William Shakespeare was born in 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon. His birthday is commonly celebrated on April 23 April. This is also believed to be the date of his death in 1616.
Shakespeare was a prolific writer during the Elizabethan and Jacobean ages of British theatre, including 48 plays, 2 popular narrative poems, and sonnets written as gifts and for profit. Scholars attribute 154 known sonnets to Shakespeare. His contemporaries included Kit Marlow and Ben Johnson. Shakespeare’s plays are his most enduring legacy, but his poems and sonnets remain popular to this day.
How Shakespeare’s plays were saved
No original manuscripts of Shakespeare’s plays are known to exist today. Thanks to a group of actors from Shakespeare’s acting company that we have about half of the plays at all. The plays were collected for publication after Shakespeare died, preserving the plays for posterity. These writings were bound together in what is known as the First Folio (‘Folio’ refers to the size of the paper used). It contained 36 of his plays and none of his poetry. Shakespeare’s poems and sonnets would be gathered later and sold in book form. The earliest known were small pocket sized books.
John Shakespeare married Mary Arden, and together they had eight children. John and Mary lost two daughters as infants, so William became their eldest child. John Shakespeare worked as a glove-maker, but he also became an important figure in the town of Stratford by fulfilling civic positions. His elevated status meant that he was even more likely to have sent his children to the local grammar school, where Shakespeare was educated. Shakespeare would study Roman and Greek myth as part of his early education. His love of myths, Ovid in particular, can be found throughout his plays and poems.
When he was eighteen, William Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway, who was twenty-six. Together they had three children. Their first daughter, Susanna, was born six months after the wedding and was later followed by twins Hamnet and Judith. Hamnet died when he was just 11 years old.
It is unknown when Shakespeare moved to London. What is known is that he established his reputation in London by 1592. Shakespeare became a founding member of The Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a company of actors. The company would later become The King’s Men under the patronage of King James I (from 1603). It was during this time that Shakespeare would write some of his most famous plays such as Macbeth, King Lear, and his last known play, The Tempest.
In 1597, William Shakespeare bought a home called New Place in Stratford-upon-Avon. Recent archaeological evidence discovered in Shakespeare’s New Place shows that Shakespeare was only ever an intermittent lodger in London. This suggests he divided his time between Stratford and London (a two or three-day commute). While Shakespeare lodged in London, his family lived in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Shakespeare died in Stratford-upon-Avon on 23 April 1616 at the age of 52. He is buried in the sanctuary of the parish church, Holy Trinity. His epitaph reads:
Good friend for Jesus sake forbeare, To dig the dust enclosed here. Blessed be the man that spares these stones, And cursed be he that moves my bones.