William Shakespeare: Facts, Life, and Complete Work

AUTHOR

William Shakespeare

English Poet, Playwright, and Actor

William Shakespeare, often called England’s national poet and the “Bard of Avon”, was a renowned poet, playwright, and actor. He is widely recognized as the greatest writer in the English language and the world’s greatest dramatist. 

Shakespeare was a prolific writer during the Renaissance era. His plays are his most enduring legacy, but those are not the only things he wrote; in fact, several of Shakespeare’s poems remain highly popular to this day.

Shakespeare’s Life

An old church record indicates that William Shakespeare was baptized at the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon on April 26, 1564. His actual date of birth is unknown, but it is traditionally celebrated on April 23, Saint George’s Day. This date has proved appealing to biographers and scholars because Shakespeare died on the same date in 1616.

William was the third child of John Shakespeare and Mary Arden; the couple had two girls before William. However, they passed away shortly after their birth, which made William the eldest child. John Shakespeare was a prosperous glover (glove-maker) and whittawer (leather worker), and he was eventually elected to several municipal offices. He served as an alderman, the chief magistrate of the town council, and mayor of Stratford in 1568. Mary Arden came from an ancient family and was the heiress to a significant amount of land in Wilmcote.

William would have lived with his family in their house on Henley Street until he turned eighteen. At the age of eighteen, William married 26-year-old Anne Hathaway in a rushed ceremony because Anne was already pregnant at the time. Six months after their marriage, Anne gave birth to their eldest daughter, Susanna. Almost two years later, the couple had twins, son Hamnet and daughter Judith; however, Hamnet died just when he was eleven years old.

William Shakespeare Education

There are no records of Shakespeare’s education, but scholars believe that he probably went to King’s New School – a distinguished Stratford grammar school. During the Elizabethan era, grammar schools varied in quality; however, grammar school curricula were relatively similar: William would have learned Greek, Latin, rhetoric, and theology – and he may have had a Catholic upbringing. He may have also seen plays by traveling theatre groups touring Stratford in the 1560s and 1570s.

Shakespeare’s Lost Years

The Lost Years refers to the seven years of Shakespeare’s life, between the baptism of his twins in 1585, and his appearance on the London theatre scene in 1592. It is unknown why or when he left Stratford-upon-Avon for London, or what he was doing before becoming a professional dramatist and actor in the capital.

There is much speculation about Shakespeare’s Lost Years – one popular story is that he fled to London to escape punishment for deer-stealing. Others speculate that he enlisted as a soldier, became employed as a lawyer’s clerk, or that he worked at the London playhouses by minding the horses of theatre-goers.

William Shakespeare Death

In 1610, Shakespeare left his work in London and retired with his wife in Stratford-upon-Avon. It is believed that Shakespeare’s death occurred in their home, where he would have been attended by his son-in-law, Dr. John Hall who was the local physician.

The exact cause of his death is unknown, but scholars believe that Shakespeare died after contracting a fever after binge-drinking with fellow playwrights, Michael Drayton and Ben Jonson. Others believe that he died following a brief illness.

Two days after his death, Shakespeare was laid to rest in the chancel of the Holy Trinity Church. The epitaph carved into the stone slab covering his grave includes a curse to anyone who moves his bones. The epitaph reads:

GOOD FREND FOR IESVS SAKE FORBEARE
TO DIGG THE DVST ENCLOASED HEARE
BLESTe BE Ye MAN Yt SPARES THES STONES
AND CVRST BE HE Yt MOVES MY BONES

(Modern spelling: Good friend, for Jesus’ sake forbear, / To dig the dust enclosed here. / Blessed be the man that spares these stones, / And cursed be he that moves my bones.)

Out of respect for Shakespeare’s legacy, his gravesite remains intact, even after the restoration of the church in 2008.

Shakespeare in London

In 1592, Shakespeare’s career jump-started in London.

During his time in London, he became a member of The Lord Chamberlain’s Men – a theatrical company with which Shakespeare was intimately linked for the majority of his professional career as a dramatist. During his time in the company, he wrote many of his most well-known tragedies, such as Macbeth and King Lear; as well as his great romances, such as The Tempest and The Winter’s Tale.

Shakespeare worked tirelessly while he was in London, producing plays at unbelievable speed. He achieved massive success and came to be one of the most celebrated names in the theatre world.

Shakespeare’s Quartos

Before the publication of the First Folio in 1623, 19 of Shakespeare’s plays had appeared in quarto editions. With the exception of Othello (1622), all of the quartos were published prior to Shakespeare’s retirement from the theatre.

List of Shakespeare plays in quarto:

  • Henry VI, Part 2
  • Titus Andronicus
  • Richard III
  • Henry VI, Part 3
  • Romeo and Juliet
  • Richard II
  • Henry IV, Part 1
  • Love’s Labour’s Lost
  • Henry IV, Part 2
  • Henry V
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • Merchant of Venice
  • Much Ado About Nothing
  • Merry Wives of Windsor
  • Hamlet
  • King Lear
  • Troilus and Cressida
  • Pericles, Prince of Tyre
  • Othello
The First Folio

The first collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays is known as The First Folio. It was collated and published in 1623, seven years after his death.

Of the 36 plays found in the First Folio, 18 had not been printed at all. It is this fact that makes the First Folio highly treasured; without it, several of Shakespeare’s plays, including Macbeth, The Tempest, Julius Caesar, and Twelfth Night might have never survived.

The First Folio was collated by Shakespeare’s friends and fellow actors, Henry Condell and John Heminge. They divided the plays into tragedies, histories, and comedies – an editorial decision that has shaped the modern idea of the Shakespearean canon.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare

The work of William Shakespeare is perhaps the best example of Elizabethan and Jacobean literature.

Shakespeare’s works include 154 sonnets, 38 plays, 2 narrative poems, and a variety of other poems.

Shakespeare’s legacy is as diverse and rich as his work; his writings have been compiled in various iterations of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged and The Complete Works of William Shakespeare – which include all of his sonnets, plays, and other poems. His plays have generated numerous adaptations across different cultures and genres. His plays have had an enduring presence on film and stage.

Today, William Shakespeare remains one of the most important literary figures of the English language.

See below for a complete list of Shakespeare’s works.

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