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William Shakespeare

 

William Shakspere was the eldest son and third child of eight born to John and Mary, baptized 26 April 1564 and so born maybe 23 April. His father was a prominent citizen, glover, wool-dealer, money-lender, alderman, and bailiff (mayor). Later on the family fortune declined (possibly because of Catholic sympathies?).

William probably attended free grammar school, the King's New School of Stratford-on-Avon (c. 1571-1577) until his father fell into financial straits. There is one shaky report from an actor in a later troupe who claims Shakspere taught Latin as a schoolmaster for a while.

A marriage bond was issued to William Shakspere and Anne Hathwey of Stratford 28 November 1582: he was 18; she was 26. A daughter, Susanna, was baptized 6 months later on 26 May 1583. Twins, Hamnet and Judith, were baptized 2 February 1585. William seems to have left that home for London soon after.

He arrived in London in 1587 or 1588. We have no records. One account says he found work minding the horses of theatergoers. In 1592 the author of the plays had already earned the jealousy of university-educated playwright Robert Greene, who called Shakespeare "an upstart crow, beautified with our feathers."

In 1593 appears the Ovidian work Venus and Adonis, and in 1594 The Rape of Lucrece -- both dedicated to Earl of Southampton, a patron(?). The closing of the theatres is probably responsible for this type of work from the author and very likely the bulk of the Sonnets too.

Shakspere was a member of the Lord Chamberlain's Company of Players 1594-1595 -- we have a record of payment for Christmas performances. This group built and occupied the best-known Elizabethan theatre, the Globe, and later became the King's Men for James I.

Son Hamnet died and was buried on 11 August 1596. We have minor legal records and land purchases from this period. He owns New Place, a classy Stratford home, in 1597. Shakspere is listed as an important holder of corn and malt in Stratford 1598. He has lots of money but it looks as if he must have acted in a Jonson play in 1598 and 1603.

Twelve plays of Shakespeare are listed in a 1598 manual of English literature from Chaucer to contemporary times.

Shakspere was part owner of the Globe theatre in 1599. A granddaughter, Elizabeth, was born to Susanna in 1608. We have more legal documents and land purchases.

Shakspere retired to Stratford c. 1610, visiting London occasionally but living in Stratford until his death. In January 1616 he drew up his will, then in March changed it to provide his daughter Judith greater protection in light of her troubled marrriage. Shakspere died 23 April 1616 and left his "second best bed" to his wife Anne. This is the pedestrian will of a businessman, with no mention of literary remains. There was no notice of his death as if he was of any importance, despite the fame of the plays. There was no gravestone. We only have an identified grave because his wife and daughter were later buried beside the unnamed stone. A monument 18 years later shows him to be nothing more than a grain dealer. The family line died out.

As for the plays, some had been printed in quarto editions without the author's editorial supervision, from manuscripts, or prompt books, or pirated texts reconstructed from the memory of actors or spectators. In 1623 two members of the company published all the plays they thought authentic -- the First Folio, with the famous preliminary document by Ben Jonson: "He was not of an age but for all time." The title page has one of the two potentially most authentic images of Shakespeare (the other being the monument in Holy Trinity Church).



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