Who Was William Shakespeare?

A biography of the Bard, from his early years in Stratford, to the height of his career in London, and death in 1616.

April 1564
Ben Jonson
April 23, 1616

Shakespeare's birth

William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England, in April 1564. His exact date of birth is unknown, but it is traditionally celebrated on April 23rd. He was the third of eight children born to John Shakespeare and Mary Arden. John was a successful glove-maker, while Mary was the daughter of a wealthy landowner.


Shakespeare’s early life was spent in Stratford, where he attended the local grammar school. He married Anne Hathaway in 1582, and their first child, Susanna, was born in 1583. Two years later, twins Hamnet and Judith were born. Shakespeare moved to London in the late 1580s, where he established himself as an actor, then a playwright, quickly becoming one of the most successful writers of the Elizabethan era.

*“Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them” – Twelfth Night”*

Upbringing and education

William Shakespeare’s education was typical for a boy of his social class in 16th century England. He attended the local grammar school in Stratford-upon-Avon, where he would have studied Latin, rhetoric, and literature. His teachers would have been highly educated, and would have taught him the basics of the Latin language, as well as the works of classical authors such as Virgil and Ovid.

*“We all know what we are but not what we may be” – Hamlet*

He would also have been taught the fundamentals of rhetoric, which he would later use to great effect in his plays and sonnets. Shakespeare’s education was likely to have been rigorous and demanding, and it is likely that he developed a deep appreciation for classical tales during this time.


He was also likely to have been exposed to the works of contemporary authors, such as Edmund Spenser, which influenced his own writing.

Early career

William Shakespeare’s career as an actor and playwright began in the late 1580s. He was part of an acting troupe called the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, which was later renamed the King’s Men.


He wrote plays for the troupe and acted in them as well. His earliest surviving works are the three parts of *Henry VI*, which were written between 1589 and 1592. He wrote a number of other plays during this period, including *Romeo and Juliet*, *The Merchant of Venice*, and *A Midsummer Night’s Dream*.

Shakespeare’s plays were popular with audiences, and he quickly became one of the most successful playwrights in Elizabethan England. He wrote a variety of plays, from comedies to tragedies, and his works were often performed at the Globe Theatre in London.

He also wrote a number of poems, including 154 sonnets, which were first published in 1609. Shakespeare’s works have continued to be popular over the centuries, and his influence on literature and theater is still felt today.

Marriage and family

William Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway in 1582, when he was 18 and she was 26. They had three children: Susanna, born in 1583, and twins Judith and Hamnet, born in 1585. The marriage was not without its difficulties, as Anne was pregnant with Susanna before the wedding. Nevertheless, the couple stayed together until Shakespeare’s death in 1616.


Shakespeare’s children were a source of great inspiration to him. He wrote of his daughter Susanna in the poem *A Lover’s Complaint*, describing how “upon her head [there was] a platted hive of straw, which fortified her visage from the sun”.

The death of his son Hamnet in 1596 was a major event in Shakespeare’s life. This tragedy was reflected in his later plays, such as Hamlet, which is thought to be based on the death of his son. In 1613, Shakespeare retired to Stratford-upon-Avon and died three years later. He left behind a legacy of plays and poems that have been studied and performed for centuries. It is likely that his life experiences, including the death of his son, had a lasting influence on his work.

Relationships with other literary figures

William Shakespeare had a number of relationships with key figures in the Elizabethan theatrical world.


He was a shareholder in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a company of actors and playwrights, and was closely associated with the Burbage family. Richard Burbage was a leading actor in the company and was a close friend of Shakespeare.

The two men shared a mutual respect and admiration for each other’s work. Shakespeare also had a close relationship with the playwright Ben Jonson. The two men collaborated on a number of plays and Jonson was a great admirer of Shakespeare’s work. Jonson even praised Shakespeare as “the soul of the age”.

Shakespeare also had a close relationship with playwrights including Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Kyd and Thomas Nashe, who were major influences on his writing. All of these playwrights remain widely read and studied to this day.

These relationships were key to the success of Shakespeare’s work and his influence on the Elizabethan theater world.

Shakespeare's death

William Shakespeare died on April 23, 1616 – probably his birthday – at the age of 52. The exact cause of his death is unknown, though some have speculated that it was due to natural causes or an infectious disease. His death was recorded in the Stratford parish register, and his burial took place two days later in the chancel of Holy Trinity Church.

*”With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.” – The Merchant of Venice*

Shakespeare left behind a legacy of works that have been studied, performed, and enjoyed for centuries. His plays and poems have been translated into many languages and are still popular today. He is remembered as one of the greatest writers in the English language, and his works have had a lasting impact on literature, theater, and culture.

*“Cowards die many times before their deaths. The valiant never taste of death but once.” – Julius Caesar”*

Debates over Shakespeare's biography

The debate around the biography of William Shakespeare is a long and complex one. Scholars have long argued over the details of his life, from his education and early work to the personal details of his life.


Some have suggested that he was not the author of the works attributed to him, while others have argued that he was indeed the author. The lack of records from the time has made it difficult to ascertain the full truth but the overwhelming majority of modern scholars believe that there was a William Shakespeare, and that he was truly the author of the plays we know and love.

The debate has been further complicated by the fact that Shakespeare’s works are so widely studied and interpreted. Different interpretations of his works have led to different interpretations of his life. Scholars have argued over the meaning of his works, and how they relate to his life. This has made it difficult to come to a consensus on the details of his biography.

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Shakespeare’s Early Works;

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The Elizabethan Era: Shakespeare’s World;

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Adaptations of Shakespeare;

How Shakespeare's work has been adapted over the centuries into many different forms.

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