William Shakespeare's Works/The Life of William Shakespeare

Who do we mean when we speak of this person, Shakespeare?

The Chandos portrait, believed by many to depict William Shakespeare.

Shakespeare is William Shakespeare, one of the English-speaking world's greatest playwrights and poets, who possessed a great knowledge of human nature and transformed the English theatre.

Yet many facts of his life remain a mystery. Some have been acquired from painstaking looks at the records of the time, so that this summary is based on generally agreed facts. It has been said that we only know three things about Shakespeare: that he was born, married and died.

He was baptised on April 26, 1564; we do not know his birth date, but many scholars believe it was 23 April 1564.

His father was John Shakespeare (who was a glover and leather merchant) and his mother Mary Arden (who was a landed local heiress). John had a remarkable run of success as a merchant, alderman, and high bailiff of Stratford, during William's early childhood. His fortunes declined, however, in the late 1570s.

William lived for most of his early life in Stratford-upon-Avon. We do not know exactly when he went to London but he is said to have arrived in 1592.

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 that of 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.

In November 28, 1582, when he was 18, he married Anne Hathaway, who was 26. They had a daughter named Susanna, who was baptised on May 26, 1583. Later they had twins, a son named Hamnet and a daughter named Judith. Hamnet died while he was still a child on August 11, 1596. Due to the early death of his only son, Shakespeare does not have any direct descendants.

For the seven years that followed the birth of his twins, William Shakespeare disappeared from all records, and then, turned up again in London some time in 1592. This period, which is known as the "Lost Years," has sparked as much controversy about Shakespeare's life as any period.

When he was in London, he worked in repertory companies, and became part of the Lord Chamberlain's Men as an actor, playwright and shareholder.

In 1599 he became an part-owner of the Globe Theater in Southwark.

In 1603 James I became king and issued a royal licence to Shakespeare's acting company, who then became the King's Men, the foremost acting company in London at the time.

In 1608 they leased a building called Blackfriars, which they converted to an indoor playhouse. It had some advantageous features like lighting and possibly heating. The Globe continued as their primary theater.

From 1599 to 1608 he wrote several comedies and nearly all the famous tragedies. The year after (1609), his sonnets were published.

William Shakespeare wrote his will in 1611, bequeathing his properties to his daughter Susanna (married in 1607 to Dr. John Hall). To his younger daughter Judith, he left £300, and to his wife Anne left "my second best bed." According to tradition, William Shakespeare died on his 52nd birthday, April 23, 1616.

On his grave are the haunting words:

Good friend, for Jesus' sake forbeare

To dig the dust enclosed here

Blessed be the man that spares these stones,

And cursed be he that moves my bones.

It took over 100 years for some of his bones to be stolen.

After his death, in 1623, his friends published the First Folio, the first authorized collection of his works and a main source for the texts of his plays,