William Shakespeare. What We Know. William Shakespeare is known as one of the most influential writers in the English language. Strangely, much of his life is a mystery.
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William Shakespeare is known as one of the most influential writers in the English language. Strangely, much of his life is a mystery.
Most of what we know about this man comes from registrar records, court records, wills, marriage documents, accounts from other playwrights, and his tombstone.
Shakespeare was born in 1564 in Stratford, England. This fact is considered true because his infant baptism was documented as taking place on April 26th, 1564.
The exact day is unknown, but it is assumed that the year was 1564. It is SUPPOSED that his birthdate was April 23rd due to typical baptism traditions at the time, but there is no proof.
William Shakespeare’s parents were John and Mary Shakespeare, and he was the third child. The first two children were girls named Joan and Margaret, both of whom died before William was born
After William came Gilbert, who unfortunately died in 1612, and Richard who died in 1613.
Edmund followed, living from 1580-1607, being the sixth child. William's oldest sister Joan outlived her famous playwright brother. Out of his seven siblings, only one sister and four of his brothers survived to adulthood.
Shakespeare’s parents were married in 1557.
His father, John, was a very important man in Stratford. He was a businessman who dabbled in leather tanning and “whittawering,” which is working with white leather to make various items such as saddles and purses. He also bought and sold grain and is sometimes said to have been a glover (one who makes gloves).
Additionally, John Shakespeare was one of fourteen town council members.
William’s mother was the youngest child of her parents. Her maiden name was Mary Arden. Despite being the youngest, Mary inherited most of her father’s estate when he died.
Needless to say, William came from a successful background.
About this, we do not know much. We do know that the sons of prominent members of the town attended King’s New Grammar School to learn reading and writing, so it is assumed that Shakespeare attended this school. Unfortunately, we have no certain proof.
The lack of evidence further indicates that William never attended a University.
Whether or not Shakespeare attended school, he was obviously educated somehow due to the content matter in his plays.
A bond certificate dated November the 28th, 1582, reveals that Shakespeare married a woman named Anne Hathaway.
He was 18 years old. She was 26 and pregnant.
Seven months later, the two had their first daughter, Susanna. Anne Shakespeare never left Stratford for the remainder of her life.
Baptism records tell us that the twins Hamnet and Judith were born in 1592. Shakespeare’s only son (Hamnet) died at age.
Shakespeare’s family was abnormally small for the time period. Most married couples produced many offspring due to the high child mortality rate.
Stories say that the William and Anne were unhappily married.
“The Lost Years”
Most believe that Shakespeare left his home to look for work in London, a four days ride from Stratford for about twenty years to pursue his playwriting.
He is thought to have returned back to his family in 1609.
“The Lost Years”
No one knows exactly what William was doing during these undocumented years. Some believe he fled Stratford after being caught hunting illegally. Another legend says he cared for horses outside of playhouses in London.
By 1592, Shakespeare was in London as an established playwright.
Over the next few years, the playhouses in London were shut down due to plague. During this time, William wrote his first two poems, “Venis and Adonis” and “The Rape of Lucrece.”
Despite having published many plays by this time, William made his first great monetary gain in 1605 when he bought leases of real estate surrounding Stratford. His investment doubled in value and earned him an estimated 60 pounds income each year. Some believe that this money allowed him to focus on his playwriting alone.
In 1598, the famous Globe Theatre was built. Shakespeare was involved with this theater for the rest of his life, owning shares in the company and gaining money from its profits.
In 1607, the Globe Theatre was burned. A modern day reconstruction of the building was built in 1997 called “Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.”
The Old Globe Theater
The Mermaid Tavern Group
Around 1607, a group of famous writers began to meet at the Mermaid Tavern in Cheapside.
The club was formed by Sir Walter Raleigh and included members such as Ben Jonson and Thomas Fuller.
Shakespeare and Jonson reportedly often had verbal battles to test one another’s wit.
Ben Jonson (1572-1637)
Shakespeare died on April 23rd, 1616 at age 52 and was buried at the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford. He infamously left his wife with his “second-best bed” and nothing else. He gave most of his estate to his oldest daughter Susanna
The poet’s direct line of descendants ended 54 years later when Susanna’s daughter Elizabeth died in 1670.
Good friend, for Jesus´ sake forbeare
To digg the dust enclosed here!
Blest be ye man that spares thes(e) stones
And curst be he that moues (moves) my bones.
There is no evidence that any of the portraits of Shakespeare are accurate! The closest evidence we have is from a fellow playwright Ben Jonson, who said that a specific portrait of Shakespeare was a “fair likeness.”
Did Shakespeare Write His Plays?
Shakespeare came from a fairly average middle-class family, so many scholars think it is impossible that he could have written his plays.
For a long time, many believed that Sir Francis Bacon was the true author.
Sir Francis Bacon
Other theories include many other famous Elizabethan era poets and even a large group of people.
Most scholars today accept Shakespeare’s legitimacy. Whether he wrote them or not, the fact remains that these plays are among the greatest literature ever written.