Local parish records reveal that William Shakespeare was baptized on April 26,
1564, in the town of Stratford, in the English midlands. He was probably born just
a few days earlier, but the exact date is not known. His father was John
Shakespeare, a glove-maker and trader in farm commodities; his mother was
Mary Arden, the daughter of a wealthy landowner.
Although no records exist to prove it, as a boy Shakespeare probably attended
Stratford grammar school, where he would have received a sound education in
the classics. In November 1582, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway, who was
eight years his senior. The couple had three children: Susanna, born May 26,
1583, and the twins, Judith and Hamnet, who were born February 2, 1585.
Nothing is known about why or when Shakespeare left Stratford for London. It
may have been in the late 1580s, since in 1592 there is a hostile reference to
Shakespeare as a prominent actor and playwright by Robert Greene, a rival
Shakespeare was a dramatist through and through. Although he also wrote two
long narrative poems, Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece, and over 150
sonnets, his main work was writing plays for the theater.
In 1594 Shakespeare became a charter member of a theatrical company called
the Lord Chamberlain's Men, which became the King's Men in 1603.
Shakespeare held a one-tenth interest in the company, which meant that he
shared the profits. The company's home after 1599 was the famous Globe
Theatre, on the south bank of the River Thames.
Shakespeare prospered well enough in London to make investments in real
estate in Stratford, including the purchase in 1597 of the second largest house in
In his entire career, Shakespeare wrote thirty-seven plays, including comedies,
tragedies, histories, and romances. Scholars dispute the exact date on which
each play was written, but it is possible that Shakespeare's first play was The
Comedy of Errors or Love's Labor's Lost, written sometime between 1588 and
the early 1590s. His last plays were The Tempest (1612) and Henry VIII
(1612-13). Richard II was probably written in 1595. It is the first of the four plays
that depict English history from 1398 to 1422. The other three plays are Henry IV
parts 1 and 2, and Henry V.
Shakespeare retired from the theater around 1612, and returned to live in
Stratford. He died on April 23, 1616, and was buried within the chancel of the
church at Stratford.