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William Shakespeare

(1564—1616) playwright and poet


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Quick Reference

(1564–1616),

was baptized in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford‐upon‐Avon, on 26 April 1564. His birth is traditionally celebrated on 23 April, also known to have been the date of his death. He was the eldest son of John Shakespeare, a glover and dealer in other commodities who played a prominent part in local affairs. John had married c.1557 Mary Arden, who came from a family of higher social standing. It is probable that William was educated at the local grammar school. Records indicate that in 1582 he married Anne Hathaway of Shottery, eight years his senior. A daughter, Susanna, was baptized on 26 May 1583, and twins, Hamnet and Judith, on 2 February 1585. According to Aubrey, ‘he had been in his younger yeares as Schoolmaster in the Countrey.’

Nothing is known of his beginnings as a writer, nor when or in what capacity he entered the theatre. The first printed allusion to him is from 1592, in the pamphlet Greenes Groats‐Worth of Witte; its mention of ‘an upstart Crow’ who ‘supposes he is well able to bombast out a blanke verse as the best of you’ and who ‘is in his owne conceit the onely Shakes‐cene in a countrey’ suggests rivalry, and parody of a line from 3 Henry VI shows that Shakespeare was established on the London literary scene. He was a leading member of the Lord Chamberlain's Men soon after their re‐foundation in 1594. With them he worked and grew prosperous for the rest of his career as they developed into London's leading company, occupying the Globe Theatre from 1599, becoming the King's Men on James I's accession in 1603, and taking over the Blackfriars as a winter house in 1608.

London became Shakespeare's professional base, but his family remained in Stratford. In August 1596 William's son Hamnet died. In October Shakespeare was lodging in Bishops‐gate, London; in May 1597 he bought a substantial Stratford house, New Place, and in 1604 he lodged in London with a family called Mountjoy.

Evidence suggests that by 1608 Shakespeare was withdrawing to New Place, but his name continues to appear in London records; in March 1613 he bought a gatehouse close to the Blackfriars theatre. He died, according to the inscription on his monument, on 23 April 1616, and was buried in Holy Trinity, Stratford.

Shakespeare's only writings for the press (apart from the disputed ‘Funeral Elegy’ of 1613) are the narrative poems Venus and Adonis (1593) and The Rape of Lucrece (1594), both dedicated to Henry Wriothesley, earl of Southampton, and the short poem ‘The Phoenix and the Turtle’ (1601), published in Robert Chester's Loves Martyr. His Sonnets (1609) date probably from the mid‐1590s; the volume includes the poem ‘A Lover's Complaint’.

Shakespeare's plays were published by being performed. Scripts of only half of them appeared in print in his lifetime, some in short, corrupt texts, often known as ‘bad quartos’. Dates and order of composition are often difficult to establish. The list that follows gives dates of first printing of all the plays other than those that first appeared in the 1623 Folio.

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Subjects: literature.