchased in 1597, and some considerable
land holdings ,where he continued to write until his death in 1616 on
the day of his 52nd birthday.
For all his fame
and celebration, William Shakespeare remains a mysterious figure with
regards to personal history. There are just two primary sources for
information on the Bard: his works, and various legal and church documents
that have survived from Elizabethan times. Naturally, there are many
gaps in this body of information, which tells us little about Shakespeare
was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, allegedly on April 23, 1564.
Church records from Holy Trinity Church indicate that he was baptized there on April 26,
1564. Young William was born of John Shakespeare, a glover and leather
merchant, and Mary Arden, a landed heiress. William, according to the
church register, was the third of eight children the Shakespeare household—three
of whom died in childhood. John Shakespeare had a remarkable run of
success as a merchant, and later as an alderman and high bailiff of
Stratford, during William's early childhood. His fortunes declined,
however, in the 1570s.
There is great conjecture
about Shakespeare's childhood years, especially regarding his education.
It is surmised by scholars that Shakespeare attended the free grammar
school in Stratford, which at the time had a reputation to rival Eton.
While there are no records extant to prove this claim, Shakespeare's
knowledge of Latin and Classical Greek would tend to support this theory.
In addition, Shakespeare's first biographer, Nicholas Rowe, wrote that
John Shakespeare had placed William "for some time in a free school."
John Shakespeare, as a Stratford official, would have been granted a
waiver of tuition for his son. As the records do not exist, we do not
know how long William attended the school, but certainly the literary
quality of his works suggest a solid education. What is certain is that
William Shakespeare never proceeded to university schooling, which has
stirred some of the debate concerning the authorship of his works.
The next documented
event in Shakespeare's life is his marriage to Anne Hathaway on November
28, 1582. William was 18 at the time, and Anne was 26—and pregnant.
Their first daughter, Susanna, was born on May 26, 1583. The
couple later had twins, Hamnet and Judith, born February 2, 1585
and christened at Holy Trinity. Hamnet died in childhood at the age
of 11, on August 11, 1596.
For seven years,
William Shakespeare effectively disappears from all records, turning
up in London circa 1592. This has sparked as much controversy
about Shakepeare's life as any period. Rowe notes that young Shakespeare
was quite fond of poaching, and may have had to flee Stratford after an incident with Sir Thomas Lucy, whose lands he allegedly
hunted. There is also rumor of Shakespeare working as an assistant schoolmaster
in Lancashire for a time, though this is circumstantial at best.
It is estimated that Shakespeare arrived in London around 1588
and began to establish himself as an actor and playwright. Evidently,
Shakespeare garnered envy early on for his talent, as related by the
critical attack of Robert Greene, a London playwright, in 1592: "...an
upstart crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tiger's heart
wrapped in a player's hide, supposes he is as well able to bombast out
a blank verse as the best of you: and being an absolute Johannes fac
totum, is in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country."
notwithstanding, Shakespeare must have shown considerable promise. By
1594, he was not only acting and writing for the Lord Chamberlain's
Men (called the King's Men after the ascension of James I in 1603),
but was a managing partner in the operation as well. With Will Kempe,
a master comedian, and Richard Burbage, a leading tragic actor of the
day, the Lord Chamberlain's Men became a favorite London troupe, patronized
by royalty and made popular by the theatre-going public. When the plague
forced theatre closings in the mid-1590s, Shakespeare and his company
made plans for the Globe Theatre in the Bankside district, which was
across the river from London proper.
is apparent when studied against other playwrights of this age. His
company was the most successful in London in his day. He had plays published
and sold in octavo editions, or "penny-copies" to the more
literate of his audiences. It is noted that never before had a playwright
enjoyed sufficient acclaim to see his works published and sold as popular
literature in the midst of his career. While Shakespeare could not be
accounted wealthy, by London standards, his success allowed him
to purchase New House and retire in comfort to Stratford in 1611.
wrote his will in 1611, bequeathing his properties to his daughter Susanna
(married in 1607 to Dr. John Hall). To his surviving daughter Judith,
he left £300, and to his wife Anne left "my second best bed."
William Shakespeare allegedly died on his birthday, April 23, 1616. This is probably more of a romantic myth
than reality, but Shakespeare was interred at Holy Trinity in Stratford
on April 25. In 1623, two working companions of Shakespeare from the
Lord Chamberlain's Men, John Heminges and Henry Condell, printed the
First Folio edition
of the Collected Works, of which half the plays contained therein were
previously unpublished. The First Folio also contained Shakespeare's
legacy is a body of work that will never again be equaled in Western
civilization. His words have endured for 400 years, and still reach
across the centuries as powerfully as ever. Even in death, he leaves
a final piece of verse as his epitaph:
English poet, dramatist,
and actor, considered by many to be the greatest dramatist of all time.
Some of Shakespeare's plays, such as Hamlet and Romeo and
Juliet, are among the most famous literary works of the world. However,
his early works did not match the artistic quality of Marlowe's dramas.
Ben Jonson (1572-1637), another contemporary playwright, wrote that
Shakespeare's "wit was in his own power; would the rule of it had
been so too". Shakespeare possessed a large vocabulary for his
day, having used 29,066 different words in his plays. Today the average
English-speaking person uses something like 2,000 words in everyday
may be that the essential thing with Shakespeare is his ease and authority
and thay you just have to accept him as he is if you are going to be
able to admire him properly, in the way you accept nature, a piece of
scenery for example, just as it is." (Ludwig
Wittgenstein in Culture and Value, 1980)
There is not much
records of Shakespeare´s personal life. Rumors arise from time to time
that he did not write his plays, but the real author was Christopher
Marlowe, Queen Elizabeth or Edward De Vere (1550-1604), whom T.J. Looney
identified in 1920 as the author of Shakespeare's plays. A large body
of 'Oxfordians' have since built on this claim and the reluctance to
believe that a man of humble origins could be such a great author. According
to some numerologists, Shakespeare wrote The King James Version of the
Bible at the age of 46. Their "evidence": Shake is
the 46th word of the 46th Psalm, Spear is the 46th word
from the end in the 46th Psalm.
was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, a small country town. Stratford was
famous for its malting. The black plague killed in 1564 one out of seven
of the town's 1,500 inhabitants. Shakespeare was the eldest son of Mary
Arden, the daughter of a local landowner, and her husband, John Shakespeare
(c. 1530-1601), a glover and wood dealer. John Aubrey (1626-1697) tells
in Brief Lives that Shakespeare's father was a butcher and the
young William exercised his father's trade, "but when he kill'd
a Calfe he would do it in a high style, and make a speech." In
1568 John Shakespeare was made a mayor of Stratford and a justice of
peace. His wool business failed in the 1570s, and in 1580 he was fined
£40, with other 140 men, for failing to find surety to keep the peace.
There is not record that his fine was paid. Later the church commissioners
reported of him and eight other men that they had failed to attend church
"for fear of process for debt". The family's position was
restored in the 1590s by earnings of William Shakespeare, and in 1596
he was awarded a coat of arms.
Very little is known
about Shakespeare early life, and his later works have inspired a number
of interpretations. T.S. Eliot wrote that "I would suggest that
none of the plays of Shakespeare has a "meaning," although
it would be equally false to say that a play of Shakespeare is meaningless."
(from Selected Essays, new edition,
1960). Shakespeare is assumed to have been educated at Stratford
Grammar School, and he may have spent the years 1580-82 as a teacher
for the Roman Catholic Houghton family in Lancashire. When Shakespeare
was 15, a woman from a nearby village drowned in the Avon. Her death
was ruled accidental but it may have been a suicide. Later in Hamlet
Shakespeare left open the question whether Ophelia died accidentally
or by her own hand. At the age of 18, Shakespeare married a local girl,
Anne Hathaway (died 1623), who was eight years older. Their first child,
Susannah, was born within six months, and twins Hamnet and Judith were
born in 1585. Hamnet, Shakespeare's only son, died in 1896, at the age
of 11. It has often been suggested, that the lines in King John,
beginning with "Grief fills the room of my absent child",
reflects Shakespeare's grief.
was first printed in 1603. It is Shakespeare's largest drama,
based on a lost play known as the Ur-Hamlet. Prince Hamlet, an
enigmatic intellectual, mourns both his father's death and his mother's
remarriage. His father's ghost appears to him and tells that Claudius,
married to Queen Gertrude, Hamlet's mother, poisoned him. Hamlet, fascinated
by cruelly witty games, swears revenge. "The time is out
of joint; O cursed spite, That ever I was born to set it right!"
He arranges an old play whose story has a parallel to that of Claudius.
Hamlet's behavior is considered mad. He kills the eavesdropping Polonius,
the court chamberlain, by thrusting his sword through a curtain. Polonius's
son Laertes returns to Denmark to avenge his father's death. Polonius's
daughter Ofelia loves Hamlet, but the prince's sadistically brutal behavior
drives her to madness. "Get thee to a nunnery: why wouldst thou
be a breeder of sinners?" he tells Ophelia who dies by drowning.
Before the slaughter that ends the story, Hamlet says to his friend
Horatio: "I shall win at the odds. But thou wouldst not think how
ill all's here about my heart." A duel takes place and ends with
the death of Gertrude, Laertes, Claudius, and Hamlet, whose final words
are "the rest is silence."
According to a legend,
he left Stratford for London to avoid a charge of poaching. After 1582
Shakespeare probably joined as an actor one or several companies of
players. By 1584 he emerged as a rising playwright in London, and became
soon a central figure in London´s leading theater company, the Lord
Chamberlain´s Company, renamed later as the King´s Men. He wrote many
great plays for the group. In 1599 a new theater, called The Globe,
known in his day as a very rapid writer: "His mind and hand went
together," his publishers Heminges and Condell reported, "and
what he thought, he uttered with that easiness that we have scarce received
from him a blot in his papers." Despite all the praise, some writer's
were not enthusiastic about his plays. Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) called
A Midsummer Night's Dream "the most insipid, ridiculous
play that I ever saw in my life." Voltaire
wrote: "Shakespeare is a drunken savage with some imagination whose
plays please only in London and Canada," "Shakespeare is the
Corneille of London, but everywhere else he is a great fool..."
Shakespeare wrote also two heroic narrative poems, Venus and Adonis
(1593) and Lucrece (1594). His sonnets were written earliest
by 1598 and published in 1609. The sonnets refer cryptically to several
persons, among them a handsome young man, a woman called the 'Dark Lady',
and a rival poet. Shakespeare's name was also on the title page of The
Passionate Pilgrim (1599), issued by the publisher William Jaggard.
The identity of the brunette, who appreared in Shakespeare's later poems,
has been a mystery. According to one theory, she was the Countess of
Pembroke. George Bernard Shaw believed she was one of Elizabeth I's
ladies-in-waiting, Mary Fritton. Some have thought she was the mother
of Shakespeare's supposed illegitimate son, Henry Davenant. Or she might
have been Marie Mountjoy, Shakespeare's London landlady, or the black
prostitute Luce Morgan, or Emilia Bassano, the daughter of a court musician
and mistress of the Lord Chamberlain, Lord Hunsdon. And there is a theory
that the Dark Lady was not a "she" at all, but Shakespeare's
patron Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton.
only love sprung from my only hate!
Too early seen unknown, and known too
(from Romeo and Juliet)
Romeo and Juliet
was based on real lovers who lived in Verona, Italy, and died for each
other in the year 1303. At that time the Capulets and Montagues were
among the inhabitants of the town. Shakespeare found the tale in Arthur
Brooke's poem 'The Tragical Historye of Romeus and Juliet' (1562). The
play has inspired other works, such as Berlioz's dramatic symphony (1839),
Tchaikovsky's fantasy-overture (1869-80), and Prokofiev's full-length
ballet (1938). The Tempest, often considered Shakespeare's farewell
to his theatrical art, has inspired Berlioz, Tchaikovsky, and Jean Sibelius,
who wrote music for it in 1926.
About 1610 Shakespeare
returned to his birthplace, where he had a house, called New Place.
He lived as a country gentleman, drank beer, and co-wrote with John
Fletcher The Two Noble Kinsmen, first published in 1634. A number
of Shakespeare's plays were published during his lifetime, but none
of the original dramatic manuscripts have survived. The original Globe
burned down in 1613, but was rebuilt next year. Shakespeare's later
plays were also performed at the Blackfriars Theatre, which was run
by a seven-man syndicate. Shakespeare was one of its members. Shakespeare's
company used the Globe in the summer and the indoor Blackfrian in the
winter. Under the patronage of King James I, the company also performed
at court, more often than during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. The dramatist
John Dennis (1657-1734) claimed, that The Merry Wives of Windsor
was written at her command. Macbeth, with its witches and portrayal
of the legendary ancestor of the Stuart kings, Banquo, had a special
appeal to James. He had also written a book about demology.
on April 23, 1616. His widow was legally entitled to a third of the
estate. Shakespeare also bequeathed his "second-best bed"
to his wife - at that time the best bed was the grand prize of a forfeited
estate. Anne Hathaway died seven years after her husband. Accroding
to a story, she and her daughter wished to be buried in Shakespeare's
In 1623 appeared
a folio edition of Shakespeare's collected works - known as the First
Folio. On Shakespeare's gravestone are four lines of verse. It is not
certain that the Bard of Avon wrote the famous epitaph: "Good friend,
for Jesus´ sake forbeare / To digg the dust enclosed here! / Blest be
ye man that spares thes stones / And curst be he that moues my bones."
However, in the text there is an onomatopoetic to his name, with "sake"
in the first line, and "spares" in the third.