The Collected Works of William Shakespeare
His Life and Times

  Life & Times
  The Plays


William Shakespeare
Born and died on the same date - 23rd April

England's greatest poet and playwright was born at Stratford-upon-Avon, the son of a tradesman and Alderman of Stratford, John Shakespeare in 1564. William, the eldest son, and third child (of eight) was baptised on 26th April 1564 and probably educated at Stratford Grammar School, but little is known of his life up to his eighteenth year.

He did not go to University and his younger contemporary and fellow dramatist, Ben Johnson, would later speak disparagingly of his "small Latin, and less Greek" in the eulogy prefaced to the First Folio. However the Grammar School curriculum would have provided a formidable linguistic, and to some extent literary, education.

Shakespeare grew up in the historical period known as the Elizabethan Age. The Elizabethan Age is another term for the Renaissance in England. It refers to the long reign (1558-1603) of Queen Elizabethan I of England, which is generally considered to be one of the greatest periods in English history. England not only became a leading maritime and commercial power but also enjoyed a major cultural and artistic renaissance.

Although, in 1575 when he was eleven, there was a great plague in the country and Queen Elizabeth journeyed out of London to avoid its consequences and stayed for several days at Kenilworth Castle near Stratford enjoying "festivities" arranged by her host Lord Leicester. It is probable these events may have made a strong impact on the mind of young William.

On November 28, 1582, the Bishop of Worcester issued a marriage bond for William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway. He was only eighteen; she was eight years his senior. William still had to get permission from his father to marry, who likely consented because Anne was already three months pregnant. The marriage was done in haste, with the banns sounding only once instead of the usual three times. There was a need to hurry since Advent, a time when no marriages were performed, was coming. They wanted to be married before their child was born. On May 26, 1583, their first daughter Susanna was baptized. On February 2, 1585, their twins, Judith and Hamnet (named after their godparents and neighbors Hamnet and Judith Sadler), were baptized. Five years later he left for London.

Actor (1586 - 1593) No one knows why Shakespeare decided to leave, though there are various speculations associated with deer stealing and his unhappiness as a schoolmaster. He might have left just for the thrill and excitement of doing something different. Information on what Shakespeare did during this time is unclear (1586-1592 are known as the Lost Years), but some believe that he first joined an acting company called Strange's Men. There is some evidence that Shakespeare joined the prestigious Queen's Men in the 1580's. Either way, it is known that he became quite a successful player in London. Around this time, Shakespeare turned to writing poetry and plays, his first plays for Pembroke's Men.

William worked at the Globe Theatre and appeared in many small parts. He first appeared in public as a poet in 1593 with his Venus and Adonis and the following year with The Rape of Lucrece. He became joint proprietor of The Globe and also had an interest in the Blackfriars Theatre.

The original Globe was built circa 1598 in London's Bankside district. It was one of four major theatres in the area--the other three being the Swan, the Rose, and the Hope. It was an open-air octagonal amphitheater that could seat up to 3,000 spectators. The theatre was three stories high, with a diameter of approximately 100 feet. The rectangular stage platform on which the plays were performed was nearly 43 feet wide and 28 feet deep. This staging area probably housed trap doors in its flooring and primitive rigging overhead for various stage effects.

In 1596, a Dutch student by the name of Johannes de Witt attended a play in London at the Swan Theatre. While there, de Witt made a drawing of the theatre interior. This sketch is the only surviving contemporary rendering of the interior of a public theatre during this time period. As such, it's the closest thing historians have to an original picture of what the Globe may have looked like in its heyday.

Playwright (1595 - 1611) The play writing commenced in 1595 and of the 38 plays that comprise the Shakespeare Cannon, 36 were published in the 1st Folio of 1623, of which 18 had been published in his lifetime in what are termed the Quarto publications.

Love's Labour's Lost and The Comedy of Errors appear to be among the earliest, being followed by The Two Gentlemen of Verona and Romeo and Juliet. Then followed Henry VI, Richard III, Richard II, Titus Andronicus, The Taming of the Shrew, King John, The Merchant of Venice, A Midsummer Night's Dream, All's Well that Ends Well, Henry IV, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Henry V, Much Ado about Nothing, As you like it, Twelth Night, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Troilus and Cressida, Othello, Measure for Measure, Macbeth, King Lear, Timon of Athens, Pericles, Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, Cymbeline, A Winter's Tale, The Tempest, Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen.

Retirement (1611 - 1616) When he retired from writing in 1611, he returned to Stratford to live in a house which he had built for his family. His only son, Hamnet died when still a child. He also lost a daughter Judith (twin to Hamnet), but his third child Susanna married a Stratford Doctor, John Hall and their home "Hall's Croft" is today preserved as one of the Shakespeare Properties and administered by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

In 1616 Shakespeare was buried in the Church of the Holy Trinity the same Church where he was baptised in 1564. Tradition has it that he died after an evening's drinking with some of his theatre friends. His gravestone bears the words:-

Good frend for Jesus sake forebeare,
to digg the dust encloased heare,
Bleste be ye man yt spares thes stones,
And curst be he yt moves my bones.

An interesting aspect of Shakespeare's will is that he left his wife, the former Anne Hathaway, his second best bed. We cannot be sure of the reason for this. It may have been the marital bed the best bed being reserved for guests. It may suggest that they had a not altogether happy marriage which nevertheless produced three children, Susanna, born on May 26th 1583 and twins , Hamnet and Judith, born on February 2nd 1585. These entries appear in the Holy Trinity Register.

Marriage of William Shakespeare to Anne Hathaway
There is no direct evidence of the marriage of William Shakespeare to Anne Hathaway although most historians accept that an entry in the Bishop's Register at Worcester in November 1582 regarding the issue of a marriage licence to William Shaxpere and Anne Whateley of Temple Grafton does not refer to the famous bard. However the following day a guarantee of £40 was undertaken in Stratford by two yeomen of the town against the prevention of the legal marriage of William Shagspere and Anne Hathway on only one reading of the banns. In 1582 , £40 was a considerable sum of money and one cannot believe that the simple fact of Anne's being three months pregnant would warrant it. No marriage of an Anne Whatelely has ever been traced, neither has the marriage of Anne Hathway, but lack of record does not mean that it did not happen.


Here are some excellent Shakespeare resources to visit:

A Shakespeare Timeline, which gives the key events of Shakespeare's life and work along with related documentary evidence.   There are several supporting pages to the timeline:
A Shakespeare genealogy. A chart showing the relevant family relationships and dates.
A Shakespeare Timeline  Summary Chart, showing the events of Shakespeare's life in outline along with important contemporary events and publications.
A Shakespeare Biography Quiz. If you are brave enough, you may take the quiz before reading the timeline.
The Shakespeare Canon.
Rowe's Some Acount of the Life &c. of Mr. William Shakespear, prefaced to his 1709 edition of the Works.
Charles and Mary Lamb's Tales From Shakespeare.
The Prefatory materials from the First Folio.