Getting the facts straight about Shakespeare is no easy task. Despite this, there are many types of direct and indirect records we can look at to get a picture of his life. Though a lot of the details are speculated, the following paragraphs will dive into only the incorrigible truths of Shakespeare’s life.
He was born in the town of Stratford-upon-Avon in England. His birthdate is not known, though the majority of historians say he was born on April 23, 1564. There is his baptismal record dated at the 26th of April, 1564. But onto more practical details, Shakespeare was the first son of John Shakespeare, a glover, and Mary Arden, the daughter of John’s landlord. Ultimately, they had eight children. The family was made up of commoners and were hit with hard financial times a bit later in William’s life (Potter, Lois).
By logic, it is assumed that William attended The King Edward VI School at Stratford for grammar school education, due to the fact that it was in proximity to his home. Also, since there was a royal decree that all children should get an education in Latin grammar and literature in the Elizabethan Era, it is thought he studied these subjects. Therefore, it is assumed that William took part in this standard education. Studies on Shakespeare’s writing notes that he seems to have had a formal education that is marked with being in touch with nature from an early age (Honan, Park, and Bozkurt Bülent).
Not much else is known about his childhood. In fact, the next certain detail of his life was when he married Anne Hathaway, the daughter of a farmer. The couple needed a special license to marry since he was 18 years old and she was 26. The issuance of the license was given on November 27, 1582. The next fact known about his life was that the couple’s first daughter, Susanna, was baptized on May 26, 1583. Also, the records demonstrate that Shakespeare’s twin son and daughter, Hamnet and Judith, were baptized on February 2, 1585. It is hard to believe, but all this happened before he reached 21 years of age (Schoone-Jongen, Terence G.).
Seven years after this second baptismal record, besides Shakespeare being involved in a lawsuit to recover part of his mother’s estate, no other exact data has turned up. Curiously, though, in 1592, Robert Greene, an English author, wrote about William being in the London theatrical scene and derides him for his play Henry VI. In addition, some modern scholars have begun to believe with some fresh evidence that Shakespeare might have been a schoolmaster and was writing plays in his free time during those seven mysterious years (Honigmann, Ernst Anselm Joachim).
In 1594, however there are records showing that he was one of the owners of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men playing company. After the death of Elizabeth I and the coronation of James I in 1603, the company was made The King’s Men by the king himself. Also during this time, Shakespeare and his wife and children relocated to the parish St. Helen’s, Bishopsgate in 1596.
Though he was known for being a playwright at this time, he was a famous actor as well. An indication of this is him being featured as an actor in 1598 for Every Man in His Humour by Ben Jonson, and in Sejanus: His Fall, also by Jonson in 1603. By 1598, his name was often printed on the title pages of plays. This was thought of as a way to sell more tickets due to his popularity. Besides acting in plays by others, he also took part as an actor in several of his own productions (Ackroyd, Peter).
According to the evidence of authorship, Shakespeare wrote at least 37 plays from 1590 until 1613 (The British Library). His first play was Taming of the Shrew written some time before 1592, and his last play was The Two Noble Kinsmen, which was composed during the period of 1613-1614 (“Timeline of Shakespeare’s Plays”). His company become royally-approved and famous. He also wrote 154 sonnets, and his mark was also significant in that form. In his honor, we have the Shakespearean Sonnet. He also created about 2000 new words, making his works very unique. From this success, Shakespeare went into the real estate business and as a merchant of grain (Boehrer, Bruce Thomas). He was one of the few commoners in England of his time to be rich and popular.
They say geniuses do not live long, and that applies to Shakespeare. He passed away at the age of 52 on April 23rd, 1616. He had signed his will a month before, giving details about his health as fine. The definite nature of his death has not been determined, but John Ward, the vicar of Stratford, wrote that, “Shakespeare, Drayton and Ben Jonson had a merry meeting and, it seems, drank too hard, for Shakespeare died of a fever there contracted” (Schoenbaum, S.).
William Shakespeare was a prolific playwright, poet, and entrepreneur. Coming from a family of commoners, he rose to become one of the most treasured artistic figures and celebrities of England—and eventually the world. He made plays that turned out to be blockbusters back in the day, he reinvigorated the sonnet, and introduced about 2000 new words into the English language. He did not stop there: he also became a prominent real estate owner and seller, in addition to being a merchant of grain. In all respects, he was a colossal personality whose creations are still enjoyed to this day across the world, despite the passage of time and ever-advancing technology.
Potter, Lois. The Life of William Shakespeare: a Critical Biography. Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.
Honan, Park, and Bozkurt Bülent. Shakespeare: Bir yaşam:yaşamöyküsü. Yapı Kredi Yayınları, 2001.
Schoone-Jongen, Terence G. Shakespeare’s Companies William Shakespeare’s Early Career and the Acting Companies, 1577-1594. Taylor and Francis, 2016.
Honigmann, Ernst Anselm Joachim. Shakespeare: the Lost Years. Vintage, 1996.
Ackroyd, Peter. Shakespeare: The Biography. Vintage Books, 2006.
“William Shakespeare.” The British Library, The British Library, 13 Jan. 2016, www.bl.uk/people/william-shakespeare.
Boehrer, Bruce Thomas. Environmental Degradation in Jacobean Drama. Cambridge University Press, 2015.
“Timeline of Shakespeare’s Plays.” Royal Shakespeare Company, www.rsc.org.uk/shakespeares-plays/timeline.
Schoenbaum, S. Shakespeare’s Lives. Barnes & Noble, 2006.