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William Shakespeare (1564-1616) Full Biography

William Shakespeare

Birth

23rd April 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon (river's name) in the county of Warwickshire. He was baptized at Holy Trinity Church Stratford on 26th April, 1564. Stratford is a village in Warwickshire surrounded by Forest of Arden, Castle of Warwick and Castle of Kilcolman from three sides.

Note: Shakespeare was born and raised in Stratford- upon-Avon, Warwickshire. Stratford-upon-Avon is a market town and civil parish in the Stratford-on-Avon district, in the county of Warwickshire, in the West Midlands region of England. Warwickshire is a county in the West Midlands region of England.

(William Shakespeare was born in 1564. We know this from the earliest record we have of his life; his baptism which happened on Wednesday, April the 26th, 1564.

We don't actually know his birthday but from this record we assume he was born in 1564. Similarly by knowing the famous Bard's baptism date, we can guess that he was born three days earlier on St. George's day (23rd April), though we have no conclusive proof of this.)

Parents:

He was the third son/child of John Shakespeare, an alderman and a successful glover originally from Snitterfield, and Mary Arden, the daughter of an affluent landowning farmer.

(Shakespeare’s mother (Mary Arden) married John Shakespeare in 1557. She was the youngest daughter in her family, she inherited much of her father’s landowning and farming estate when he died.)

Education: 

At the age of 7, he was sent to the Grammar School at Stratford where he picked up ‘Small Latin and less Greek’.

(Very little is known about literature’s most famous playwright. We know that the King’s New Grammar School taught boys basic reading and writing. We assume William Shakespeare attended this school since it existed to educate the sons of Stratford but we have no definite proof. Likewise a lack of evidence suggests that Shakespeare, whose works are studied universally at Universities, never attended one (University) himself!)

Anne Hathaway Wife Of Shakespeare

Spouse and Children

At the age of 18 (in 1582), he married the 26-year-old Anne Hathaway, with whom he had three children: Susanna (after 6 months of marriage), and twins Hamnet and Judith. Hamnet died of unknown causes at the age of 11. Susanna was married to John Hall, a physician in 1607 and Judith to Thomas Quiney, a vintner, two months before Shakespeare's death.

(A bond certificate dated November the 28th. 1582, reveals that an eighteen year old William married the twenty-six and pregnant Anne Hathaway. Barely seven months later, they had his first daughter, Susanna Anne never left Stratford, living there her entire life.)

(Baptism records show that William's first child, Susanna was baptized in Stratford sometime in May, 1583. Baptism records again reveal that twins Hamnet and Judith were born in February 1592. Hamnet, William's only son died in 1596, just eleven years old. Hamnet and Judith were named after William's close friends, Judith and Hamnet Sadler. William's family was unusually small in a time when families had many children to ensure parents were cared for in later years despite the very high mortality rates of children and also their life expectancy in the 1500s.)

William Shakespeare Monument

Death

He died on 23rd April, 1616 at the age of 52 in Stratford . He was buried in the chancel of the Holy Trinity Church two days after his death. The epitaph on his grave stone reads: Good friend, for Jesus' sake forbear, / To dig the dust enclosed here. / blessed be the man that spares these stones, / and cursed be he that moves my bones.

(Records reveal that the great Bard revised his will on March the 25th, 1616. Less than a month later, he died on April the 23rd, 1616. Literature's famous Bard is buried at the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford. He infamously left his second-best bed to his wife Anne Hathaway and little else, giving most of his estate to his eldest daughter Susanna who has married a prominent and distinguished physician named John Hall in June 1607.

This was not as callous as it seems; the Bard's best bed was for guests; his second-best bed was his marriage bed... His will also named actors Richard Burbage, Henry Condell and John Hemminges, providing proof to academics today that William was involved in theatre. The Bard's direct line of descendants ended some 54 years later until Susanna's daughter Elizabeth died in 1670.)

Image Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/c/cf/Monument-ht6.jpg/255px-Monument-ht6.jpg

Some Important Points

  1. Shakespeare headed to London sometime in 1586. Between 1586 and 1592, he began a successful career in London as an actor, writer, and in 1594 he joined as an acting troupe called the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. In 1603 the group was renamed the King’s men after King James 1.

  2. By 1596, Shakespeare was much successful as a playwright that his family was finally granted a Coat of Arms which amongst other things allowed Shakespeare to call himself a “gentleman”. Shakespeare’s fortunes were also improving during this time; in 1597 he purchased the second largest house in Stratford which he called New Place and began buying up land around Stratford. One year later. Shakespeare became a ten percent owner of the new purpose built theatre in London, the famous Globe Theatre where so many of his plays would later be performed. The Globe Theatre was built on the south bank of the River Thames. Shakespeare became part owner of the Blackfriars Theatre also.

  3. He had several patrons, one of them was the handsome gallant Earl of Southampton (Henry Wriothesley) to whom many of his sonnets and poems are addressed.

  4. In 1623, John Heminges and Henry Condell, two friends and fellow actors of Shakespeare, published the First Folio that included 36 plays. Pericles, Prince of Tyre was not included in the First Folio. Around 1590’s he wrote 154 Sonnets which were published collectively on 20th May 1609 by Thomas Thorpe.

  5. By 1611, Shakespeare retired, returning to Stratford and in 1616 Shakespeare died, famously bequeathed his second-best bed to his wife, often seen as a sign that his marriage may not have been happy.

  6. For his legendary and historical material, Shakespeare depended mainly on Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland and also on Sir Thomas North’s 1579 translation of Plutarch’s Parallel Lives”

  7. Love’s Labour’s Lost, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and The Tempest are Shakespeare’s original plots.

His four Great Tragedies: Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth

His four Great Comedies: Much Ado About Nothing, Twelfth Night, The Merchant of Venice, As You Like It

Roman Plays: Coriolanus, Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra

Dramatic Romances: His last four plays are “tragic-comedies” called Dramatic Romances- Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest

  1. In 1896, Frederick S. Boas coined the term “problem plays” to refer to his three plays: All’s Well That Ends Well, Measure for Measure, Troilus and Cressida

  2. His last major tragedies, Antony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus, contain some of Shakespeare’s finest poetry and were considered his most successful tragedies by the poet and critic T. S. Eliot, who called his tragedy Macbeth “an artistic success” and other tragic play Hamlet “an artistic failure on the basis of “objective correlative’. Hamlet is called “Mona Lisa” of literature by T.S. Eliot in his essay ‘Hamlet and His Problem’

  3. Shakespeare played the role of Adam in As You Like It Ghost (Hamlet’s father) in Hamlet, and the Chorus in Henry V, King Duncan in Macbeth.

  4. With 4,042 lines and 29,551 words, Hamlet is the longest Shakespearean play. With 1,787 lines and 14,369 words, The Comedy of Errors is the shortest play.

  5. Love’s Labour’s Lost has the highest percentage of rhyming lines of all of Shakespeare’s plays. According to Shakespearean scholar Tucker Brooke, 62.2% of the lines in Love’s Labour’s Lost rhyme. The closest competitor is A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with 43.4% rhyming lines.

William J. Long has divided his literary career in four periods:

  1.   A Period of Early Experimentation
  2.   A Period of Rapid Growth and development
  3. A Period of Gloom and Depression
  4. A Period of restored serenity of calm after Storm. In the late 19th century, Edward Dowden classified in his book ‘Shakespeare: His Mind and Art (1875) Shakespeare’s Literary career into four periods:
  5. In the Workshop
  6. In the World
  7. Out of Depth
  8. 4. On the Heights

The following chronology of Shakespeare’s plays is based on The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare by Michael Dobson.

Comedy

#1590-91: Two Gentlemen of Verona

#1590-91: Taming of the Shrew

#1594: The Comedy of Errors

#1594-95: Love’s Labour Lost

#1595: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

#1596: The Merchant of Venice

#1597-98: The Merry Wives of Windsor

#1598: Much Ado About Nothing

#1599-1600: As You Like It

#1601: Twelfth Night, or What You Will

#1603: Measure for Measure

#1604-05: All’s Well That Ends Well

#1609: Winter’s Tale

#1611: The Tempest

History

#1591: Henry VI, part 2

#1591: Henry VI, part 3

#1592: Henry VI, part 1

#1592-93: The Tragedy of Richard III

#1595: The Tragedy of King Richard II 1596: The Life and Death of King John

#1597-98: Henry IV, part 2

#1596-97: King Henry IV, Part 1

#1598-99: The Life of Henry the Fifth

#1613: Henry VIII or All is True

Tragedy

#1592-93: The Tragedy of Titus Andronicus

#1595: The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet

#1599: The Tragedy of Julius Caesar

#1600-01: The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark

#1602: The History of Troilus and Cressida

#1603-04: The Tragedy of Othello, The Moor of Venice

#1605: The Tragedy of King Lear

#1605: The Life of Timon of Athens

#1606: The Tragedy of Macbeth

#1606: The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra

#1607: Pericles, Prince of Tyre (only partly by Shakespeare)

#1608: The Tragedy of Coriolanus

#1610: The Tragedy of Cymbeline

#1613-14: The Two Noble Kinsmen (co- authored with John Fletcher)

Poetry

#1593: Venus and Adonis

#1594: The Rape of Lucrece

#1599: Sonnets to Sundry Notes of Music

#1599: The Passionate Pilgrim

#1601: The Phoenix and the Turtle

#1609: A Lover’s Complaint

#1609: The Sonnets (Pub.)

#1612: Funeral Elegy by W.S.

The Folios of Shakespearean Plays-

The earliest texts of William Shakespeare’s works were published during the 16th and 17th centuries in quarto or folio format. Folios are large, tall volumes; quartos are smaller, roughly half the size.

Folio – 

A folio is a book in which each sheet is folded over only once through the middle, forming two leaves (or four pages). The First Folio has 454 leaves.

A Quarto – 

A quarto is a book in which eight pages are printed on a single sheet which is folded twice to form four leaves. The average quarto contains about one hundred pages.

  1. The First Folio – 1623 (by Heminges and Condell)
  2. The Second Folio – 1632 (by Allot, William Aspley, Richard Hawkins, Richard Meighen. and John Smethwick)
  3. The Third Folio- 1663 (by Philip Chetwinde) 4. The Fourth Folio 1685 (by R. Bentley, E. Brewster, R. Chiswell, and H. Herringman) 

The Two Noble Kinsmen did not appear in any Folio edition, was not printed until 1634, although there is evidence of its being performed much earlier. Nineteen of William Shakespeare’s plays first appeared in quarto before the publication of the First Folio in 1623, eighteen of those before his death in 1616. One play co-authored with John Fletcher, The Two Noble Kinsmen, was first published in 1634, and one play first published in the First Folio, The Taming of the Shrew, was later published in quarto.

Important Points

  1. Shakespeare coined the phrase, “the beast with two backs” meaning intercourse in his play Othello.
  2. Shakespeare invented the word “assassination”.
  3. Shakespeare never attended university.
  4. Of the 154 sonnets, the playwright penned, his first 126 were said to be directed to an aristocratic young man who did not want to marry. Sonnets 127 – 152 talk about a dark woman, the Bard seems to have had mixed feelings for.
  5. Shakespeare is believed to have started writing the first of his 154 sonnets in 1593 at age 29. His first sonnet was Venus and Adonis published in the same year.
  6. Most academics agree that William wrote his first play, Henry VI, Part One around 1589 to 1590 when he would have been roughly 25 years old.
  7. Shakespeare lived through the Black Death. This epidemic that killed over 33,000 in London alone in 1603 when Will was 39,
  8. The play Cardenio that has been credited to Shakespeare and which was performed in his life, has been completely lost to time. Today we have no written record of its story whatsoever.
  9. Legend has it that at the tender age of eleven, William watched the pageantry associated with Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Kenilworth Castle near Stratford and later recreated this scene many times in his plays.

10.Shakespeare wrote lewd comments about woman. In Romeo and Juliet, Juliet’s nurse crudely tells Juliet “thou (you) wilt (will) fall backward when thou (you) hast (have) more wit” (Act I, Scene III, Line 41), by which she means Juliet will learn to fall or lie on her back (have sex) when she is older.

11.Shakespeare crudely discusses genitalia size in The Taming of the Shrew where the character Curtis tells Grumio, “Away, you three-inch fool” (Act IV, Scene I, Lines 26-28). Grumio banally replies that he is at least as long as his foot.

12.Shakespeare’s 126th poem contains a farewell, to “my lovely boy” a phrase taken to imply possible homosexuality by some postmodern Shakespeare academics.

13.Shakespeare’s will gave most of his property to Susanna, his first child and not to his wife Anne Hathaway. Instead his loyal wife infamously received his “second-best bed”.

14.Suicide occurs an unlucky thirteen times in Shakespeare’s plays. It occurs in Romeo and Juliet where both Romeo and Juliet commit suicide, in Julius Caesar where both Cassius and Brutus die by consensual stabbing, as well as Brutus wife Portia, in Othello where Othello stabs himself, in Hamlet where Ophelia is said to have “drowned” in suspicious circumstances, in Macbeth when Lady Macbeth dies, and finally in Antony and Cleopatra where suicide occurs an astounding five times (Mark Antony, Cleopatra, Charmian, Iras and Eros).

15.Racism crops up frequently in Shakespeare’s work. In Othello, the lead character, a Moor of African descent, is continuously insulted for his heritage and appearance (especially in Act I) by his enemies and even his supporters (Lodovico) at the play’s conclusion when Othello murders his wife for mistakenly believing she cheated. Racism also occurs in Titus Andronicus (towards the Moor named Aaron), The Tempest where the misformed giant Caliban is called “this thing of darkness” (Act V, Line 275), and in Richard II.

16.Anti-Semitism also crops up. The Jewish moneylender Shylock in the Merchant of Venice is portrayed as greedy and calculating. At the play’s conclusion he is forced to change religion to Christianity as punishment for wanting “a pound of flesh” from Antonio who agreed to this if his friend forfeited a debt to Shylock. Being a Jew is used as a curse in Henry the First, Part Two (Act II, Scene IV, Line 178), in The Two Gentlemen of Verona (Act II, Scene V. Line 53), The Merchant of Venice, Anthony and Cleopatra, Much Ado about Nothing Macbeth and The Merry Wives of Windsor.

17.Shakespeare’s characters frequently debase those of colored skin. In Love’s Labour’s Lost, the character King Ferdinand, King of Navarre, racially remarks that “Black is the badge of hell, the hue of dungeons and the scowl of night” (Act IV, Scene III, Lines 254-255).

18.Shakespeare was popular with King James L England’s ruler following Elizabeth I was so taken with his skill that he gave his acting company. The Lord Chamberlain’s Men a patent allowing them to perform and also made these actors Grooms of Chamber. Shakespeare returned the favor by renaming his company, The King’s Men. This title made Shakespeare a favorite for Court performances and made him a favorite with the new King of England.

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