Not much is known about SHAKESPEARE's life and origin. He grew up as one of JOHN SHAKESPEARE's and MARY ARDEN's eight children. WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE had three brothers, one of whom was called GILBERT, and one sister, JOAN. Three of his sisters had died at an early age.
JOHN SHAKESPEARE's position in Stratford, a small town of about 1.550 inhabitants, was that of a prosperous man. He soon earned enough respect to be established in public offices such as Chamberlain in 1561/62, Alderman in 1565 and Bailiff of Stratford-upon-Avon in 1568.
Practically nothing is known about SHAKESPEARE´s childhood. Judging by what is known about schools in Stratford at that time, it can be assumed that he attended Stratford Grammar School where he would have acquired a thorough knowledge of Latin, and read Greek, French and Italian literature. In addition, he is most likely to have witnessed some of the plays performed by travelling actors who passed through Stratford.
At the age of eighteen, in 1582, he married ANNE HATHAWAY, who was eight years his elder. On 26 May 1583 their daughter SUSANNA was baptized, on 2 February 1585 their twins HAMNET and JUDITH. Their son HAMNET was buried on 11 August 1596.
In about 1587 SHAKESPEARE is believed to have left for London. The true reasons for his leaving have never been discovered. There is a tradition saying he ran away from the charge of poaching deer on the nearby property of SIR THOMAS LUCY.
There is no information to throw a light on SHAKESPEARE's activities during his first years in London. In 1592 ROBERT GREENE, an aging, once popular dramatist, who warns his friends of SHAKESPEARE's success in London, mentions him for the first time as an actor and playwright.
“(…) there is an upstart crow, beautiful with our feathers, that with a tiger's heart wrapped in a player's hide, supposes he is as well able to bombast out blank verse as the best of you: and being an absolute Johannes factotum, in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in the country.”
(Robert Greene, Groeatsworth of Wit)
Johannes factotum = Jack of all trades
Shake-scene = a pun on Shakespeare's name, signifying a person who makes the stage vibrate
In 1593, SHAKESPEARE's first narrative poem Venus and Adonis, dedicated to his patron HENRY WRIOTHESLEY, Earl of Southampton, was published, and a year later The Rape of Lucrece, another narrative poem. SHAKESPEARE had become well acquainted with the handsome young Earl of Southampton, whom he admired. This has led to the assumption that SHAKESPEARE gained access to the Earl's famous library, which contained a collection of Italian novellas, among others the sources for The Merchant of Venice, Othello and Romeo and Juliet.
By 1594 SHAKESPEARE is recorded as one of the Chamberlain´s Men (called the King's Players after the accession of JAMES I to the throne). The Chamberlain's Men, like other players' companies of that time, were a group of professional actors under a nobleman's patronage. This was also the company for whom SHAKESPEARE wrote many of his plays. Besides working as an actor and writer of plays, he was engaged in a number of theatrical ventures, e.g. as one of the shareholders of the Blackfriars Theatre, and one of the four members of the shareholding company which built the Globe Theatre in 1599.
On 28 December 1594 the first recorded performance of a play by SHAKESPEARE, The Comedy of Errors, took place. As plays were written to be performed and not primarily to be read, SHAKESPEARES name appeared on published plays no earlier than in 1597/98: Love's Labour's Lost, Richard II and Richard III.
By writing and as a shareholder SHAKESPEARE was able to acquire some wealth. On 4 May 1597 he purchased the house and some ground in Stratford, where he was going to retire: New Place. In 1602 he added further pieces of land to his estate, so that when he settled permanently in Stratford in 1610, he had become a wealthy man. In the last period of his life he only occasionally travelled to London. During this time of seclusion in Stratford he produced his romantic plays: Cymbeline, A Winter's Tale and The Tempest. At the beginning of 1616 he must have noticed a decline of his strength, for he revised and signed his will on March 15, 1616. He was buried in the church of Holy Trinity in Stratford on April 25 of the same year.
The inscription on his tombstone in Holy Trinity invites many visitors to read:
“GOOD FRIEND FOR JESUS SAKE FORBEARE
TO DIGG THE DUST ENCLOASED HEARE
BLESSED BE THE MAN WHO SPARES THESE STONES
AND CURST BE HE WHO MOVES MY BONES”.
Datings of SHAKESPEARE's plays go back to a combination of three groups of evidence:
The German translation of SHAKESPEARE'S dramas by DOROTHEA TIECK, AUGUST WILHELM SCHLEGEL and WOLF HEINRICH Graf von BAUDISSIN was published in 1843.
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