England’s greatest poet and playwright was born at Stratford-upon-Avon, the son of a tradesman and Alderman of Stratford, John Shakespeare in 1564. William, the eldest son, and third child (of eight) was baptised on 26th April 1564 and probably educated at Stratford Grammar School, but little is known of his life up to his eighteenth year. He did not go to University and his younger contemporary and fellow-dramatist, Ben Johnson, would later speak disparagingly of his “small Latin, and less Greek” in the eulogy prefaced to the Firs Folio.
However the Grammar School curriculum would have provided a formidable linguistic, and to some extent literary, education. Although, in 1575 when he was eleven, there was a great plague in the country and Queen Elizabeth journeyed out of London to avoid its consequences and stayed for several days at Kenilworth Castle near Stratford enjoying “festivities” arranged by her host Lord Leicester. It is probable these events may have made a strong impact on the mind of young William. At the age of Eighteen, he married Anne Hathaway, eight ears his senior.
Five years later he left for London. William worked at the Globe Theatre and appeared in many small parts. He first appeared in public as a poet in 1593 with his Venus and Adonis and the following year with The Rape of Lucrece. He became joint proprietor of The Globe and also had an interest in the Blackfriars Theatre. The play writing commenced in 1595 and of the 38 plays that comprise the Shakespeare Cannon, 36 were published in the 1st Folio of 1623, of which 18 had been published in his lifetime in what are termed the Quarto ublications.
Love’s Labour’s Lost and The Comedy of Errors appear to be among the earliest, being followed by The Two Gentlemen of Verona and Romeo and Juliet. Then followed Henry VI, Richard III, Richard II, Titus Andronicus, The Taming of the Shrew, King John, The Merchant of Venice, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, All’s Well that Ends Well, Henry IV, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Henry V, Much Ado about Nothing, As you like it, Twelth Night, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Troilus and Cressida, Othello, Measure for Measure, Macbeth, King Lear, Timon of Athens, Pericles, Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, Cymbeline, A Winter’s Tale, The Tempest, Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen.
When he retired from writing in 1611, he returned to Stratford to live in a house which he had built for his family. His only son, Hamnet died when still a child. He also lost a daughter Judith (twin to Hamnet), but his third child Susanna married a Stratford Doctor, John Hall and their home “Hall’s Croft” is today preserved as one of the Shakespeare Properties and administered by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.
In 1616 Shakespeare was buried in the Church of the Holy Trinity the same Church where he was baptised in 1564. Tradition has it that he died after an evening’s drinking with some of his theatre friends. His gravestone bears the words:- Good frend for Jesus sake forebeare, to digg the dust encloased heare, Bleste be ye man yt spares thes stones, And curst be he yt moves my bones. In his will Shakespeare left his wife, the former Anne Hathaway, his second best bed. We cannot be sure of the reason for this. It may have been the marital bed the est bed being reserved for guests.
It may suggest that they had a not altogether happy marriage which nevertheless produced three children, Susanna, born on May 26th 1583 and twins, Hamnet and Judith, born on February 2nd 1585. These entries appear in the Holy Trinity Register. There is no direct evidence of the marriage of William Shakespeare to Anne Hathaway although most historians accept that an entry in the Bishop’s Register at Worcester in November 1582 regarding the issue of a marriage licence to William Shaxpere and Anne Whateley f Temple Grafton does not refer to the famous bard.
However the following day a guarantee of 40 was undertaken in Stratford by two yeomen of the town against the prevention of the legal marriage of William Shagspere and Anne Hathway on only one reading of the banns. In 1582, 40 was a considerable sum of money and one cannot believe that the simple fact of Anne’s being three months pregnant would warrant it. No marriage of an Anne Whatelely has ever been traced, neither has the marriage of Anne Hathway, but lack of record does not mean that it did not happen.