William Shakespeare Biography describes the life
of William Shakespeare. From birth to death, Shakespeare
Biography describes all that is known about Shakespeare's
life from available documentation including court and
church records, marriage certificates and criticisms
by Shakespeare's rivals.
Shakespeare (1564-1616): Who was he?
Though William Shakespeare is recognized as one of
literatures greatest influences, very little is
actually known about him. What we do know about his
life comes from registrar records, court records, wills,
marriage certificates and his tombstone. Anecdotes and
criticisms by his rivals also speak of the famous playwright
and suggest that he was indeed a playwright, poet and
Date of Birth? (1564)
William 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 dont 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. Georges day, though we have no
conclusive proof of this.
Brothers and Sisters.
William was the third child of John and Mary Shakespeare.
The first two were daughters and William was himself
followed by Gilbert who died in 1612 and Richard who
died in 1613. Edmund (1580-1607), sixth in the line
was baptized on May the third, 1580 and William's oldest
living sister was Joan who outlived her famous playwright
brother. Of Williams seven siblings, only Judith
and four of his brothers survived to adulthood.
From baptism records, we know William's father was
a John Shakespeare, said to be a town official of Stratford
and a local businessman who dabbled in tanning, leatherwork
and whittawering which is working with white leather
to make items like purses and gloves. John also dealt
in grain and sometimes was described as a glover by
John was also a prominent man in Stratford. By 1560,
he was one of fourteen burgesses which formed the town
council. Interestingly, William himself is often described
as a keen businessman so we can assume he got his business
acumen from his father. In the Bard's case, the apple
didnt fall far from the tree at all...
William's mother: Mary Arden.
William's mother was Mary Arden who married John Shakespeare
in 1557. The youngest daughter in her family, she inherited
much of her fathers landowning and farming estate
when he died.
Early Days on Henley Street...
Since we know Stratford's famous Bard lived with his
father, John Shakespeare, we can presume that he grew
up in Henley Street, some one hundred miles northwest
The Bard's Education.
Very little is known about literatures most famous
playwright. We know that the Kings New Grammar
School taught boys basic reading and writing. We assume
William 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 William, whose
works are studied universally at Universities, never
attended one himself!
William marries an older woman. (1582)
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.
The Bard's children. (1583 & 1592)
Baptism records show that Williams 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 Williams 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.
The Bard as a poet.
Evidence that the great Bard was also a poet comes
from his entering his first poem Venus and Adonis
in the Stationers Registrar on the 18th of April,
1593. The playwright registered his second poem The
Rape of Lucrece by name on the 9th of May, 1594.
The Bard suffers breech of copyright. (1609)
In 1609, the Bard's sonnets were published without
the Bards permission. It is considered unlikely
that William wanted many of his deeply personal poems
to be revealed to the outside world. It was not however
the first time; in 1599, in a collection entitled
"The Passionate Pilgrim" , two of his
poems had been printed without Williams permission.
The Bard's lost years?
Looking for work in London, just four days ride way
from Stratford, William is believed to have left his
family back home for some twenty years whilst he pursued
his craft. He only returned back to his family in 1609,
having visited only during the forty day period of Lent
when theatres though open well into the start of Lent
would later close in accordance with the traditional
banning of all forms of diversionary entertainment around
this important Easter event.
William applies for a Coat of Arms. (1596)
Records with the College of Heralds, reveal William
applied for a coat of arms. Despite a lack of proof,
he was granted his request. Later in 1599 he applied
for his mothers coat of arms to be added to his
William buys major residential property. (1597)
At age 15, William purchased the New Place. This was
one of the most prominent and desired properties in
all of Stratford being the second largest house in town.
Given his father's known financial hardship from 1576,
William must either have used his own money to buy this
expensive property or his father had placed money in
his sons name. It is possible William might have
bought this prominent property with money from his plays.
It is estimated that roughly fifteen of his 37 plays
would have been written and performed by 1597!
Will flats in London. (Circa 1601-1604)
Court records of a dispute between William's landlord
Christopher Mountjoy and his son-in-law Stephen Belott
confirm that William was living in London around 1601.
The playwright's name is recorded in the court records
when he gave testimony in 1612 concerning Mountjoy and
Belotts dispute. Interestingly, in 1601, he bought
roughly 107 acres of arable land with twenty acres of
pasturage for 20 pounds in Old Stratford.
The Bard strikes it rich.
William made his greatest financial gain in 1605 when
he purchased leases of real estate near Stratford. This
investment of some four hundred and forty pounds doubled
in value and earned him 60 pounds income each year.
Some academics speculate that this investment gave the
Bard the time he needed to write plays uninterrupted
and we know that he was indeed thought of as a businessman
in the Stratford area...
A friend passes away.
Yet another record confirming the Bard's existence
was John Combs will which bequeathed to the Bard
the princely sum of just five pounds.
The Bard's will and death.
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 Susannas daughter Elizabeth
died in 1670.
The Bard's last words...
Written upon William Shakespeares tombstone is
an appeal that he be left to rest in peace with a curse
on those who would move his bones...
Good friend, for Jesus´ sake forbeare
To digg the dust enclosed here!
Blest be ye man that spares thes stones
And curst be he that moues my bones.
Translated this reads as:
Good friend, for Jesus sake, forbear
To dig the dust enclosed here;
Blest be the man that spares these stones
And curst he that moves my bones.
Did Shakespeare write the 37 plays and 154 sonnets
credited to him?
The evidence above proves William existed but not that
he was a playwright nor an actor nor a poet. In fact
recently some academics who call themselves the Oxfords
argue that Stratford's celebrated playwright did not
write any of the plays attributed to him. They suggest
that he was merely a businessman and propose several
contenders for authorship, namely an Edward de Vere.
Evidence that the great Bard wrote his plays.
The earliest proof that William did indeed write 37
plays was Robert Greenes criticism of the Bard
in his Groatsworth of Wit, Bought with a Million
of Repentance which attacked Shakespeare for having
the nerve to compete with him and other playwrights
in 1592 . Robert Greene made this quite clear by calling
him "an upstart crow". This criticism
was placed with the Stationers Registrar on the
20th of September, 1592.
Proof that William was an actor comes from his own
performances before Queen Elizabeth herself in 1594
and evidence of William's interest in theatre comes
from the Bard's name being listed in 1594 and 1595 as
a shareholder (part owner) of the Lord Chamberlains
Company, a theatre company.
The Bard's reputation as a poet is again confirmed
in 1598, when Francis Meres attacked him as being
"mellifluous" and described his work as
honey-tongued, "sugared sonnets among his private
friends" in his own Palladis Tamia of
William's theatre presence is again confirmed by his
name being recorded as one of the owners of the Globe
theatre in 1599 and on May the 19th, 1603, he received
a patent, titling him as one of the Kings Men
(previously called the Chamberlains men) and a
Groom of the Chamber by James I, the then King of England.
This honour made William a favorite for all court performances,
earned each Kings man extra money (30 pounds each
for a performance in 1603 alone) and made the Bard's
name one rather above reproach. Macbeth which celebrates
King James I ancestor Malcolm, is considered to have
been written in part as appreciation for the Kings
patronage. And as a potent form of royalist propaganda
(it warned of the dangers of killing a King appointed
like James, by God).
The First Folio (1623): Conclusive proof that Shakespeare
authored his plays.
The proof most often cited that Shakespeare authored
his plays however, was the First Folio (1623) where
Henry Condell and John Hemminges who were actors in
the Bard's theatre company, claim in a dedicatory verse
within the Folio that they recorded and collected his
plays as a memorial to the late actor and playwright.
In terms of value, the First Folio originally was sold
for just 1 Pound in 1623. Today as one of just 250 still
in existence, it would fetch nearly 3 million dollars
Ben Jonson criticizes and then praises William by
Further proof of authorship comes in the form of a
poem by Ben Jonson, one of the Bard's more friendly
rivals, which criticizes the playwrights dramatic plays.
It is contained within a work entitled Discoveries
(also known as Timber) dated 1641. Despite his
criticism, Ben Johnson paradoxically also said that
Stratford's famous Bard's works were timeless, describing
them as "not of an age, but for all time".