Who Was William Shakespeare?
He is a man that really, needs no introduction. Widely regarded as one of the greatest writers in the English language and the best dramatist of all time, William Shakespeare penned over 37 plays, 154 sonnets and 6 long poems. From writing to performing, Shakespeare made an everlasting impact, not only on the literary world but the whole world itself. Over 400 years after his death, his words can still be resonated with and his plays are still enjoyed by many across the world.
The amount that is known about Shakespeare is considerable, keeping in mind his position in life during the 16th and 17th century. However, compared to what we know of celebrities during our time (J.K. Rowling, Quentin Tarantino or even Charles Dickens, for example), we know very little. The vast majority of information about Shakespeare’s life has been acquired through official documents, such as; date of baptism, marriage, death and burials and legal processes. There are, however, the accounts and opinions of other people who knew Shakespeare and due to his popularity within his lifetime, there are many statements available for us to paint a picture of the creative genius.
Here are some of the things we do know about the literary hero, William Shakespeare…
Early Life and Childhood
William Shakespeare was born and raised in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England during April 1564. His exact birthdate is unknown, however, baptism records indicate that he was baptised at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon on April 26, 1564.
William was the eldest surviving son of seven siblings to John Shakespeare, a prosperous glover and local dignitary, and Mary Arden, the daughter of a wealthy farmer and heiress to some land.
Shakespeare’s education is largely unknown too, however, biographers agree that Shakespeare was most likely educated at the King’s New School in Stratford, a reputable grammar school. It is believed that here, he will have received a thorough education in Latin Literature, Greek, reading and writing, poetry, history, and morality.
Shakespeare did not attend university which is believed to have only helped encourage his literary creativity. Instead, at the age of eighteen, on 27 November 1582, he married 26-year-old Anne Hathaway.
Six months after marrying, Anne gave birth to their first child, Susanna, followed with twins, son, Hamnet and daughter, Judith, two years after. At the age of 11, Hamnet died from unknown causes and was buried 11 August 1596.
Although the details of his family life are largely unknown, we do know that Shakespeare remained married to Anne until his death and he includes each of his children in his Will.
The “Lost Years”
The years of 1585 – 1592 are a mystery and are often referred to as the “lost years”. There is no record of Shakespeare between these dates and as a result, there is much speculation about what occurred during this time.
What we do know is that at some point between 1585 and 1592 Shakespeare began a successful career as an actor as he resurfaced again in 1592 as part of the London theatre scene.
Shakespeare and the Theatre
How Shakespeare’s career within the theatre began and when he started to write is unclear, however, it is believed that writing was a lifelong passion of his and he dedicated at least 20 years to the art poetic drama.
Between the years of 1590 and 1613, Shakespeare wrote at least 37 plays and collaborated with fellow writers and playwrights on several more. He is famous for his comedies, history plays and tragedies. The most famous being Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Macbeth and Othello.
Between September 1592 and June 1594, the London playhouses were shut due to the plague. During this time, Shakespeare published two epic poems, Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece.
Because lockdowns don’t stop us creatives!
From 1594, Shakespeare was an important member of the Lord Chamberlain’s company of players (called the King’s Men after the accession of James I in 1603) and by 1599 they had built the infamous Globe Theatre playhouse. Shakespeare became not only an incredible artist but also a successful businessman.
Julius Caesar was one of the first plays to be performed at the Globe Theatre, however, Shakespeare’s plays were performed throughout many theatres. In 1608 the King’s Men opened a second theatre at Blackfriars where they catered to a more elite audience.
Although Shakespeare’s work was mainly successful and highly regarded, there were some people who were not so fond of his work, such as fellow Dramatist, Robert Greene who felt that his lack of university education made him incapable of reaching the same degree of wit than his higher-educated peers.
By 1598, Shakespeare’s name had become a selling point within the theatre and even after his success as a playwright, he continued to act in his own and other plays.
Later Life and Death
When the Globe Theatre tragically burned down in 1613, Shakespeare retired from the theatre and returned to his hometown of Stratford. Shakespeare remained married to Anne Hathaway until his death on 23 April 1616. He was buried at the Holy Trinity Church, the same place that he was baptised 52 years earlier.
Shakespeare left behind some of the most valued literature the world has ever seen. His work has survived centuries and is sure to survive many many more.