Date of Birth: April 1564, Stratford-upon-Avon, England
Date of Death: 23 April 1616, Stratford-upon-Avon, England
Shakespeare was a poet, playwright, and actor. He is regarded as one of the greatest writers in the English language. Referred to as ‘the Bard’ his works include 39 plays, 154 sonnets, narrative poems and other verses. His plays have been translated into all major languages.
Born and raised in Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway at the age of 18 and couple had three children. Between 1585 and 1592, he began a successful career in London as an actor, writer and part-owner of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a playing company later known as the King’s Men. At the age of 49 he retired to Stratford where he died three years later. Little is known about Shakespeare’s private life leading to speculation on many aspects of it including his sexuality, religion, what he looked like and whether some of the works attributed to him were written by other.
Most of Shakespeare’s know works were produced between 1589-1613. His first plays were mainly comedies and histories and are regarded as some of the best work in these genres. Until about 1608 he focussed on tragedies, including Macbeth, Hamlet, King Lear, and Othello, all among the finest works in the English language. Throughout the 20th and 21st centuries Shakespeare’s work has been continually rediscovered and adapted by movements performance and academia.
Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon but his date of birth is unknown, although 23 April 1564 is popular among scholars and biographers because he died on the same date in 1616. It Is probable he was educated at the King’s New School in Stratford. Gramma schools of the time varied in quality but the curriculum of an intensive education in grammar based upon Latin classical literature would have been the same.
Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway when he was 18, a ceremony that may have been arranged rather rapidly as the Worcester chancellor agreed to only one set of banns being read and Anne gave birth to a daughter six months later, followed by twins two years later. There is very little trace of Shakespeare after the birth of the twins until a mention in the London theatre scene in 1592.
In 1599 members of the company built their own theatre, the Globe, on the south bank of the River Thames. Records of Shakespeare’s property purchases and investments suggest his association with the company made him wealthy man. In 1597 he purchased the second largest house in Stratford, New Place. From 1594, some of the Bard’s plays were published in quarto editions, and by 1598 his name had become a selling point, appearing on the title pages. After his success as a playwright, Shakespeare continued acting in his own plays as well as those by others.
Shakespeare divided his time between London and Stratford throughout his career. In 1596 he was living in the parish pf St. Helen’s, Bishopsgate, north of the river Thames. He bought New Place as his family home in Stratford in 1597 and moved across the Thames to Southwark in 1599, the same year his company built the Globe Theatre there. By 1604, he was living in an area of fine houses north of St. Paul’s Cathedral, where he rented rums for the French Huguenot, Christopher Mountjoy, a maker of wigs and other headwear.
Some biographers suggest Shakespeare retired to Stratford but retirement was uncommon at that time. However, the London playhouses were repeatedly closed during extended outbreaks of the bubonic plague between May 1603 and February 1610 which would have meant there was no acting work. After 1610, Shakespeare wrote fewer plays, wish his last three plays being collaborations, most likely with John Fletcher, who succeeded him as the house playwright of the King’s Men.
Shakespeare died at aged 52, within a month of signing his will, which declared him to be in perfect health. He was buried in the chancel of Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon. The epitaph on the stone slap covering his grave includes a curse against moving his bones, and indeed was carefully avoided in 2008 when the church underwent restoration.
Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed,
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature's changing course untrimmed:
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st,
Nor shall death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st,
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee
My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare