William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616)
Most of what we know about William Shakespeare's life is based only on public records or on allusions to his work in various letters and diaries of his day. He was baptized on April 26, 1564, in Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon and buried there on April 25, 1616. His birthday is usually celebrated on April 23, also the date of his death.
William Shakespeare was the third of eight children, two of whom died before his birth and one of whom died when William was a boy. His father, John Shakespeare, was a properous townsman who made gloves and was also a tanner as well as a dealer in farm produce. However, in 1586 he was forced into bankruptcy because he could not pay his debts. Mary Arden, Shakespeare's mother, was left with money and a small estate in addition to several properties that her father gave her before his death. For most of their life together, the parents of William Shakespeare were reasonably well off.
Shakespeare probably attended the grammar school in Stratford, where he might have learned Latin and Greek. Records show that he married Anne Hathaway, eight years his senior, in Stratford in 1582. He and Anne had three children: Susanna, born in 1583, and twins Judith and Hamnet, born in 1585. Hamnet died at the age of eleven.
Some scholars think that Shakespeare began his career as an actor, probably sometime before 1592, and that when he began to write plays, he angered many established playwrights, such as Robert Greene who was an univeristy graduate (as Shakespeare was not).
The next record of Shakespeare is in 1592, when he was evidently in London, although the date of his arrival in London is not certain, it is known that some of his early plays were produced by an acting company known as Lord Pembroke's Men. He might have acted with this company as well. In 1594 he became a member of a company called Lord Chamberlain's Men, for which he wrote many successful plays, and in 1599, he became a partner in the newly constructed Globe Theatre. This partnership assured his financial success and enabled him to invest in considerable property, both in Stratford and in London.
Shakespeare early achieved recognition as a poet, and in 1598 one writer referred to him as "mellifluous and honey-tongued" when writing of Shakespeare's long poem 'Venus and Adonis', first published in 1593. All in all, some 37 plays and 154 sonnets are attributed to Shakespeare.
Critics sometimes divide his dramatic career into four periods: the Early Period (1564-1594); the Period of Comedies and Histories (1595-1601); the Period of Tragedies (1602-1608); and the Period of Romances (1609-1616).
In 1616 or 1612 Shakespeare returned permanently to Stratford where he wrote his last plays. The cause of Shakespeare's death at age fifty-two is unknown. His wife and both daughters survived him and are mentioned in his will, which also mentions small bequests to various friends and to the poor of Stratford.
Excerpt from NTC Shakespeare Series