Shakespeare's BirthThe baptismal register of the Holy Trinity parish church, in Stratford, shows the following entry for April 26, 1564: Gulielmus filius Johannes Shakespeare. The actual date of Shakespeare's birth is not known, but, traditionally, April 23, St George's Day, has been Shakespeare's accepted birthday, and a house on Henley Street in Stratford, owned by William's father, John, is accepted as Shakespeare's birth place. However, the reality is that no one really knows when the great dramatist was born. According to The Book of Common Prayer, it was required that a child be baptized on the nearest Sunday or holy day following the birth, unless the parents had a legitimate excuse. As Dennis Kay proposes in his book Shakespeare: If Shakespeare was indeed born on Sunday, April 23, the next feast day would have been St. Mark's Day on Tuesday the twenty-fifth. There might well have been some cause, both reasonable and great -- or perhaps, as has been suggested, St. Mark's Day was still held to be unlucky, as it had been before the Reformation, when altars and crucifixes used to be draped in black cloth, and when some claimed to see in the churchyard the spirits of those doomed to die in that year. . . .but that does not help to explain the christening on the twenty-sixth (54).No doubt Shakespeare's true birthday will remain a mystery forever. But the assumption that the Bard was born on the same day of the month that he died lends an exciting esoteric highlight to the otherwise mundane details of Shakespeare's life.
Shakespeare's ParentsShakespeare's father, John, came to Stratford from Snitterfield before 1532 as an apprentice glover and tanner of leathers. John Shakespeare prospered and began to deal in farm products and wool. It is recorded that he bought a house in 1552 (the date that he first appears in the town records), and bought more property in 1556. Because John Shakespeare owned one house on Greenhill Street and two houses on Henley Street, the exact location of William's birth cannot be known for certain. Sometime between 1556 and 1558 John Shakespeare married Mary Arden, the daughter of the wealthy Robert Arden of Wilmecote and owner of the sixty-acre farm called Asbies. The wedding would have most likely taken place in Mary Arden's parish church at Aston Cantlow, the burial place of Robert Arden, and, although there is no evidence of strong piety on either side of the family, it would have been a Catholic service, since Queen Mary I was the reigning monarch. We assume neither John nor Mary could write -- John used a pair of glovers' compasses as his signature while Mary used a running horse -- but it did not prevent them from becoming important members of the community. John Shakespeare was elected to a multitude of civic positions, including ale-taster of the borough (Stratford had a long-reaching reputation for its brewing) in 1557, chamberlain of the borough in 1561, alderman in 1565, (a position which came with free education for his children at the Stratford Grammar School), high bailiff, or mayor, in 1568, and chief alderman in 1571. Due to his important civic duties, he rightfully sought the title of gentleman and applied for his coat-of-arms in 1570 (see picture on left). However, for unspecific reasons the application was abruptly withdrawn, and within the next few years, for reasons just as mystifying, John Shakespeare would go from wealthy business owner and dedicated civil servant to debtor and absentee council member.
By 1578 he was behind in his taxes and stopped paying the statutory aldermanic subscription for poor relief. In 1579, he had to mortgage Mary Shakespeare's estate, Asbies, to pay his creditors. In 1580 he was fined 40 pounds for missing a court date and in 1586 the town removed him from the board of aldermen due to lack of attendance. By 1590, John Shakespeare owned only his house on Henley Street and, in 1592 he was fined for not attending church. However, near the very end of John Shakespeare's life, it seems that his social and economic standing was again beginning to flourish. He once again applied to the College of Heralds for a coat-of-arms in 1596, and, due likely to the success of William in London, this time his wish was granted. On October 20 of that year, by permission of the Garter King of Arms (the Queen's aid in such matters) "the said John Shakespeare, Gentlemen, and...his children, issue and posterity" were lawfully entitled to display the gold coat-of-arms, with a black banner bearing a silver spear (a visual representation of the family name "Shakespeare"). The coat-of-arms could then be displayed on their door and all their personal items. The motto was Non sanz droict or not without right. The reason cited for granting the coat-of-arms was John Shakespeare's grandfather's faithful service to Henry VII, but no specifics were given as to what service he actually performed. The coat-of-arms appears on Shakespeare's tomb in Stratford. In 1599 John Shakespeare was reinstated on the town council, but died a short time later, in 1601. He was probably near seventy years old and he had been married for forty-four years. Mary Shakespeare died in 1608 and was buried on September 9.
Shakespeare's MarriageRecordings in the Episcopal register at Worcester on the dates of November 27 and 28, 1582, reveal that Shakespeare desired to marry a young girl named Anne. There are two different documents regarding this matter, and their contents have raised a debate over just whom Shakespeare first intended to wed. Were there two Annes? Was Shakespeare in love with one but in lust with the other? Was Shakespeare ready to join in matrimony with the Anne of his dreams only to have an attack of conscience and marry the Anne with whom he had carnal relations? To discuss the controversy properly we should look at the documents in question. The first entry in the register is the following record of the issue of a marriage license to one Wm Shakespeare:Anno Domini 1582...Novembris...27 die eiusdem mensis. Item eodem die supradicto emanavit Licentia inter Wm Shaxpere et Annam Whateley de Temple Grafton.The next entry in the episcopal register records the marriage bond granted to one Wm Shakespeare:Noverint universi per praesentes nos Fulconem Sandells de Stratford in comitatu Warwici agricolam et Johannem Rychardson ibidem agricolam, teneri et firmiter obligari Ricardo Cosin generoso et Roberto Warmstry notario publico in quadraginta libris bonae et legalis monetae Angliae solvend. eisdem Ricardoet Roberto haered. execut. et assignat. suis ad quam quidem solucionem bene et fideliter faciend. obligamus nos et utrumque nostrum per se pro toto et in solid. haered. executor. et administrator. nostros firmiter per praesentes sigillis nostris sigillat. Dat. 28 die Novem. Anno regni dominae nostrae Eliz. Dei gratia Angliae Franc. et Hiberniae Reginae fidei defensor &c.25.2 The condition of this obligation is such that if hereafter there shall not appear any lawful let or impediment by reason of any precontract, consanguinity, affinity or by any other lawful means whatsoever, but that William Shagspere on the one party and Anne Hathwey of Stratford in the diocese of Worcester, maiden, may lawfully solemnize matrimony together, and in the same afterwards remain and continue like man and wife according unto the laws in that behalf provided...
Are Shakespeare's works written in Old English?Shakespeare's complex sentence structures and use of now obsolete words lead many students to think they are reading Old or Middle English. In fact, Shakespeare's works are written in Early Modern English. Once you see a text of Old or Middle English you'll really appreciate how easy Shakespeare is to understand (well, relatively speaking). Take, for example, this passage from the most famous of all Old English works, Beowulf: Hwдt! we Gвr-Dena in geвr-dagumюeуd-cyninga юrym gefrunon,hы юв дрelingas ellen fremedon.Oft Scyld Scкfing sceaрena юreбtum.(Translation)Lo! the Spear-Danes' glory through splendid achievementsThe folk-kings' former fame we have heard of,How princes displayed then their prowess-in-battle.Oft Scyld the Scefing from scathers in numbers...
Old English was spoken and written in Britain from the 5th century to the middle of the 11th century and is really closer to the Germanic mother tongue of the Anglo-Saxons. With the arrival of the French-speaking Normans in 1066, Old English underwent dramatic changes and by 1350 it had evolved into Middle English. Middle English is easier but still looks like a foreign language much of the time. Here is an example from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the most famous work in Middle English:Ye seken lond and see for your wynnynges,As wise folk ye knowen all th'estaat Of regnes; ye been fadres of tydynges And tales, bothe of pees and of debaat. (The Man of Law's Tale)(Translation)You seek land and sea for your winnings,As wise folk you know all the estateOf kingdoms; you be fathers of tidings,And tales, both of peace and of debate.By about 1450, Middle English was replaced with Early Modern English, the language of Shakespeare, which is almost identical to contemporary English.
Three possible conclusions can be reached from the above records: 1) The Anne Whateley in the first record and the Anne Hathwey in the second record are the same woman. Some scholars believe that the name Whateley was substituted accidentally for Hathwey into the register by the careless clerk. "The clerk was a nincompoop: he wrote Baker for Barber in his register, and Darby for Bradeley, and Edgock for Elcock, and Anne Whateley for Anne Hathaway. A lot of ingenious ink has been spilt over this error, but it is surely a simple one: the name Whateley occurs in a tithe appeal by a vicar on the same page of the register; the clerk could not follow his own notes, or he was distracted" (Levi, 37). Moreover, some believe that the couple selected Temple Grafton as the place for the wedding for reasons of privacy and that is why it is recorded in the register instead of Stratford. 2) The Wm Shaxpere and the Annam Whateley who wished to marry in Temple Grafton were two different people entirely from the Wm Shagspere and Anne Hathwey who were married in Stratford. This argument relies on the assumption that there was a relative of Shakespeare's living in Temple Grafton, or a man unrelated but sharing Shakespeare's name (which would be extremely unlikely), and that there is no trace of this relative after the issue of his marriage license.
How Did Shakespeare Die?The cause of Shakespeare's death is a mystery, but an entry in the diary of John Ward, the vicar of Holy Trinity Church in Stratford (where Shakespeare is buried), tells us that "Shakespeare, Drayton, and Ben Jonson had a merry meeting and it seems drank too hard, for Shakespeare died of a fever there contracted." Ward, a self-proclaimed Shakespeare fan, wrote his diary fifty years after Shakespeare died and most historians agree it appears to be a baseless anecdote. It should be noted though that a serious outbreak of typhus, known as the "new fever", in 1616 (the year Shakespeare died), lends credibility to Ward's story.C. Martin Mitchell, in his insightful biography of Shakespeare's physician and son-in-law, Dr. John Hall, presents the following hypothesis: "I have formed the opinion that it was more likely than not in the nature of a cerebral hemorrhage or apoplexy that quickly deepened and soon became fatal. There are three reasons for this. Firstly, the hurried reconstruction and inter-lineated clauses of the Will not allowing time for it to be copied afresh before signature; Secondly, the earliest and clearest impressions of the Droeshout frontispiece of the First Folioshow outstanding shadings, suggesting marked thickening of the left temporal artery – a sign of atheroma and arterio-sclerosis; and thirdly, such a termination is quite common in men who have undergone such continuous mental and physical strain over a prolonged period as our actor-manager-dramatist must have been subjected to throughout his, undoubtedly, strenuous career. Richard Burbage who daily shared the same theatrical life, himself died of such a seizure after twenty-four hours illness, and within a year or two of Shakespeare’s death" (Mitchell, 79).Unfortunately, Shakespeare's death at the age of 52 will almost surely remain a mystery. We do know, however, that in a world where plague, syphilis, typhus, scurvy, tuberculosis, smallpox, malaria, dysentery and toothaches shortened a Londoner’s life expectancy to 35 years, Shakespeare fared quite well, leading a relatively long and healthy life.
The Chronology of Shakespeare's PlaysEstablishing the chronology of Shakespeare's plays is a most frustrating and difficult task. It is impossible to know the exact order of succession because there is no record of the first production date of any of Shakespeare's works. However, scholars have decided upon a specific play chronology, based upon the following sources of information: 1) several historical events and allusions to those events in the plays; 2) the records of performances of the plays -- taken from such places as Henslowe's diary and the diaries of other Shakespeare contemporaries like John Manningham (a student at the Inns of Court), and Thomas Platter (a Swiss businessman); 3) the publication dates of sources; 4) the dates that the plays appear in print (remembering that the production of a play immediately followed the completion of that play in the Elizabethan age). Despite the fact that we have an accepted play chronology, we must keep in mind that the dating is conjectural, and there are many who disagree with the order of plays listed below. First Performed Plays First Printed1590-91 Henry VI, Part II 1594?1590-91 Henry VI, Part III 1594?1591-92 Henry VI, Part I 16231592-93 Richard III 15971592-93 Comedy of Errors 16231593-94 Titus Andronicus 15941593-94 Taming of the Shrew 16231594-95 Two Gentlemen of Verona 16231594-95 Love's Labour's Lost 1598?1594-95 Romeo and Juliet 15971595-96 Richard II 15971595-96 A Midsummer Night's Dream 16001596-97 King John 1623
1596-97 The Merchant of Venice 16001597-98 Henry IV, Part I 15981597-98 Henry IV, Part II 16001598-99 Much Ado About Nothing 16001598-99 Henry V 16001599-1600 Julius Caesar 16231599-1600 As You Like It 16231599-1600 Twelfth Night 16231600-01 Hamlet 16031600-01 The Merry Wives of Windsor 16021601-02 Troilus and Cressida 16091602-03 All's Well That Ends Well 16231604-05 Measure for Measure 16231604-05 Othello 16221605-06 King Lear 16081605-06 Macbeth 16231606-07 Antony and Cleopatra 16231607-08 Coriolanus 16231607-08 Timon of Athens 16231608-09 Pericles 16091609-10 Cymbeline 16231610-11 The Winter's Tale 16231611-12 The Tempest 16231612-13 Henry VIII 16231612-13 The Two Noble Kinsmen* 1634*The Two Noble Kinsmen is listed as one of Shakespeare's plays although it must be noted that all but a few scholars believe it not to be an original work by Shakespeare. The majority of the play was probably written by John Fletcher, who was a prominent actor and Shakespeare's close friend. Fletcher succeeded Shakespeare as foremost dramatist for the King's Men (the successor to the Chamberlain's Men).
3) The woman Shakespeare loved and the woman Shakespeare finally married were two different Annes. Not many critics support this hypothesis, but those that do use it to portray Shakespeare as a young man torn between the love he felt for Anne Whateley and the obligation he felt toward Anne Hathwey and the child she was carrying, which was surely his. In Shakespeare, Anthony Burgess constructs a vivid scenario to this effect:It is reasonable to believe that Will wished to marry a girl named Anne Whateley. The name is common enough in the Midlands and is even attached to a four-star hotel in Horse Fair, Banbury. Her father may have been a friend of John Shakespeare's, he may have sold kidskin cheap, there are various reasons why the Shakespeares and the Whateleys, or their nubile children, might become friendly. Sent on skin-buying errands to Temple Grafton, Will could have fallen for a comely daughter, sweet as May and shy as a fawn. He was eighteen and highly susceptible. Knowing something about girls, he would know that this was the real thing. Something, perhaps, quite different from what he felt about Mistress Hathaway of Shottery. But why, attempting to marry Anne Whateley, had he put himself in the position of having to marry the other Anne? I suggest that, to use the crude but convenient properties of the old women's-magazine morality-stories, he was exercised by love for the one and lust for the other. I find it convenient to imagine that he knew Anne Hathaway carnally, for the first time, in the spring of 1582... (57)
Reference:Mabillard, Amanda. William Shakespeare of Stratford: Shakespeare's Birth Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2000. (17.03.2010) < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/biography/shakespearebirth.html >.Further reading: http://shakespeare.palomar.edu/life.htmhttp://shakespeare.mit.edu/