Known as England’s national poet and considered the greatest English-speaking literary genius of all time, William Shakespeare had more theatrical works performed and produced than any other playwright. Today, numerous theater festivals worldwide honor his works, scholars reinterpret his texts, and students memorize his poems.
Born into a modest family in Elizabethan England, William Shakespeare wrote a collection of sonnets and at least 37 plays, which helped transform the English language, and established the legendary Globe Theater.
His Childhood and Family Life
William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, which was a bustling market town located in the northwest of London, now commonly known as Stratford, to John Shakespeare and Mary Arden. Baptized on April 26, 1564, the playwright’s birthday is celebrated on April 23, which was also the date of his death in 1616. His father dabbled in farming, tanning, money lending, wood trading, leatherwork, and many other investments. The ambitious son of a farmer, John Shakespeare, boosted his social status by tying the knot with Mary Arden, an aristocrat’s daughter.
William was the third among eight children, three of whom passed away in childhood. Although no records of his education were ever found, it is likely that he attended a well-regarded grammar school, where he was able to learn Latin grammar and classics. It remains unknown whether he completed his degree or abandoned them to apprentice with his father.
At 18, he married Anne Hathaway (1556-1616) in a ceremony regarded to have been hastily arranged because of her pregnancy. They had three children: Susanna and twins Judith and Hamnet. It is believed that Anne and William lived apart for most of their time together for the bard to pursue his theater and writing career in London, and only to move back with Anne in Stratford years before his death.
His Lost Years and Early Career
Biographers discovered that William has no record between 1585 and 1592. Historians speculated that he spent those seven “lost” years working as a schoolteacher, studying to become a lawyer, and traveling across continental Europe.
Whatever the answer, it was in 1592 that he began a career as an actor, wrote several plays, and penned London’s geography, diversify personalities and culture. His early works convey knowledge of foreign countries and European affairs. For this reason, several theorists suspect that the poet sometimes collaborated with other playwrights.
His Plays and Poems
Shakespeare’s early investments encompass the main dramatic genres in the bard’s literary work: history (Richard III and the Henry VI trilogy), tragedy (Titus Andronicus), and comedy (The Comedy of Errors and The Two Gentlemen of Verona). He was likely affiliated with different theater companies when his early works debuted in London. In 1594, he began acting and writing for a troupe called the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, ultimately becoming the troupe’s playwright and even partnering with members to build the iconic Globe Theater in 1599.
In the mid-1590s until his retirement around the early 1610s, Shakespeare wrote his works, including A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet, King Lear, Romeo and Juliet, and Macbeth. As a dramatist, he was known for using iambic pentameter, ingenious wordplay, and meditative soliloquies. His written works weave together, featuring various characters with human interpersonal conflicts and a degree of complex psyches.
His Death and Legacy
At age 52, Shakespeare passed away of unknown causes on April 23, 1616. The slab stone over his tomb bears an epitaph written, as some suggest, by the bard himself.
Shakespeare’s plays continue to resonate with audiences around the world and have graced stages, and yielded an array of television, film, and theatrical adaptations. Furthermore, he is credited for his huge influence in the English language, popularizing terms and phrases we use in everyday conversation. These terms include the words “eyeball” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), “wild goose chase” (Romeo and Juliet), “fashionable” (Troilus and Cressida), “foregone conclusion” (Othello), and more.