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William Shakespeare

Wednesday, 27 March 2002

William Shakespeare is without doubt the most famous English writer ever. Even though he died nearly 400 years ago, he is still widely read and hugely popular, his plays are ated all over the world. Despite his popularity at the time not much is certain about his life and there is no real authoritative account of his life.

Born in April 1564 in Henley Street in the market town of Stratford Upon Avon to Mary and John Shakespeare. He was the third child of the couple but the first to survive. He later had two brothers Gilbert and Richard and two sister Joan and Mary.

His family were quite wealthy, his father was a successful local glove maker and his mother Mary had inherited money and farmland. When William was 4 his father became High Bailiff of Stratford.

Only boys went to school at this time, William's first school was called Petty School, when he was seven it is believed that he went to the local grammar school until, at the age of twelve, he left to help his father who had run into financial trouble. At school he studied the bible and history and learned to speak Latin, in top classes pupils had to speak Latin. At the age of eighteen William met Anne Hathaway who was the daughter of a local farmer, she was a little older than William at 26. They married in November 1582 and moved in with William's parents in Stratford. In May 1583 Anne gave birth to their first child Susanna, she was followed two years later by twins, one a boy, Hamnet, the other a girl, Judith. By the age of 21 William had fathered 3 children.

Shortly after this, William left Stratford, leaving his family behind. The reason for his departure is not clear; some people think that he became a teacher, while others believe that he went to work for a lawyer. Another story is that he was caught poaching Sir Thomas Lucy's deer from Charlecote Park near Stratford and had to run away.

Sometimes between 1585 and 1592, William arrived in London. He looked for worj and found a job in the theatre. Plays at this time were quite different from plays now and were always shown in the daytime. Also, only men were allowed to act with the parts of women being played by boys. William loved the theatre and began to act and write his own plays. His plays were very popular with the audiences of the time. Most successful playwrights at this time, like Christopher Marlowe, were University educated, William was not and for this reason many people looked down on him.

Once a year he would return to Stratford to see his wife and family. In 1592 the plague struck in London. Theatres were closed down to stop the diseases spreading amongst the tightly packed audiences. At this time William wrote poetry like 'The Rape of Lucrece' which he wrote for the Earl of Southampton. He wrote a further 154 sonnets for friends and family.

In 1594 the theatres reopened and Williams started writing plays again. He carried on acting as well as writing 2 or 3 plays a year and belonged to a group called Lord Chamberlain's Men. The group acted regularly at the court of Queen Elizabeth. William even wrote the play 'The Merry Wives of Windsor' for the Queen.

By the age of 33 William was making lots of money and was very famous. He bought the second biggest house in Stratford called New Place and often went to visit his family there. He bought more and more land as well as a share in London's finest theatre The Globe which was on London's South Bank. A replica of this theatre has been rebuilt very near to the site of the original and Shakespeare plays are shown there today.

When Queen Elizabeth died in 1603, James I became king. He ordered William's company to change their name to the King's Men. They often acted at the King's court and William wrote the play 'Macbeth' especially for the King. The group also acted at the wedding of King James' daughter.

In June 1613, William's play 'Henry VIII' was put on at the Globe. During the play, a live cannon shot out a burning ball of paper which landed on the thatched roof of the theatre. The whole building caught fire and within an hour it had burnt to the ground. After the fire, William decided to retire and to move back to Stratford with his family. He was 49 and had written a total of 37 plays.

In 1616 he wrote his will and left his land and property to his family and some money to the poor people of Stratford. He died on the 23rd of April 1616 at the age of 52. He was buried two days later in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford.

Shakespeare's Life - Timeline of Events

1564 - April; William Shakespeare born in Stratford-upon-Avon
1582 - November; Marries Anne Hathaway
1583 - May; Daughter Susanna is born
1585 - Twins Hamnet and Judith born
1585-92 - Moves to London and becomes an actor and playwright
1592 - Plague epidemic in London causes the theatres to be closed
1593 - Christopher Marlowe dies
1594 - Theatre reopens
1595 - Romeo & Juliet written
1596 - Son Hamnet dies
1597 - Buys New Place in Stratford
1599 - Globe theatre built
1603 - Queen Elizabeth dies. James I crowned King and orders William's Company, the Lord Chamberlain's Men, to become The King's Men
1613 - Globe burns down. Shakespeare retires
1616 - April 23rd; Shakespeare dies
1623 - First Folio collection of Shakespeare's plays is published