Shakespeare’s Life

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Although Shakespeare is a very famous playwright there is still much we do not know about him.  A few official records exist that provide us with some information about his life, but little else remains to tell us what he was really like.  The following are some of the important details of Shakespeare’s life.

  • Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire, (approximately 120 kilometres north-west of London).
  • Shakespeare’s mother, Mary Arden, was from a well-to-do, well-connected, Catholic, farming family.William’s parents had eight children of whom William was the third.  His father, John Shakespeare, seemed to be moderately wealthy at the time of William’s birth.  John Shakespeare’s commercial interests included farming and dealing in various farm products such as meat, skins and wool.  He was also involved in glove-making.  Shakespeare’s father also seemed influential at a local level holding a number of municipal offices in Stratford, until about 1578, when he began experiencing economic difficulties.  William was about fifteen when his father had business problems. (It has been suggested that John Shakespeare’s business problems may have been caused by his connection with the Arden family and by issues concerning religion.  In Shakespeare’s time there was a great deal of ill-feeling between Protestants and Catholics.)
  • William is believed to have attended the grammar school at Stratford,although no actual record of his attendance exists. (Grammar schools in Shakespeare’s time were essentially for middle class children.  Their main aim was the teaching of Latin grammar, a necessary prerequisite for anyone entering a profession such as medicine, law, the church, or government.)  It is at the local grammar school that Shakespeare also may have been exposed to the works of some of the classical writers (for example, Cicero, Ovid and Virgil).  Such exposure to these writers and others was important to Shakespeare as a writer, because they acquainted him with some of the themes, plots and allusions that he was to use later in his own plays and poetry.  There is some doubt, however, as to whether Shakespeare ever finished school (because of his father’s business problems).  Furthermore, Shakespeare never went on to attend university and was sometimes criticised for this by his contemporaries. (Many other contemporary playwrights had been university educated and were envious of the success of this “uneducated” person.)
  • We do not know if Shakespeare travelled much in his life, but he displays an awareness and understanding of other countries in his plays.Such information, however, could have been obtained from the many foreign visitors who came to London.
  • In 1582, at the age of eighteen, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway, the daughter of a well-to-do farmer.Anne was twenty-six at the time.  Except for a few facts, we know very little about Shakespeare’s wife and family.  Anne and William had three children.  One child, Susannah, was born six months after their marriage.  Two years later, twins, Judith and Hamnet, were born.
  • Between 1585 and 1592 little is known about Shakespeare, his activities and how he supported his family, although some reseachers have suggested that for a time he may have been a country schoolteacher.We do know, however, that by 1592 he had left Stratford for London and was acting and writing plays there.  In fact, by this time he seems to have already become relatively well-known and successful in his theatrical activities.
  • From 1594 to 1608 Shakespeare was very active in theatre and his popularity as a playwright grew.  By 1594 Shakespeare had become a member and part-owner of the theatrical company known as the Lord Chamberlain’s Men; a company for whom he not only wrote plays, but performed in them as well.  As Shakespeare became wealthier he purchased New Place, one of the largest houses in Stratford, where he also seemed to have maintained strong business interests.  It was also during the later part of this period that Shakespeare became part owner of the Globe and Blackfriars Theatres in London.  Shakespeare was also well-known and popular with both Queen Elizabeth I and King James I; his poetry and plays were read and performed at court.   In 1603, James I increased his level of patronage and made Shakespeare and his company members of the King’s Men.
  • In 1596, personal tragedy struck with the death of his son, Hamnet.
  • In 1609, Thomas Thorpe, a London publisher, published more than 150 of Shakespeare’s sonnets.Other important writings by Shakespeare include two long poems, The Rape of Lucrece  and Venus and Adonis.
  • Shakespeare retired to Stratford in 1611.He still maintained some business activities in London, however.  He also continued writing plays. Henry VIII  was Shakespeare’s last play.
  • Shakespeare died in Stratford on 23 April, 1616.He was fifty-two years old.  Shakespeare was survived by his wife and daughters.
  • In all, Shakespeare is believed to have written about 37 plays.These include chronicle or history plays, comedies and tragedies.
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