Share this page

  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on LinkedIn

William Shakespeare Biography

Who was william shakespeare.

  • In this section

An Introduction

William Shakespeare was a renowned English poet, playwright, and actor born in 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon . His birthday is most commonly celebrated on 23 April (see  When was Shakespeare born ), which is also believed to be the date he died in 1616.

Shakespeare was a prolific writer during the Elizabethan and Jacobean ages of British theatre (sometimes called the English Renaissance or the Early Modern Period). Shakespeare’s plays are perhaps his most enduring legacy, but they are not all he wrote. Shakespeare’s poems  also remain popular to this day. 

Shakespeare's Family Life

Records survive relating to  William Shakespeare’s family  that offer an understanding of the context of Shakespeare's early life and the lives of his family members. John Shakespeare married Mary Arden , and together they had eight children. John and Mary lost two daughters as infants, so William became their eldest child. John Shakespeare worked as a glove-maker, but he also became an important figure in the town of Stratford by fulfilling civic positions. His elevated status meant that he was even more likely to have sent his children, including William, to the local grammar school . 

William Shakespeare would have lived with his family in their house on Henley Street until he turned eighteen. When he was eighteen,  Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway , who was twenty-six. It was a rushed marriage because Anne was already pregnant at the time of the ceremony. Together they had three children. Their first daughter, Susanna , was born six months after the wedding and was later followed by twins  Hamnet and Judith . Hamnet died when he was just 11 years old.

  • For an overview of William Shakespeare's life, see Shakespeare's Life: A Timeline

Shakespeare in London

Shakespeare's career jump-started in London, but when did he go there? We know Shakespeare's twins were baptised in 1585, and that by 1592 his reputation was established in London, but the intervening years are considered a mystery. Scholars generally refer to these years as ‘ The Lost Years ’.

During his time in London, Shakespeare’s first printed works were published. They were two long poems, 'Venus and Adonis' (1593) and 'The Rape of Lucrece' (1594). He also became a founding member of The Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a company of actors. Shakespeare was the company's regular dramatist, producing on average two plays a year, for almost twenty years. 

He remained with the company for the rest of his career, during which time it evolved into The King’s Men under the patronage of King James I (from 1603). During his time in the company Shakespeare wrote many of his most famous tragedies, such as King Lear and Macbeth , as well as great romances, like The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest . 

  • For more about Shakespeare's patrons and his work in London see; Shakespeare's Career

Shakespeare's Works

Altogether  Shakespeare's works include 38 plays, 2 narrative poems, 154 sonnets, and a variety of other poems. No original manuscripts of Shakespeare's plays are known to exist today. It is actually thanks to a group of actors from Shakespeare's company that we have about half of the plays at all. They collected them for publication after Shakespeare died, preserving the plays. These writings were brought together in what is known as the First Folio ('Folio' refers to the size of the paper used). It contained 36 of his plays, but none of his poetry. 

Shakespeare’s legacy is as rich and diverse as his work; his plays have spawned countless adaptations across multiple genres and cultures. His plays have had an enduring presence on stage and film. His writings have been compiled in various iterations of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, which include all of his plays, sonnets, and other poems. William Shakespeare continues to be one of the most important literary figures of the English language.

New Place; a home in Stratford-upon-Avon

Shakespeare’s success in the London theatres made him considerably wealthy, and by 1597 he was able to purchase  New Place ,   the largest house in the borough of  Stratford-upon-Avon . Although his professional career was spent in London, he maintained close links with his native town. 

Recent archaeological evidence discovered on the site of Shakespeare’s New Place shows that Shakespeare was only ever an intermittent lodger in London. This suggests he divided his time between Stratford and London (a two or three-day commute). In his later years, he may have spent more time in Stratford-upon-Avon than scholars previously thought.

  • Watch our video for more about Shakespeare as a literary commuter:

On his father's death in 1601, William Shakespeare inherited the old family home in Henley Street part of which was then leased to tenants. Further property investments in Stratford followed, including the purchase of 107 acres of land in 1602.

Shakespeare died  in Stratford-upon-Avon on 23 April 1616 at the age of 52. He is buried in the sanctuary of the parish church, Holy Trinity.

All the world's a stage /And all the men and women merely players. / They have their exits and their entrances, / And one man in his time plays many parts. — As You Like It, Act 2 Scene 7

Help keep Shakespeare's story alive

More like this, go behind the scenes, shakespeare's birthplace, anne hathaway's cottage, shakespeare's new place.

We use essential and non-essential cookies that improve the functionality and experience of the website. For more information, see our Cookies Policy.

Necessary cookies

Necessary cookies ensure the smooth running of the website, including core functionality and security. The website cannot function properly without these cookies.

Analytics cookies

Analytical cookies are used to determine how visitors are using a website, enabling us to enhance performance and functionality of the website. These are non-essential cookies but are not used for advertising purposes.

Advertising cookies

Advertising cookies help us monitor the effectiveness of our recruitment campaigns as well as enabling advertising to be tailored to you through retargeting advertising services. This means there is the possibility of you seeing more adverts from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust on other websites that you visit.

  • Save settings Minimise

Encyclopedia Britannica

  • Games & Quizzes
  • History & Society
  • Science & Tech
  • Biographies
  • Animals & Nature
  • Geography & Travel
  • Arts & Culture
  • On This Day
  • One Good Fact
  • New Articles
  • Lifestyles & Social Issues
  • Philosophy & Religion
  • Politics, Law & Government
  • World History
  • Health & Medicine
  • Browse Biographies
  • Birds, Reptiles & Other Vertebrates
  • Bugs, Mollusks & Other Invertebrates
  • Environment
  • Fossils & Geologic Time
  • Entertainment & Pop Culture
  • Sports & Recreation
  • Visual Arts
  • Demystified
  • Image Galleries
  • Infographics
  • Top Questions
  • Britannica Kids
  • Saving Earth
  • Space Next 50
  • Student Center
  • Introduction & Top Questions

Early life in Stratford

  • Career in the theatre
  • Private life
  • The tributes of his colleagues
  • Anecdotes and documents
  • The intellectual background
  • Changes in language
  • Shakespeare’s literary debts
  • Theatrical conditions
  • The dating of Shakespeare’s plays
  • Publication
  • Titus Andronicus
  • The early romantic comedies
  • The early histories
  • Romantic comedies
  • Completion of the histories
  • Romeo and Juliet
  • The “problem” plays
  • Julius Caesar
  • The tragedies
  • The romances
  • Collaborations and spurious attributions
  • Shakespeare’s sources
  • Questions of authorship
  • Linguistic, historical, textual, and editorial problems
  • Seventeenth century
  • Eighteenth century
  • Romantic critics
  • Increasing importance of scholarship
  • Historical criticism
  • New Criticism
  • New interpretive approaches
  • Feminist criticism and gender studies
  • Deconstruction
  • Chronology of Shakespeare’s plays

William Shakespeare

How did Shakespeare die?

Why is shakespeare still important today.

William Shakespeare, 1564-1616. c 1907

William Shakespeare

Our editors will review what you’ve submitted and determine whether to revise the article.

  • Shakespeare Birthplace Trust - William Shakespeare Biography
  • PlayShakespeare.com - Shakespeare's Biography
  • Spartacus Educational - Biography of William Shakespeare
  • Poets.org - Biography of William Shakespeare
  • Poetry Foundation - William Shakespeare
  • The Poetry Archive - Biography of William Shakespeare
  • William Shakespeare - Children's Encyclopedia (Ages 8-11)
  • William Shakespeare - Student Encyclopedia (Ages 11 and up)
  • Table Of Contents

William Shakespeare

What was Shakespeare's family like?

Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway , eight years his senior, when he was 18. They had three children: Susanna and twins Judith and Hamnet. Hamnet died at the age of 11.

How many plays did Shakespeare write?

There is some dispute about how many plays Shakespeare wrote. The general consensus is 37. 

How many sonnets did Shakespeare write?

Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets . The most famous include Sonnet 18, with opening lines “Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?”, and Sonnet 130, which begins “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun.”

The cause of Shakespeare's death is unknown. However, the vicar of the local church wrote in his journal some fifty years later that “Shakespeare, Drayton , and Ben Jonson had a merry meeting, and it seems drank too hard; for Shakespeare died of a fever there contracted.” The account cannot be verified but has led some scholars to speculate that Shakespeare may have died of typhus.

Shakespeare remains vital because his plays present people and situations that we recognize today. His characters have an emotional reality that transcends time, and his plays depict familiar experiences, ranging from family squabbles to falling in love to war. The fact that his plays are performed and adapted around the world underscores the universal appeal of his storytelling.

Recent News

shakespeare biography for students

William Shakespeare (baptized April 26, 1564, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England—died April 23, 1616, Stratford-upon-Avon) was a poet, dramatist, and actor often called the English national poet. He is considered by many to be the greatest dramatist of all time.

Shakespeare occupies a position unique in world literature . Other poets, such as Homer and Dante , and novelists, such as Leo Tolstoy and Charles Dickens , have transcended national barriers, but no writer’s living reputation can compare to that of Shakespeare, whose plays, written in the late 16th and early 17th centuries for a small repertory theatre , are now performed and read more often and in more countries than ever before. The prophecy of his great contemporary, the poet and dramatist Ben Jonson , that Shakespeare “was not of an age, but for all time,” has been fulfilled.

Explore five questions about Shakespeare's life

It may be audacious even to attempt a definition of his greatness, but it is not so difficult to describe the gifts that enabled him to create imaginative visions of pathos and mirth that, whether read or witnessed in the theatre, fill the mind and linger there. He is a writer of great intellectual rapidity, perceptiveness, and poetic power. Other writers have had these qualities, but with Shakespeare the keenness of mind was applied not to abstruse or remote subjects but to human beings and their complete range of emotions and conflicts. Other writers have applied their keenness of mind in this way, but Shakespeare is astonishingly clever with words and images, so that his mental energy, when applied to intelligible human situations, finds full and memorable expression, convincing and imaginatively stimulating. As if this were not enough, the art form into which his creative energies went was not remote and bookish but involved the vivid stage impersonation of human beings, commanding sympathy and inviting vicarious participation. Thus, Shakespeare’s merits can survive translation into other languages and into cultures remote from that of Elizabethan England .

Shakespeare the man

Learn about William Shakespeare's early boyhood and path to London to become a playwright and actor

Although the amount of factual knowledge available about Shakespeare is surprisingly large for one of his station in life, many find it a little disappointing, for it is mostly gleaned from documents of an official character. Dates of baptisms , marriages , deaths , and burials ; wills , conveyances , legal processes, and payments by the court—these are the dusty details. There are, however, many contemporary allusions to him as a writer, and these add a reasonable amount of flesh and blood to the biographical skeleton.

If You'd Only Be My Valentine, American Valentine card, 1910. Cupid gathers a basket of red hearts from a pine tree which, in the language of flowers represents daring. Valentine's Day St. Valentine's Day February 14 love romance history and society heart In Roman mythology Cupid was the son of Venus, goddess of love (Eros and Aphrodite in the Greek Pantheon).

The parish register of Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon , Warwickshire , shows that he was baptized there on April 26, 1564; his birthday is traditionally celebrated on April 23. His father, John Shakespeare, was a burgess of the borough , who in 1565 was chosen an alderman and in 1568 bailiff (the position corresponding to mayor , before the grant of a further charter to Stratford in 1664). He was engaged in various kinds of trade and appears to have suffered some fluctuations in prosperity . His wife, Mary Arden, of Wilmcote, Warwickshire, came from an ancient family and was the heiress to some land. (Given the somewhat rigid social distinctions of the 16th century, this marriage must have been a step up the social scale for John Shakespeare.)

Stratford enjoyed a grammar school of good quality, and the education there was free, the schoolmaster’s salary being paid by the borough. No lists of the pupils who were at the school in the 16th century have survived, but it would be absurd to suppose the bailiff of the town did not send his son there. The boy’s education would consist mostly of Latin studies—learning to read, write, and speak the language fairly well and studying some of the Classical historians, moralists, and poets. Shakespeare did not go on to the university, and indeed it is unlikely that the scholarly round of logic, rhetoric , and other studies then followed there would have interested him.

Instead, at age 18 he married. Where and exactly when are not known, but the episcopal registry at Worcester preserves a bond dated November 28, 1582, and executed by two yeomen of Stratford, named Sandells and Richardson, as a security to the bishop for the issue of a license for the marriage of William Shakespeare and “ Anne Hathaway of Stratford,” upon the consent of her friends and upon once asking of the banns. (Anne died in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare. There is good evidence to associate her with a family of Hathaways who inhabited a beautiful farmhouse, now much visited, 2 miles [3.2 km] from Stratford.) The next date of interest is found in the records of the Stratford church, where a daughter, named Susanna, born to William Shakespeare, was baptized on May 26, 1583. On February 2, 1585, twins were baptized, Hamnet and Judith. (Hamnet, Shakespeare’s only son, died 11 years later.)

How Shakespeare spent the next eight years or so, until his name begins to appear in London theatre records, is not known. There are stories—given currency long after his death—of stealing deer and getting into trouble with a local magnate, Sir Thomas Lucy of Charlecote, near Stratford; of earning his living as a schoolmaster in the country; of going to London and gaining entry to the world of theatre by minding the horses of theatregoers. It has also been conjectured that Shakespeare spent some time as a member of a great household and that he was a soldier, perhaps in the Low Countries . In lieu of external evidence, such extrapolations about Shakespeare’s life have often been made from the internal “evidence” of his writings. But this method is unsatisfactory: one cannot conclude, for example, from his allusions to the law that Shakespeare was a lawyer, for he was clearly a writer who without difficulty could get whatever knowledge he needed for the composition of his plays.

William Shakespeare

  • Occupation: Playwright, actor and poet
  • Born: April 26, 1564 baptized in Stratford-upon-Avon, England (likely born on April 23rd)
  • Best known for: Writing plays such as Romeo and Juliet , Hamlet , and Macbeth

William Shakespeare portrait

  • The lead actor and star of many of Shakespeare's plays was Richard Burbage.
  • The original Globe Theatre burned down in 1613. It was rebuilt in 1614, but was then closed in 1642.
  • A modern reconstruction of the Globe was built in London by American actor Sam Wanamaker. It opened in 1997.
  • He wrote 37 plays in his lifetime averaging about 1.5 plays per year he was writing. Some scholars think that he wrote around 20 more plays that have been lost, which would put the total to 57!
  • His plays were performed for both Queen Elizabeth I and King James I.
  • You can take the letters from "William Shakespeare" and write "I am a weakish speller."
  • Listen to a recorded reading of this page:



























































William Shakespeare

Playwright and poet William Shakespeare is considered the greatest dramatist of all time. His works are loved throughout the world, but Shakespeare’s personal life is shrouded in mystery.

painting of william shakespeare

Quick Facts

Wife and children, shakespeare’s lost years, poems and sonnets, the king’s men: life as an actor and playwright, globe theater, william shakespeare’s plays, later years and death, legacy and controversies, who was william shakespeare.

William Shakespeare was an English poet , playwright , and actor of the Renaissance era. He was an important member of the King’s Men theatrical company from roughly 1594 onward. Known throughout the world, Shakespeare’s works—at least 37 plays, 154 sonnets, and 2 narrative poems—capture the range of human emotion and conflict and have been celebrated for more than 400 years. Details about his personal life are limited, though some believe he was born and died on the same day, April 23, 52 years apart.

FULL NAME: William Shakespeare BORN: c. April 23, 1564 DIED: c. April 23, 1616 BIRTHPLACE: Stratford-upon-Avon, England, United Kingdom SPOUSE: Anne Hathaway (1582-1616) CHILDREN: Susanna, Judith, and Hamnet ASTROLOGICAL SIGN: Taurus

preview for William Shakespeare - Mini Biography

The personal life of William Shakespeare is somewhat of a mystery . There are two primary sources that provide historians with an outline of his life. One is his work, and the other is official documentation such as church and court records. However, these provide only brief sketches of specific events in his life and yield little insight into the man himself.

When Was Shakespeare Born?

No birth records exist, but an old church record indicates that William Shakespeare was baptized at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon on April 26, 1564. From this, it is believed he was born on or near April 23, 1564, and this is the date scholars acknowledge as Shakespeare’s birthday. Located about 100 miles northwest of London, Stratford-upon-Avon was a bustling market town along the River Avon and bisected by a country road during Shakespeare’s time.

Parents and Siblings

Shakespeare was the third child of John Shakespeare, a glove-maker and leather merchant, and Mary Arden, a local heiress to land. John held official positions as alderman and bailiff, an office resembling a mayor. However, records indicate John’s fortunes declined sometime in the late 1570s. Eventually, he recovered somewhat and was granted a coat of arms in 1596, which made him and his sons official gentleman.

John and Mary had eight children together, though three of them did not live past childhood. Their first two children—daughters Joan and Margaret—died in infancy, so William was the oldest surviving offspring. He had three younger brothers and two younger sisters: Gilbert, Joan, Anne, Richard, and Edmund. Anne died at age 7, and Joan was the only sibling to outlive William.

Childhood and Education

Scant records exist of Shakespeare’s childhood and virtually none regarding his education. Scholars have surmised that he most likely attended the King’s New School, in Stratford, which taught reading, writing, and the classics, including Latin. He attended until he was 14 or 15 and did not continue to university. The uncertainty regarding his education has led some people question the authorship of his work.

portrait of anne hathaway in pencil from the shoulders up, she is drawn wearing a high necked outfit and a headdress

Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway on November 28, 1582, in Worcester, in Canterbury Province. Hathaway was from Shottery, a small village a mile west of Stratford. Shakespeare was 18, and Anne was 26 and, as it turns out, pregnant.

Their first child, a daughter they named Susanna, was born on May 26, 1583. Two years later, on February 2, 1585, twins Hamnet and Judith were born. Hamnet died of unknown causes at age 11.

There are seven years of Shakespeare’s life where no records exist: after the birth of his twins in 1585 until 1592. Scholars call this period Shakespeare’s lost years, and there is wide speculation about what he was doing during this period.

One theory is that he might have gone into hiding for poaching game from local landlord Sir Thomas Lucy. Another possibility is that he might have been working as an assistant schoolmaster in Lancashire. Some scholars believe he was in London, working as a horse attendant at some of London’s finer theaters before breaking on the scene.

By 1592, there is evidence Shakespeare earned a living as an actor and a playwright in London and possibly had several plays produced. The September 20, 1592, edition of the Stationers’ Register , a guild publication, includes an article by London playwright Robert Greene that takes a few jabs at Shakespeare:

“...There is an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tiger’s heart wrapped in a Player’s hide, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you: and being an absolute Johannes factotum, is in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country.”

Scholars differ on the interpretation of this criticism, but most agree that it was Greene’s way of saying Shakespeare was reaching above his rank, trying to match better known and educated playwrights like Christopher Marlowe , Thomas Nashe, or Greene himself.

Early in his career, Shakespeare was able to attract the attention and patronage of Henry Wriothesley, the Earl of Southampton, to whom he dedicated his first and second published poems: Venus and Adonis (1593) and The Rape of Lucrece (1594). In fact, these long narrative poems—1,194 and 1,855 lines, respectively—were Shakespeare’s first published works. Wriothesley’s financial support was a helpful source of income at a time when the theaters were shuttered due to a plague outbreak.

Shakespeare’s most well-known poetry are his 154 sonnets, which were first published as a collection in 1609 and likely written as early as the 1590s. Scholars broadly categorize the sonnets in groups based on two unknown subjects that Shakespeare addresses: the Fair Youth sonnets (the first 126) and the Dark Lady sonnets (the last 28). The identities of the aristocratic young man and vexing woman continue to be a source of speculation.

In 1594, Shakespeare joined Lord Chamberlain’s Men, the London acting company that he worked with for the duration of his career. Later called the King’s Men, it was considered the most important troupe of its time and was very popular by all accounts. Some sources describe Shakespeare as a founding member of the company, but whatever the case, he became central to its success. Initially, he was an actor and eventually devoted more and more time to writing.

Records show that Shakespeare, who was also a company shareholder, had works published and sold as popular literature. Although The Taming of the Shrew is believed to be the first play that Shakespeare wrote, his first published plays were Titus Andronicus and Henry VI Part 2 . They were printed in 1594 in quarto, an eight-page pamphlet-like book. By the end of 1597, Shakespeare had likely written 16 of his 37 plays and amassed some wealth.

At this time, civil records show Shakespeare purchased one of the largest houses in Stratford, called New Place, for his family. It was a four-day ride by horse from Stratford to London, so it’s believed that Shakespeare spent most of his time in the city writing and acting and came home once a year during the 40-day Lenten period, when the theaters were closed. However, Shakespeare expert and professor Sir Stanley Wells posits that the playwright might have spent more time at home in Stratford than previously believed, only commuting to London when he needed to for work.

Although the theater culture in 16 th century England was not greatly admired by people of high rank, some of the nobility were good patrons of the performing arts and friends of the actors. Two notable exceptions were Queen Elizabeth I , who was a fan of Lord Chamberlain’s Men by the late 1590s after first watching a performance in 1594, and her successor King James I. Following his crowning in 1603, the company changed its name to the King’s Men.

By 1599, Shakespeare and several fellow actors built their own theater on the south bank of the Thames River, which they called the Globe Theater. Julius Caesar is thought to be the first production at the new open-air theater. Owning the playhouse proved to be a financial boon for Shakespeare and the other investors.

In 1613, the Globe caught fire during a performance of Henry VII I and burned to the ground. The company quickly rebuilt it, and it reopened the next year. In 1642, Puritans outlawed all theaters, including the Globe, which was demolished two years later. Centuries passed until American actor Sam Wanamaker began working to resurrect the theater once more. The third Globe Theater opened in 1997, and today, more than 1.25 million people visit it every year.

a color illustration of william shakespeare with the writer sitting in a cushioned red chair, his right hand holds a quill and rests on his right knee, his left elbow rests on an ornate wood desk with his left hand holding his head, he wears a dark outfit with a large white collar, dark tights, and dark shoes

It’s difficult to determine the exact chronology of Shakespeare’s plays, but over the course of two decades, from about 1590 to 1613, he wrote 37 plays revolving around three main themes: history, tragedy, and comedy. Some plays blur these lines, and over time, our interpretation of them has changed, too.

Shakespeare’s early plays were written in the conventional style of the day, with elaborate metaphors and rhetorical phrases that didn’t always align naturally with the story’s plot or characters. However, Shakespeare was very innovative, adapting the traditional style to his own purposes and creating a freer flow of words.

With only small degrees of variation, Shakespeare primarily used a metrical pattern consisting of lines of unrhymed iambic pentameter, or blank verse, to compose his plays. At the same time, there are passages in all the plays that deviate from this and use forms of poetry or simple prose.

Many of Shakespeare’s first plays were histories. All three Henry VI plays, Richard II , and Henry V dramatize the destructive results of weak or corrupt rulers and have been interpreted by drama historians as Shakespeare’s way of justifying the origins of the Tudor Dynasty. Other histories include Richard III , King John , the two Henry IV plays, and Henry VIII . With exception of Henry VIII , which was Shakespeare’s last play, these works were likely written by 1599.

Although Shakespeare wrote three tragedies, including Romeo and Juliet , before 1600, it wasn’t until after the turn of the century that he truly explored the genre. Character in Othello , King Lear , and Macbeth present vivid impressions of human temperament that are timeless and universal.

Possibly the best known of these plays is Hamlet , which explores betrayal, retribution, incest, and moral failure. These moral failures often drive the twists and turns of Shakespeare’s plots, destroying the hero and those he loves.

Julius Caesar , written in circa 1599, portrays upheaval in Roman politics that might have resonated with viewers at a time when England’s aging monarch, Queen Elizabeth I, had no legitimate heir, thus creating the potential for future power struggles.

Titus Andronicus , Anthony and Cleopatra , Timon of Athens , and Coriolanus are Shakespeare’s other tragic plays.

Shakespeare wrote comedies throughout his career, including his first play The Taming of the Shrew . Some of his other early comedies, written before 1600 or so, are: the whimsical A Midsummer Night’s Dream , the romantic Merchant of Venice , the wit and wordplay of Much Ado About Nothing , and the charming As You Like It .

Some of his comedies might be better described as tragicomedies. Among these are Pericles , Cymbeline , The Winter’s Tale, and The Tempest . Although graver in tone than the comedies, they are not the dark tragedies of King Lear or Macbeth because they end with reconciliation and forgiveness.

Additional Shakespeare comedies include:

  • The Two Gentlemen of Verona ,
  • The Comedy of Errors ,
  • Love’s Labour’s Lost ,
  • The Merry Wives of Windsor ,
  • Twelfth Night ,
  • Measure for Measure , and
  • All’s Well That Ends Well

Troilus and Cressida is emblematic of the Shakespearean “problem play,” which defies genres. Some of Shakespeare’s contemporaries classified it as a history or a comedy, though the original name of the play was The Tragedie of Troylus and Cressida .

Collaborations and Lost Play

Shakespeare is known to have created plays with other writers, such as John Fletcher. They co-wrote The Two Noble Kinsmen around 1613–14, making it Shakespeare’s last known dramatic work. They also collaborated on Cardenio , a play which was not preserved. Shakespeare’s other jointly written plays are Sir Thomas More and The Raigne of King Edward the Third . When including these works, Shakespeare has 41 plays to his name.

Around the turn of the 17 th century, Shakespeare became a more extensive property owner in Stratford. When his father, John, died in 1601, he inherited the family home. Then, in 1602, he purchased about 107 acres for 320 pounds.

In 1605, Shakespeare purchased leases of real estate near Stratford for 440 pounds, which doubled in value and earned him 60 pounds a year. This made him an entrepreneur as well as an artist, and scholars believe these investments gave him uninterrupted time to write his plays.

A couple years prior, around 1603, Shakespeare is believed to have stopped acting in the King’s Men productions, instead focusing on his playwriting work. He likely spent the last three years of his life in Stratford.

When Did Shakespeare Die?

Tradition holds that Shakespeare died on his 52 nd birthday, April 23, 1616, but some scholars believe this is a myth. Church records show he was interred at Holy Trinity Church on April 25, 1616. The exact cause of Shakespeare’s death is unknown , though many people believe he died following a brief illness.

In his will, he left the bulk of his possessions to his eldest daughter, Susanna, who by then was married. Although entitled to a third of his estate, little seems to have gone to his wife, Anne, whom he bequeathed his “second-best bed.” This has drawn speculation that she had fallen out of favor or that the couple was not close.

However, there is very little evidence the two had a difficult marriage. Other scholars note that the term “second-best bed” often refers to the bed belonging to the household’s master and mistress, the marital bed, and the “first-best bed” was reserved for guests.

The Bard of Avon has gone down in history as the greatest dramatist of all time and is sometimes called England’s national poet. He is credited with inventing or introducing more than 1,700 words to the English language, often as a result of combining words, changing usages, or blending in foreign root words. If you’ve used the words “downstairs,” “egregious,” “kissing,” “zany,” or “skim milk,” you can thank Shakespeare. He is also responsible for many common phrases, such as “love is blind” and “wild goose chase.”

First Folio

shakespeare’s first folio edition open to the title page with a portrait of william shakespeare on the right page, a white gloved hand touches the top righthand corner of the book

Although some of Shakespeare’s works were printed in his lifetime, not all were. It is because of the First Folio that we know about 18 of Shakespeare’s plays, including Macbeth , Twelfth Night , and Julius Caesar . John Heminge and Henry Condell, two of Shakespeare’s friends and fellow actors in the King’s Men, created the 36-play collection, which celebrates its 400 th anniversary this year. It was published with the title Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories and Tragedies in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare died.

In addition to its literary importance, the First Folio contains an original portrait of Shakespeare on the title page. Engraved by Martin Droeshout, it’s considered one of the two authentic portraits of the writer. The other is a memorial bust at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford.

Today, there are 235 surviving copies of the First Folio that date back to 1623, but experts estimate roughly 750 First Folios were printed. Three subsequent editions of Shakespeare’s Folio, with text updates and additional plays, were published between 1632 and 1685.

Did Shakespeare Write His Own Plays?

About 150 years after his death, questions arose about the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays. Scholars and literary critics began to float names like Christopher Marlowe, Edward de Vere, and Francis Bacon —men of more known backgrounds, literary accreditation, or inspiration—as the true authors of the plays.

Much of this stemmed from the sketchy details of Shakespeare’s life and the dearth of contemporary primary sources. Official records from the Holy Trinity Church and the Stratford government record the existence of Shakespeare, but none of these attest to him being an actor or playwright.

Skeptics also questioned how anyone of such modest education could write with the intellectual perceptiveness and poetic power that is displayed in Shakespeare’s works. Over the centuries, several groups have emerged that question the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays.

The most serious and intense skepticism began in the 19 th century when adoration for Shakespeare was at its highest. The detractors believed that the only hard evidence surrounding Shakespeare from Stratford-upon-Avon described a man from modest beginnings who married young and became successful in real estate.

Members of the Shakespeare Oxford Society, founded in 1957, put forth arguments that English aristocrat and poet Edward de Vere, the 17 th Earl of Oxford, was the true author of the poems and plays of “William Shakespeare.” The Oxfordians cite de Vere’s extensive knowledge of aristocratic society, his education, and the structural similarities between his poetry and that found in the works attributed to Shakespeare. They contend that Shakespeare had neither the education nor the literary training to write such eloquent prose and create such rich characters.

However, the vast majority of Shakespearean scholars contend that Shakespeare wrote all his own plays. They point out that other playwrights of the time also had sketchy histories and came from modest backgrounds.

They contend that King’s New School in Stratford had a curriculum of Latin and the classics could have provided a good foundation for literary writers. Supporters of Shakespeare’s authorship argue that the lack of evidence about Shakespeare’s life doesn’t mean his life didn’t exist. They point to evidence that displays his name on the title pages of published poems and plays.

Examples exist of authors and critics of the time acknowledging Shakespeare as the author of plays such as The Two Gentlemen of Verona , The Comedy of Errors , and King John .

Royal records from 1601 show that Shakespeare was recognized as a member of the King’s Men theater company and a Groom of the Chamber by the court of King James I, where the company performed seven of Shakespeare’s plays.

There is also strong circumstantial evidence of personal relationships by contemporaries who interacted with Shakespeare as an actor and a playwright.

Literary Legacy

What seems to be true is that Shakespeare was a respected man of the dramatic arts who wrote plays and acted in the late 16 th and early 17 th centuries. But his reputation as a dramatic genius wasn’t recognized until the 19 th century.

Beginning with the Romantic period of the early 1800s and continuing through the Victorian period, acclaim and reverence for Shakespeare and his work reached its height. In the 20 th century, new movements in scholarship and performance rediscovered and adopted his works.

Today, his plays remain highly popular and are constantly studied and reinterpreted in performances with diverse cultural and political contexts. The genius of Shakespeare’s characters and plots are that they present real human beings in a wide range of emotions and conflicts that transcend their origins in Elizabethan England.

  • The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.
  • This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.
  • There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.
  • Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once.
  • Lord, what fools these mortals be!
  • To weep is to make less the depth of grief.
  • In time we hate that which we often fear.
  • Men at some time are masters of their fates: the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.
  • What’s done cannot be undone.
  • We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.
  • Madness in great ones must not unwatched go.
  • The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.
  • All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.
  • Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice.
  • I say there is no darkness but ignorance.
  • I wasted time, and now doth time waste me.
  • Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.
Fact Check: We strive for accuracy and fairness. If you see something that doesn’t look right, contact us !

Headshot of Biography.com Editors

The Biography.com staff is a team of people-obsessed and news-hungry editors with decades of collective experience. We have worked as daily newspaper reporters, major national magazine editors, and as editors-in-chief of regional media publications. Among our ranks are book authors and award-winning journalists. Our staff also works with freelance writers, researchers, and other contributors to produce the smart, compelling profiles and articles you see on our site. To meet the team, visit our About Us page: https://www.biography.com/about/a43602329/about-us

Headshot of Adrienne Donica

Adrienne directs the daily news operation and content production for Biography.com. She joined the staff in October 2022 and most recently worked as an editor for Popular Mechanics , Runner’s World , and Bicycling . Adrienne has served as editor-in-chief of two regional print magazines, and her work has won several awards, including the Best Explanatory Journalism award from the Alliance of Area Business Publishers. Her current working theory is that people are the point of life, and she’s fascinated by everyone who (and every system that) creates our societal norms. When she’s not behind the news desk, find her hiking, working on her latest cocktail project, or eating mint chocolate chip ice cream. 

Playwrights

agatha christie looks at the camera as she leans her head against on hand, she wears a dark top and rings on her fingers

A Huge Shakespeare Mystery, Solved

painting showing william shakespeare sitting at a desk with his head resting on his left hand and holding a quill pen

How Did Shakespeare Die?

truman capote sits in an armchair and looks at the camera, he wears a suit with a tie, glasses, and a watch, his hands are clasped on his lap

Truman Capote

august wilson

August Wilson

author langston hughes

Langston Hughes

langston hughes smiles and looks right while leaning against a desk and holding a statue sitting on it, he wears a plaid shirt and pants

7 Facts About Literary Icon Langston Hughes

louis armstrong smling while holding his trumpet

11 Notable Artists from the Harlem Renaissance

robert browning

Robert Browning

christopher marlowe

Christopher Marlowe

neil simon

Eugene O'Neill

  • Fundamentals NEW

Britannica Kids logo

  • Biographies
  • Compare Countries
  • World Atlas

William Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s exact birthday is unknown, but records show that he was baptized on April 26, 1564.

Related resources for this article

  • Primary Sources & E-Books

Introduction

(1564–1616). More than 400 years after they were written, the plays and poems of William Shakespeare are still widely performed, read, and studied—not only in his native England , but also all around the world. His works have been translated into almost every language and have inspired countless adaptations. On the stage, in the movies, and on television, Shakespeare’s plays are watched by vast audiences. People read his plays again and again for pleasure. Shakespeare is often called the English national poet. He is considered by many to be the greatest dramatist of all time.

Shakespeare’s continued popularity is due to many things. His plays are filled with action, his characters are believable, and his language can be thrilling to hear or read. He is astonishingly clever with words and images. Underlying all this is Shakespeare’s deep insight into humanity—how people of all kinds think, feel, and act. Shakespeare was a writer of great perceptiveness and poetic power. He used these talents to present characters showing the full range of human emotions and conflicts.

While watching a Shakespearean tragedy, the audience may be moved and shaken. Shakespeare sets husband against wife, father against child, and the individual against society. He uncrowns kings, levels the nobleman with the beggar, and questions the gods. Great men fall victim to an unstoppable train of events set in motion by their misjudgments. These plays are complex investigations of character and motive.

A Shakespearean comedy is full of fun. The characters are lively; the dialogue is witty. In the end, young lovers are wed; old babblers are silenced; wise men are content. The comedies are largely joyous and romantic.

Shakespeare’s history plays dramatize the sweep of English history in the late Middle Ages. They tell the story of the period’s kings and the rise of the house of Tudor . Shakespeare intercuts scenes among the rulers with scenes among those who are ruled. This creates a rich picture of English life at a particular historical moment—a time when England was struggling with its own sense of national identity and experiencing a new sense of power. (For more information on Shakespeare, his works, and his world, see William Shakespeare at a glance . For a collection of videos for teachers, see teaching Shakespeare .)

Shakespeare’s Life

Boyhood in stratford.

William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon , England, in 1564. This was the sixth year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I . Shakespeare was christened on April 26 of that year. The day of his birth is unknown. It has long been celebrated on April 23, the feast day of St. George.

Shakespeare was the third child and oldest son of John and Mary Arden Shakespeare. Two sisters, Joan and Margaret, died before he was born. The other children were Gilbert, a second Joan, Anne, Richard, and Edmund. Only the second Joan outlived William.

Shakespeare’s father was a tanner and glovemaker. He was an alderman of Stratford for years. He also served a term as high bailiff, or mayor. Toward the end of his life John Shakespeare lost most of his money. When he died in 1601, he left William only a little real estate. Not much is known about Mary Shakespeare, except that she came from a wealthier family than her husband.

Stratford-upon-Avon is in Warwickshire, in the Midlands region of central England. In Shakespeare’s day the area was well farmed and heavily wooded. The town itself was prosperous and progressive. It was proud of its grammar school. Young Shakespeare almost certainly went to that school, though when or for how long is not known. He may have been a pupil there until about the age of 15. His studies must have been mainly in Latin. The schooling was of good quality. All four schoolmasters at the school during Shakespeare’s boyhood were graduates of Oxford University .

Nothing definite is known about Shakespeare’s boyhood. Because of the content of his plays, it is thought that he must have learned early about the woods and fields, about birds, insects, and small animals, about trades and outdoor sports, and about the country people he later portrayed with such good humor. Then and later Shakespeare must have picked up an amazing stock of facts about hunting, hawking, fishing, dances, music, and other arts and sports. Among other subjects, he also must have learned about alchemy, astrology, folklore, medicine, and law. As good writers do, Shakespeare must have collected information both from books and from daily observation of the world around him.

Marriage and Life in London

In 1582, when Shakespeare was 18, he married Anne Hathaway . She was from Shottery, a village a mile (1.6 kilometers) from Stratford. Anne was eight years older than Shakespeare. From this difference in their ages, a story arose that they were unhappy together. Their first daughter, Susanna, was born in 1583. In 1585 a twin boy and girl, Hamnet and Judith, were born.

What Shakespeare did between 1583 and 1592 is not known. Long after Shakespeare’s death, people began to tell various stories about what Shakespeare had done during this period. They say that he may have taught school, worked in a lawyer’s office, served on a rich man’s estate, or traveled with a company of actors. One famous story says that about 1584 he and some friends were caught poaching on the estate of Sir Thomas Lucy of Carlecote, near Warwick, and were forced to leave town. A less likely story is that he was in London in 1588. There he was supposed to have held horses for theater patrons and later to have worked in the theaters as a page.

By 1592, however, Shakespeare was definitely in London and was already recognized as an actor and playwright. He was then 28 years old. In that year Robert Greene , a playwright, accused Shakespeare of borrowing from the plays of others.

Between 1592 and 1594, plague kept the London theaters closed most of the time. During these years Shakespeare wrote his earliest sonnets and two long narrative poems, Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece . Both were printed by Richard Field, a schoolmate from Stratford. These long poems were well received and helped establish Shakespeare as a poet.

Shakespeare Prospers

From about 1594 onward, Shakespeare was an important member of a theatrical company called the Lord Chamberlain’s Men . It became the most successful company of actors in England. Until 1598 Shakespeare’s theater work was confined to a district northeast of London. This was outside the city walls, in the parish of Shoreditch. Located there were two playhouses, The Theatre and the Curtain. Both were managed by James Burbage, whose son Richard Burbage was Shakespeare’s friend and the greatest tragic actor of his day. Along with Shakespeare, Richard Burbage was a member of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men.

Up to 1596 Shakespeare lived near The Theatre and the Curtain in Bishopsgate, where the North Road entered the city. Sometime between 1596 and 1599, he moved across the Thames River to a district called Bankside. There, the Rose Theatre had been built by Philip Henslowe , who was James Burbage’s chief competitor in London as a theater manager. Another theater, the Swan, was built nearby in Bankside. The Burbages also moved to this district in 1598 and built the famous Globe Theatre there for the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. The theater’s sign showed Atlas supporting the world. Shakespeare was associated with the Globe Theatre for the rest of his active life. He owned shares in it, which brought him much money.

Meanwhile, in 1597, Shakespeare had bought New Place, one of the largest houses in Stratford. During the next three years he bought other property in Stratford and in London. In 1596 Shakespeare’s father, probably at his son’s suggestion, applied for and was granted a coat of arms . It bore the motto Non sanz droict —Not without right. From this time on, Shakespeare’s father could write “Gentleman” after his name. This probably meant much to Shakespeare, for in his day actors were classed legally with criminals and vagrants.

Shakespeare’s name first appeared on the title pages of his printed plays in 1598. In the same year the English writer Francis Meres , in Palladis Tamia; Wit’s Treasury , praised him as England’s greatest playwright in comedy and tragedy. Meres’s comments on 12 of Shakespeare’s plays showed that Shakespeare’s genius was recognized in his own time. Other writers of his time also praised Shakespeare. Writer and poet John Weever lauded “honey-tongued Shakespeare.” Ben Jonson , a major playwright, poet, and literary critic, granted that Shakespeare had no rival in the writing of comedy, even in the ancient Classical world. He wrote that Shakespeare equaled the ancients in tragedy as well. Jonson sometimes criticized Shakespeare harshly, including for not following the Classical rules of drama—for not limiting his plays to one location and about one day of action. Jonson also faulted Shakespeare for mixing high and low elements—lofty poetry with vulgarity and kings with clowns—in his plays.

Honored As Actor and Playwright

Queen Elizabeth I died in 1603. King James I followed her to the throne. Shakespeare’s flourishing theatrical company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, was taken under the king’s patronage and was renamed the King’s Men. Shakespeare and the other actors were made officers of the royal household. In 1608–09 the company began to perform regularly at the Blackfriars Theatre . This was a smaller and more aristocratic theater than the Globe. While the Globe was a large open-air public playhouse, Blackfriars was a “private” indoor theater with high admission charges. Thereafter the company alternated between the two playhouses, with Blackfriars becoming its theater for the winter season. Plays by Shakespeare were also performed at the royal court and in the castles of the nobles.

Shakespeare is not known to have acted after 1603. During his acting career Shakespeare seems to have played only secondary roles, such as old Adam in As You Like It and the ghost in Hamlet .

In 1607 Shakespeare’s older daughter Susanna married John Hall, a doctor. That same year Shakespeare’s brother Edmund, also a London actor, died at the age of 27. The next year Shakespeare’s first grandchild, Elizabeth, was born. (Hamnet, Shakespeare’s only son, had died at the age of 11, in 1596.)

Death and Burial at Stratford

Shakespeare retired from his theater work and returned to Stratford about 1612. In 1613 the Globe Theatre burned. Shakespeare lost much money because of the catastrophe, but he was still wealthy. He had a financial share in the building of the new Globe. A few months before the fire Shakespeare had bought as an investment a house in the fashionable Blackfriars district of London.

On April 23, 1616, Shakespeare died in Stratford at the age of about 52. This date is according to the Old Style, or Julian, calendar of his time. The New Style, or Gregorian, calendar date is May 3, 1616. Shakespeare was buried in the chancel of the Church of the Holy Trinity in Stratford.

Good friend, for Jesus’ sake forbear To dig the dust enclosed here. Blest be the man that spares these stones, And curst be he that moves my bones.

On the north wall of the chancel is a monument to Shakespeare, which seems to have been built by 1623. It consists of a portrait bust enclosed in a stone frame. Below it is an inscription in Latin and English celebrating Shakespeare’s genius. This bust and an engraving by Martin Droeshout , prefixed to the First Folio edition of Shakespeare’s plays (1623), are the only pictures of Shakespeare that have been accepted as showing his true likeness. Another probably authentic likeness of Shakespeare is the “Chandos” portrait, an oil painting attributed to J. Taylor from about 1610.

Shakespeare’s will, still in existence, bequeathed most of his property to Susanna and her daughter. He left small mementoes to friends. Shakespeare mentioned his wife only once, leaving her his “second best bed” with its furnishings. Much has been written about this odd bequest. Some people have interpreted it as being a slight toward Shakespeare’s wife. Others have contended that it may have been a special mark of affection. The “second best bed” was probably the one they used. The best bed may have been the one reserved for guests. At any rate, Shakespeare’s wife was entitled by law to one-third of her husband’s goods and real estate and to the use of their home for life. She died in 1623.

The will contains three signatures of Shakespeare. These, with three others, are the only known specimens of his handwriting in existence. Several experts also regard some lines in the manuscript of Sir Thomas More as Shakespeare’s own handwriting. Shakespeare spelled his name in various ways. His father’s papers show about 16 spellings. Shakspere, Shaxpere, and Shakespeare are the most common.

Leave thee alone, for the comparison Of all that insolent Greece or haughty Rome Sent forth, or since did from their ashes come. Triumph, my Britain, thou hast one to show To whom all scenes of Europe homage owe. He was not of an age, but for all time! .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  . Sweet Swan of Avon! what a sight it were To see thee in our waters yet appear, And make those flights upon the banks of Thames, That so did take Eliza, and our James!

Did Shakespeare Really Write the Plays?

The outward events of Shakespeare’s life are ordinary. He appears to have been a hard-working member of the middle class. Shakespeare steadily gathered wealth and apparently took good care of his family. In modern times, many people have found it impossible to believe that such a seemingly ordinary man could have written the plays. They feel that he could not have known such heights and depths of passion. They believe that the people around Shakespeare expressed little realization of his greatness. Some say that a man with his level of schooling could not have learned about the professions, the aristocratic sports of hawking and hunting, the speech and manners of the upper classes.

Readers, playgoers, actors, and writers in Shakespeare’s own lifetime—and for more than a century and a half after—never questioned that Shakespeare was the author of the plays. Since the 1800s many people have tried to prove that Shakespeare did not write the plays or that others did. For a long time the leading candidate was Sir Francis Bacon . Books on the Shakespeare-Bacon argument would fill a library. After Bacon became less popular as a candidate, Christopher Marlowe , William Stanley, 6th earl of Derby, and then other people were suggested as the authors. Nearly every famous Elizabethan was named. Some people have even claimed that “Shakespeare” is an assumed name for a whole group of poets and playwrights.

Since the late 20th century, the strongest candidate proposed (other than Shakespeare himself) as the author of the plays is Edward de Vere, 17th earl of Oxford . It is true that Oxford did write poetry, as was common among gentleman of the time. He may also have written some plays. A major problem with the theory that Oxford wrote the Shakespeare plays is that he died in 1604. Many of Shakespeare’s plays—including such great works as King Lear , Macbeth , and The Tempest —were written between 1604 and about 1614.

In addition, people who lived at the same time as Shakespeare never suggested that anyone other than him had written the plays. Shakespeare was a well-known actor who performed in London’s top acting company. He was widely known by the leading writers of his time as well. Both Ben Jonson and John Webster praised him as a dramatist. Many other tributes to Shakespeare as a great writer appeared during his lifetime. Shakespeare’s fellow actors John Heminge and Henry Condell collected the plays into a book called the First Folio and wrote a foreword describing their methods as editors. Any theory proposing that Shakespeare did not write the plays must suppose that the people of the time were all fooled by some kind of secret arrangement. Those people who were in the know would have had to have maintained the secret of a gigantic literary hoax without a single leak or hint of gossip.

Moreover, to argue that an obscure Stratford boy could not have become the Shakespeare of literature is to ignore the mystery of genius, which cannot be learned in school. Some great writers have had less schooling than Shakespeare. Shakespeare had a good education for the time, though it is true that he did not attend a university. However, university training in Shakespeare’s day centered on theology and on Latin, Greek, and Hebrew texts. Studying these kinds of texts would not have greatly improved Shakespeare’s knowledge of contemporary English life. Shakespeare’s social background was essentially similar to that of other major writers of his time. Most of the great writers of his era were not aristocrats, who had no need to earn a living by their pens.

Secrets of the Sonnets

Many people want to know more about Shakespeare’s private life. They have searched his plays for hints, with little result. However, he left 154 sonnets , published—probably without his involvement—in 1609. Many readers believe that these reveal an important part of his life. However, whether the sonnets are autobiographical—about Shakespeare’s personal life and feelings—has been much debated. Shakespeare was such a skilled dramatist that he could certainly have created an intriguing storyline for the sonnets that had nothing to do with his own life. In any event, as poetry, the sonnets are superb.

Shakespeare’s sonnets tell of the poet-narrator’s close relationship with a young nobleman. This nobleman wrongs him by stealing the affections of a dark-haired sweetheart and by transferring his friendship to another poet. In the end the beloved young nobleman is forgiven.

Whether this really happened or was only invented makes up the “problem of the sonnets.” People have tried to find out who the “friend,” the “dark lady,” and the “rival poet” actually were. One theory is that the friend was William Herbert, earl of Pembroke. Another is that he was Henry Wriothesley, earl of Southampton. Many people assert that Shakespeare’s sonnets are so full of detailed passion they probably refer to some actual happening. However, this cannot be proved.

Shakespeare’s other nondramatic poems include Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece . Both are full of gorgeous imagery and pagan spirit and are very obviously the work of a young man. There are also about 60 songs scattered throughout the plays. The songs show the finest Elizabethan qualities in their originality, melodies, and rhythms.

Shakespeare and the Elizabethan Age

Elizabethan times.

The English Renaissance reached its peak in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558–1603). In this period England was emerging from the Middle Ages . An absorbing interest in heaven and an afterlife was transformed into an ardent wonder about this world and humankind’s earthly existence. The Elizabethan period was an age marked by curiosity and bold exploration.

At its worst the Elizabethan Age was extravagant and brutal. At its best the period showed an intellectual and physical daring. It produced such adventurers and explorers as Walter Raleigh and Francis Drake and such statesmen as Lord Burghley. Philosophers such as Francis Bacon and scientists such as William Gilbert belonged to this period. In addition to being the age of Shakespeare, the Elizabethan period also produced such writers as Christopher Marlowe , Ben Jonson , Philip Sidney , Edmund Spenser , and John Donne .

Shakespeare lived at a time when the English language was growing fast. It was suited to magnificent poetry. Shakespeare’s vocabulary was enormous, but its size is less remarkable than its expressiveness. English speech reached its peak of strength between 1600 and 1610. Then the King James Version of the Bible was being made, Bacon was writing his famous Essays , and Shakespeare was composing his great tragedies.

The people of the English middle class were thought to be typically stern, moral, and independent. London’s citizens held fast to their rights. They did not hesitate to defy the royal court if it became too arrogant. Nobles, citizens, and common people all loved the stage, its pageantry and poetry. Wealthy people encouraged and supported the actors. They paid for the processions, masques, and tournaments that the public loved to watch. Men of the royal court competed with one another in dress, entertainment, and flattery of the queen.

The queen herself was the symbol of the glory of England. To her people Elizabeth I stood for beauty and greatness. During her reign the country grew in wealth and power, despite plagues and other calamities.

Drama in the Elizabethan Age

England ’s defeat of the great Spanish naval fleet called the Armada in 1588 raised English spirits high. The English gloried in what they saw as the greatness of their nation. During the years 1590–1600 England became intensely interested in its past. Playwrights catered to this patriotism by writing chronicles, or history plays. These were great sprawling dramas telling the stories of England’s kings. Shakespeare wrote 10 of them. The same interest spread to the history of other countries of Europe.

When Shakespeare came to London, he found the theater alive and strong. Men and women of various social classes enjoyed going to the theater, and plays were shrewdly written for the public’s taste. The theater was as popular then as movies and television are now. London’s first public playhouse, named The Theatre, had been opened in 1576. A group of talented men, the University Wits , had already developed new types of plays out of old forms and had learned what the public wanted.

Playwrights of the time seem to have been practical men, bent on making a living. They may have been well educated, but they were more eager to fill the theaters than to please the critics. The result was that almost from the start the drama was a popular art. It was not, as in France, a learned and classical art.

Shakespeare was quick to detect changes in popular taste. He wrote his plays to be acted, not read. Shakespeare took whatever forms were attracting attention and made them better. To save time he borrowed basic plots from other works. Sometimes Shakespeare expanded and adapted old stories, while sometimes he worked with more recent tales.

A dramatist in those days was also likely to be an actor and producer. He joined a company and became its playwright. He sold his manuscripts to the company and kept no personal rights in them. Revising old plays and working with another writer on new ones were common. Such methods saved time. The demand for plays was great and could never be fully met.

No manuscripts of Shakespeare—with the possible exception of a scene from Sir Thomas More —and very few manuscripts of other dramatists of the period have survived. The dramas were written to be played, not printed, and were hardly considered literature at all.

In the Elizabethan Age, actors were called “players.” A company of players was a cooperative group that shared the profits. Its members had no individual legal or political rights. Instead the company looked for a patron among the rich nobles. Members became the noble patron’s “servants,” or “men,” and received his protection—thus Shakespeare’s company was called the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (later the King’s Men) and its chief rival was called the Admiral’s Men (later Prince Henry’s Men). A company was usually made up of 8 or 10 men who took the main parts. Other actors were hired as needed. Boys or young men took the female parts, for women did not appear on the stage.

The theaters

Public theaters were usually round, wooden buildings with three galleries of seats. The pit, or main floor, was an open yard and had no roof. There were no seats in the pit, and its occupants were called “groundlings” because they stood on the ground. Admission to the pit was usually a penny. It cost more to watch the play from the galleries, boxes, and stage. Plays were put on in the afternoon. Private theaters were of the same general design, except that they were square and entirely roofed.

Shakespeare wrote most of his plays for the Globe Theatre . Historical research indicates that its main stage was about 43 or 44 feet (about 13 meters) wide and that it projected 27 feet (some 8 meters) into the pit. The stage had a roof of its own. Behind the main stage was a recessed inner stage, which could be hidden by curtains. Above the inner stage was a second inner stage, with curtains and a balcony. Above this was a music room. Its front could be used for dramatic action. On top of the stage roof were hoists for raising and lowering actors and props. On performance days a flag was flown from a turret above the hoists.

The Elizabethans may have used no scenery, but their stage was not entirely bare. They used good-sized props, heavy hangings, and elaborate furniture. Their costumes, usually copied from the fashionable clothes of the day, were rich. The outer stage was generally used for outdoor scenes and mass effects. The inner stage was used for indoor scenes and for cozy effects, as scenes between lovers. The upper stage was used for scenes at windows or walls.

The stage influences Shakespeare’s methods

The Elizabethan stage had much to do with the form of Shakespeare’s plays. Because the stage was open and free, it permitted quick changes and rapid action. As a result the play Antony and Cleopatra has more than 40 changes of scene. The outer stage, projecting into the audience, encouraged speechmaking. This may be one reason for the long and impassioned speeches of the plays.

With no women actors, boys and young men made up as women seemed natural somehow. With no stage lighting and with the daytime sky above, the author had to write speeches about the time, season, and weather of the play. There are more than 40 such speeches in Macbeth . The actors were close to the audience; the groundlings were close to the aristocrats. Shakespeare had to appeal to them all. He mixes horseplay with philosophy and coarseness with lovely poetry.

Shakespeare’s Plays

Shakespeare wrote at least 38 plays. The chief sources of his plots were Sir Thomas North ’s translation of Plutarch ’s Parallel Lives , Raphael Holinshed ’s Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland , and a book on English history by Edward Hall. Shakespeare also drew on many other works, including some Italian novelle , or short tales. He borrowed a few plays from older dramas and from English stories. What Shakespeare did with the sources is more important than the sources themselves. If his original gave him what he needed, he used it closely. If not, he changed it. These changes show Shakespeare’s genius as a dramatist.

Some difficulties stand in the way of a modern reader or audience’s enjoyment of Shakespeare’s plays. Shakespeare wrote more than 400 years ago. The language he used is naturally somewhat different from the language of today. Some words have different meanings now than they did in Shakespeare’s time. For example, rage then meant “folly,” while silly could mean “innocence” and “purity.” In Shakespeare’s day, words sounded different too, so that ably could rhyme with eye or tomb with dumb . The way words were put together into phrases was also often different. What sounds formal and stiff to a modern listener might have sounded fresh to an Elizabethan. Modern printed editions of the plays often include notes that can help readers understand the language differences.

The worst handicap to enjoyment of the plays is the notion that Shakespeare is a “classic,” a writer to be approached with awe. The way to escape this difficulty is to remember that Shakespeare wrote his plays for everyday people and that many in the audience were uneducated. They probably regarded him as a funny and exciting entertainer, not as a great poet.

When studying the plays, it can be helpful to read them twice. The first reading can be a quick one, to get the story. The second, more leisurely, reading can bring out details. The language itself should be studied. It has great expressiveness and concentrated meaning. An edition of the plays with good explanatory notes is helpful.

Most of all, it is important to remember that Shakespeare’s plays were intended to be seen acted in a theater, not read. Modern audiences who want to see the plays can choose from numerous film versions as well as many and varied stage productions. Some productions of Shakespeare’s plays try to present them in a way that is as true as possible to how they were probably originally presented. Others may adapt the dramas, slightly or freely. Many productions set the plays in modern or other times.

Shakespeare’s Four Periods

Shakespeare’s playwriting can be divided into four periods. The first period was his apprenticeship. Between the ages of 26 and 30 Shakespeare was learning his craft. He imitated Roman comedy and tragedy and followed the styles of the playwrights who came just before him. Shakespeare may have written works with other playwrights; such collaborations were a common practice of the time period. The Senecan tragedy, a type of play that told a story of bloody revenge, was in style at this time. Shakespeare’s first tragedy, Titus Andronicus , was this type of revenge drama. It was his only early tragedy. During this early period Shakespeare wrote a number of romantic comedies as well as some chronicle, or history, plays about English kings of the 15th century.

Shakespeare’s second period is highlighted by Romeo and Juliet , A Midsummer Night’s Dream , The Merchant of Venice , and Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2 . Shakespeare had mastered his art. He wrote several romantic comedies and histories during this period. Shakespeare tried the comedy of local middle-class people only once, in The Merry Wives of Windsor . His other comedies are set in imaginary or far-off places. During this period Shakespeare shows ease, power, and maturity. The plays are generally sunny and full of joyous poetry.

With Hamlet , written about 1599–1601, Shakespeare’s third period begins. For eight years he probed the problem of evil in the world. Shakespeare wrote his great tragedies— Hamlet , Othello , King Lear , Macbeth , and Antony and Cleopatra —during this period. At times he reached an almost desperate pessimism. Even the comedies of this period are bitter.

In his fourth and last period Shakespeare used a new form—the romance or tragicomedy. His romances tell stories of wandering and separation leading eventually to tearful and joyous reunion. They have a bittersweet mood. The Tempest is the most notable of these late romances.

List of Plays

The following is a list of all of Shakespeare’s plays in the order in which they are thought to have been written. Despite much scholarly argument, it is often impossible to date a play precisely. However, there is some general agreement, especially for plays written in 1588–1601, in 1605–07, and from 1609 onward.

  • Love’s Labour’s Lost (comedy)
  • Henry VI, Part 1 (history)
  • Titus Andronicus (tragedy)
  • The Comedy of Errors (comedy)
  • Henry VI, Part 2 (history)
  • Henry VI, Part 3 (history)
  • The Taming of the Shrew (comedy)
  • The Two Gentlemen of Verona (comedy)
  • Richard III (history)
  • King John (history)
  • Romeo and Juliet (tragedy)
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream (comedy)
  • Richard II (history)
  • The Merchant of Venice (comedy)
  • Henry IV, Part 1 (history)
  • Henry IV, Part 2 (history)
  • The Merry Wives of Windsor (comedy)
  • Much Ado About Nothing (comedy)
  • As You Like It (comedy)
  • Henry V (history)
  • Julius Caesar (tragedy)
  • Hamlet (tragedy)
  • Twelfth Night (comedy)
  • Troilus and Cressida (“problem play”)
  • All’s Well That Ends Well (comedy)
  • Measure for Measure (comedy)
  • Othello (tragedy)
  • King Lear (tragedy)
  • Timon of Athens (tragedy)
  • Macbeth (tragedy)
  • Antony and Cleopatra (tragedy)
  • Pericles (romance)
  • Coriolanus (tragedy)
  • Cymbeline (romance)
  • The Winter’s Tale (romance)
  • The Tempest (romance)
  • The Two Noble Kinsmen (romance; in collaboration with John Fletcher )
  • Henry VIII (history; probably in collaboration with John Fletcher )
  • Cardenio (now lost; presumed basis for Double Falsehood )

Shakespeare’s Plots and Characters

Shakespeare’s insight into the human condition and his poetic skill combined to make him the greatest of playwrights. His plots alone show that Shakespeare was a master playwright. He built his plays with care. He seldom wrote a speech that did not forward the action, develop a character, or help the imagination of the spectator.

Many of Shakespeare’s plots are nevertheless frankly farfetched. He belonged to an age that favored the romantic and the poetic. Theatergoers often wanted to be carried away to other times and places or to a land of fancy. There were really no such places as Shakespeare’s Bohemia or Illyria or the Forest of Arden, though the names were real. Shakespeare has never been equaled in the invention of supernatural creatures—ghosts, witches, and fairies.

Yet Shakespeare’s art is realistic in the sense that it is true to the way people think and act. Shakespeare’s people seem alive and three-dimensional. His best portrayals are those of his great heroes. Yet even Shakespeare’s minor characters are almost as good. For example, Shakespeare created in his plays more than 20 young women, all about the same age, of the same station in life, and with the same social background. They are as different, however, as any 20 young women in real life. The same can be said of Shakespeare’s old women, men of action, churchmen, kings, villains, dreamers, fools, and country people. Shakespeare’s characters are complex. Like real people, they can be great and yet foolish, bad and yet likable, good and yet faulty.

The Poetry of the Plays

No other writer in the world is so quotable or so often quoted as Shakespeare. He expressed deep thoughts and feeling in words of great beauty or power. In the technical skills of the poet—rhythm, sound , image, and metaphor —Shakespeare remains the greatest of craftsmen. His range is immense. It extends from funny puns to lofty eloquence, from the speech of common men to the language of philosophers.

Shakespeare’s plays are often written in a form of poetry called blank verse . Blank verse is unrhymed. Its meter is iambic pentameter, meaning that each line has 10 syllables alternating between unstressed and stressed syllables. This form was first used in Italy in the 16th century and was soon taken up by English poets. The University Wits , especially Christopher Marlowe , developed it as a dramatic verse form. Shakespeare perfected it. He and later John Milton made blank verse the greatest form for dramatic poetry in English. Blank verse is an excellent form for poetic drama. It is just far enough removed from prose. Blank verse is not monotonous and forced, as rhymed verse sometimes can be. Blank verse is more ordered, swift, and noble than prose. At the same time it is so flexible that it can seem almost as natural as prose if it is well written.

Our revels now are ended. These our actors, As I foretold you, were all spirits and Are melted into air, into thin air; And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces, The solemn temples, the great globe itself, Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff As dreams are made on, and our little life Is rounded with a sleep.
How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank! Here will we sit and let the sounds of music Creep in our ears. Soft stillness and the night Become the touches of sweet harmony. Sit, Jessica. Look how the floor of heaven Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold. There’s not the smallest orb which thou behold’st But in his motion like an angel sings, Still quiring to the young-ey’d cherubims; Such harmony is in immortal souls; But whilst this muddy vesture of decay Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.

Then compare other great passages, such as Shylock’s (in The Merchant of Venice ) “Signior Antonio, many a time and oft”; Mercutio’s (in Romeo and Juliet ) “O, then, I see Queen Mab hath been with you”; Richard II ’s “No matter where; of comfort no man speak”; Hamlet ’s “How all occasions do inform against me”; Claudio’s (in Measure for Measure ) “Ay, but to die, and go we know not where”; Othello ’s “Soft you, a word or two before you go”; Jaques’s (in As You Like It ) “A fool, a fool! I met a fool i’ the forest”; and Cleopatra’s (in Antony and Cleopatra ) “Give me my robe, put on my crown.” Each speech could come naturally from the speaker and from no one else. Each is very moving. Each has great rhythmic flow and force.

How the Plays Came Down to Us

Since the 1700s scholars have edited and reworked the text of Shakespeare’s plays. They have had to do so because the plays were badly printed, and no original manuscripts of them survive.

In Shakespeare’s day plays were not usually printed under the author’s supervision. When a playwright sold a play to his company, he lost all rights to it. He could not sell it again to a publisher without the company’s consent. When the play was no longer in demand on the stage, the company itself might sell the manuscript. Plays were eagerly read by the Elizabethan public. This was even more true during the plague years, when the theaters were closed. It was also true during times of business depression. Sometimes plays were taken down in shorthand and sold. At other times, a dismissed actor would write down the play from memory and sell it.

About half of Shakespeare’s plays were printed during his lifetime in small, cheap pamphlets called quartos . Most of these were made from fairly accurate manuscripts. A few were in garbled form.

In 1623, seven years after Shakespeare’s death, his collected plays were published in a large, expensive volume called the First Folio . It contains all his plays except two of which he wrote only part— Pericles and The Two Noble Kinsmen . The collection also omits Cardenio , a play that Shakespeare is thought to have written with John Fletcher ; this play is now lost ( see Double Falsehood ). The title page of the First Folio features an engraved portrait of Shakespeare that is thought to be an authentic likeness.

The First Folio was authorized by Shakespeare’s acting group, the King’s Men . Two of Shakespeare’s fellow actors, John Heminge and Henry Condell , collected and prepared the plays for publication. Some of the plays in the First Folio were printed from the more accurate quartos and some from manuscripts in the theater. It is certain that many of these manuscripts were in Shakespeare’s own handwriting. Others were copies. Still others, such as the Macbeth manuscript, had been revised by another dramatist.

Shakespearean scholars have studied the First Folio intensively to help determine what Shakespeare actually wrote. They have done so by studying the language, stagecraft, handwriting, and printing of the period and by carefully examining and comparing the different editions. They have modernized spelling and punctuation, supplied stage directions, explained difficult passages, and made the plays easier for the modern reader to understand.

Another hard task has been to find out when the plays were written. The plays themselves have been searched for clues. Other books have been examined. Scholars have tried to match events in Shakespeare’s life with the subject matter of his plays.

These scholars have used detective methods. They have worked with clues, deduction, shrewd reasoning, and external and internal evidence. External evidence consists of actual references in other books. Internal evidence is made up of verse tests and a study of the poet’s imagery and figures of speech, which changed from year to year.

The verse tests follow the idea that a poet becomes more skillful with practice. Scholars long ago noticed that in his early plays Shakespeare used little prose, much rhyme, and certain types of rhythmical and metrical regularity. As he grew older he used more prose, less rhyme, and greater freedom and variety in rhythm and meter.

The Great Shakespeare Collections

The number of books about Shakespeare is very large. If it were possible to assemble them all in one place, they would make an array of thousands. The greatest collections are in the Folger Shakespeare Library, in Washington, D.C.; the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens , in San Marino, California; the British Museum , in London, England; and the Bodleian Library, of the University of Oxford , England.

The Folger collection is the greatest of all. It was assembled by Henry Clay Folger , onetime president of Standard Oil. He bequeathed it to the trustees of Amherst College to be administered for the use of the American people forever. Folger also provided the library building and endowed the library to provide for its expansion and upkeep. The Folger Shakespeare Library opened in 1932. The collection now consists of about 280,000 books and manuscripts, plus playbills, prints, paintings, and other materials, as well as a model Elizabethan theater. The library possesses more than 80 copies of Shakespeare’s First Folio . Though called a Shakespeare library, the Folger collection also includes other rare works from the Renaissance . Indeed, the library contains the world’s second largest collection of books printed in England before 1641.

Robert Malcolm Gay

Additional Reading

Bansavage, Lisa, and others (eds.). One Hundred and Eleven Shakespeare Monologues (Paw Prints, 2010). Barter, James. A Travel Guide to Shakespeare’s London (Lucent, 2003). Berne, Emma Carlson. William Shakespeare: Playwright and Poet (ABDO, 2008). Claybourne, Anna, and Treays, Rebecca. The Usborne World of Shakespeare (Scholastic, 2006). Crystal, David, and Crystal, Ben. Oxford Illustrated Shakespeare Dictionary (Oxford University Press, 2015). Dommermuth-Costa, Carol. William Shakespeare (Lerner, 2002). Dunton-Downer, Leslie, and Riding, Alan. Essential Shakespeare Handbook (DK, 2014). Ganeri, Anita. The Young Person’s Guide to Shakespeare: In Association with the Royal Shakespeare Company (Chrysalis Children’s Books, 2004). Greenhill, Wendy, and Wignall, Paul. Shakespeare: A Life (Heinemann Library, 2006). Mittelstaedt, Walt. A Student’s Guide to William Shakespeare (Enslow, 2005). Morley, Jacqueline. A Shakespearean Theater (Scribo, 2015). Nettleton, Pamela Hill. William Shakespeare: Playwright and Poet (Capstone, 2008). Pollinger, Gina, ed. Shakespeare’s Verse (Kingfisher, 2005). Robson, David. Shakespeare’s Globe Theater (ReferencePoint Press, 2014). Rosen, Michael. Shakespeare: His Work and His World (Candlewick, 2006). Rosen, Michael. What’s So Special about Shakespeare? (Walker Books, 2016). Schumacher, Allison Wedell. Shaking Hands with Shakespeare (Simon & Schuster, 2004). Wells, Stanley, ed. The Shakespeare Book (DK, 2015).

It’s here: the NEW Britannica Kids website!

We’ve been busy, working hard to bring you new features and an updated design. We hope you and your family enjoy the NEW Britannica Kids. Take a minute to check out all the enhancements!

  • The same safe and trusted content for explorers of all ages.
  • Accessible across all of today's devices: phones, tablets, and desktops.
  • Improved homework resources designed to support a variety of curriculum subjects and standards.
  • A new, third level of content, designed specially to meet the advanced needs of the sophisticated scholar.
  • And so much more!

inspire icon

Want to see it in action?

subscribe icon

Start a free trial

To share with more than one person, separate addresses with a comma

Choose a language from the menu above to view a computer-translated version of this page. Please note: Text within images is not translated, some features may not work properly after translation, and the translation may not accurately convey the intended meaning. Britannica does not review the converted text.

After translating an article, all tools except font up/font down will be disabled. To re-enable the tools or to convert back to English, click "view original" on the Google Translate toolbar.

  • Privacy Notice
  • Terms of Use

No Sweat Shakespeare

William Shakespeare Biography

This page offers a complete biography of Shakespeare, from birth to death. Read the whole William Shakespeare biography , or skip to the section of Shakespeare’s life you’re most interested in:

Shakespeare’s Birth and Family Shakespeare’s Childhood & Education Shakespeare’s Marriage & Children Shakespeare’s Lost Years Shakespeare’s London Years Shakespeare’s Retirement Shakespeare’s Death

A Very Brief William Shakespeare Biography

  • Parents: John Shakespeare & Mary Shakespeare (nee Arden).
  • Date of Birth: Generally accepted as 23rd April 1564. Shakespeare was baptised on 26th April, 1564.
  • Wife: Anne Hathaway (married 1582).
  • Children : Susanna (born 1583), Hamnet and Judith (twins, born 1585).
  • Resided: Born and raised in Stratford-Upon-Avon. Prime working years spent away from family in London. Returned to family in Stratford-Upon-Avon upon retirement.
  • Career: Writer, actor, theatre owner and producer.
  • Body of Work : 37 plays. 149 sonnets. 2 long narrative poems.
  • Died: 23 April 1616, aged 52. Buried at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon . Read 50 fun facts about Shakespeare

The Chandos portrait of WIlliam Shakespeare biography

The Chandos portrait of William Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s Birth and Family

Shakespeare was the third of the eight children born to John and Mary Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon on April 23rd 1564.

John Shakespeare ran his own business as a glove maker and a wool dealer. He held local public positions and was a bailiff (like a mayor) in the town council. After 1567 it is alleged that he was in financial difficulties. In 1557 John married Mary Arden who had no formal education at all.  John and Mary had lost two daughters prior to William’s birth, leaving him as their oldest surviving child. William’s younger siblings were Gilbert (born in 1566), Joan (1569), Anne (1571), Richard (1574) and Edmund (1580). Anne died at the age of eight, but William’s four other younger siblings lived into adulthoods.

Shakespeare’s family lived in a townhouse on Henley Street in the centre of Stratford-Upon-Avon. John used one of his downstairs rooms as a workshop for his glove business, displaying his gloves on his house windowsill for passers-by to peruse and buy. Read more about Shakespeare’s birthplace .

Shakespeare's birthplace

Shakespeare’s family home on Henley Street, Stratford-upon-Avon

Shakespeare’s Childhood and Education

During Shakespeare’s time it was typical for boys to start their education at grammar school at seven and be taught a curriculum with Latin at is centre. Children would be expected to learn long passages of prose and poetry. In addition, children were drilled in grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic and astronomy. Children of public officials received free tuition. Girls did not receive a school education.

It is likely that William lived with his family and was taught according to the above principles at his local grammar school. This was called The King’s New School , and was just a five-minute walk from his home on Henley Street. When William was fourteen his father lost his public position, so it’s  probable that William left school and joined his father in business, making and selling gloves. There is no record of Shakespeare going to university. His contemporary Christopher Marlowe did go to Cambridge, but most playwrights, including Ben Johnson , did not.

To get a feel for Shakespeare’s childhood it’s interesting to note that when Shakespeare was a child water was not clean enough to drink. Attitudes towards hygiene differed hugley to our modern understanding of cleanliness., and tt’s believed that in Tudor times bathing occurred only once a year – probably in May. After the water had been fetched it would be boiled and poured into a large barrel or tub. The father bathed first, followed by any other men who lived in the house, then the women, and finally the children, in order of their age. Talking of such issues, the toilet facilities were quite basic with a simple pewter chamber-pot (a wide jug with a handle) serving as a toilet to be used indoors. Outside, garden privies would consist of a wooden seat with a hole cut in it, sitting over a cess-pit or open sewer.

Read more about Shakespeare’s early childhood >>

Read more about Shakespeare’s teen & school years >>

interior of an Elizabethan classroom with small wooden desk

Shakespeare’s likely classroom at The King’s New School

Shakespeare’s Marriage and Children

Parish records show that when Shakespeare was 18 years old he married Anne Hathaway, a 26 year old, wealthy farmer’s daughter , in Canterbury Province, Worcester.

Anne was three months pregnant when they married, with their first daughter, Susanna, born on the 26th May 1583. William and Anne went on to have twins Hamnet (a boy) and Judith (a girl), born on the 2nd February 1585. Hamnet died of unknown causes at 11 years old, but William’s daughters and wife outlived him. Judith went on to marry Thomas Quinney in 1616 and had three sons: Shakespeare, Richard, and Thomas. Shakespeare died in infancy and Richard and Thomas both died bachelors in 1639 leaving behind no legitimate descendants. There are legitimate descendants stemming from Shakespeare’s sister Joan who married William Hart some time before 1600.

Portrait of Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare's wife

Portrait of Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare’s wife

Shakespeare’s Lost Years

The seven year period after the birth of Hamnet and Judith is known as Shakespeare’s ‘lost years’ as there are no recordings about him, other than one mention of him visiting London in 1616 to see his son-in-law, John Hall.

Speculation about this time is rife. One prominent speculative theory is that Shakespeare fled from Stratford to avoid prosecution as a poacher. This theory could explain why he left his wife and children in Stratford and reappeared 90 miles away in London. Other theories are that Shakespeare toured with an acting troupe possibly in Italy. This latter theory is given weight as 14 plus of his plays include Italian settings, and a 16th Century guest book in Rome signed by pilgrims includes three cryptic signings that some attribute to Shakespeare. This is not a watertight argument though because Italian literature would have been widely read at the time. In addition, there is speculation that Shakespeare met John Florio , an apostle of Italian culture in England and tutor to Shakespeare’s patron; Henry Wriothesley, the Earl of Southampton . The possibility that Shakespeare was a soldier has also been debated widely but there is no proof to support this claim.

The truth is though that no one actually knows where Shakespeare lived or worked. What historians are certain of is that during this time Shakespeare left behind the image of a country youth and re-emerged as a playwright and businessman, so at some point during this time he learned his trade as a writer in London.

Shakespeare in London

The late sixteenth century and early seventeenth century is referred to as the golden age of English drama, due to the popularity of theatre, and volume of plays produced at that time. There was fierce competition among the twenty or so theatres in London, keeping scores of writers busy churning out new plays. Shakespeare became one of those writers, though we are not sure exactly how this occurred.

It seems that Shakespeare did not maintain a London household, but lived in several lodgings with landlords and other lodgers during his London years. He was always within walking distance of the theatre zone, so we can imagine him walking to work every day.

By the early 1590s, court records show Shakespeare was living somewhere in Bishopsgate, London. By then he had written Two Gentlemen of Verona , Love’s Labours Lost and A Midsummer Night’s Dream , Romeo and Julie t, Richard II , and The Merchant of Venice . He seems to have been interested in writing poems: in addition to his day job of writing plays – he also wrote his two long poems, Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece . Not only that, but this is the period when he started work on his sonnets .

In 1595 documents show that Shakespeare was a shareholder in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men , along with William Kempe and Richard Burbage . Shakespeare was involved with this company of actors in London for most of his career, as actor, producer, theatre owner and, of course, a very popular playwright.

It’s evident that Shakespeare was earning good money from his theatre business, as civil records show that in 1597 he bought New Place, one of Stratford’s biggest houses, and moved his family into it. In this same year, his son Hamnet died of unknown causes, aged eleven.

By 1599 Shakespeare was living in Bankside, on the south side of The Thames near the infamous Clink Prison. It was in this area Shakespeare and his business partners Kempe and Burbage built their own theater on the south bank of The Thames river, which they called the Globe Theater . and tt’s likely Shakespeare moved to Bankside to be near to the building site. Shakespeare’s playwriting would have been a necessity to provide material to fill his company’s new theatre every day. Between 1599 and 1604 he wrote at least seven plays, including Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 , The Merry Wives of Windsor , As You Like It , Much Ado About Nothing , Henry V and Julius Caesar .

Records show that in 1604 Shakespeare moved back to the City of London and rented a room in the house in Cripplegate, near St Paul’s Cathedral. In 1605, Shakespeare purchased leases of real estate near Stratford for 440 pounds, which doubled in value and earned him an income of 60 pounds a year. This made him an entrepreneur as well as an artist, and scholars believe these investments gave him the time to write his plays uninterrupted.

Shakespeare lived in Cripplegate for about eight years writing many plays, including Twelfth Night , Hamlet , Troilus and Cressida , Alls Well That Ends Well , Measure for Measure , Othello , King Lear , Macbeth , Antony and Cleopatra , Coriolanus , Timon of Athens , Pericles , Cymbeline , The Winter’s Tale , and The Tempest .

In 1607 his older daughter, Susanna, married and his mother died the following year. His sonnets were published in 1609.

It was a four-day ride by horse from Stratford to London, so it’s believed that Shakespeare spent all of his time in London writing and acting except for the 40-day Lenten period when theatres were closed when he travelled back to stay in Stratford-upon-Avon.

map-of-medieval-london

A map of London in Shakespeare’s time

Shakespeare’s Retirement

After a glittering career as an actor, playwright, and theatre proprietor in London, Shakespeare ‘retired’ to Stratford sometime after 1611 whilst in his late 40s. He rejoined his wife and two surviving children. By this time he also had a granddaughter, Elizabeth, daughter of Judith.

Retirement for Shakespeare was not a matter of sitting around in slippers and letting the world pass him by. He had a portfolio of properties and many business interests, including some in the corn and malt trades. He also continued to make the occasional long journey to London. Before leaving London Shakespeare had built up a selection of plays that hadn’t yet been performed. These included The Winter’s Tale, Macbeth, The Tempest, and Cymbeline. It is likely that he visited London for some of these first performances, most probably those of The Tempest and The Winter’s Tale, which were performed to King James.

On June 29th, 1613 Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre was burnt down. It is likely that this event meant more time spent in London for Shakespeare. Shakespeare was definitely in Westminster on 11th May 1612 where he appeared as a witness in the case of Bellot v. Mountjoy . At one time Shakespeare had been a lodger in Christopher Mountjoy’s house in Cripplegate, and now Mountjoy was being sued by his son-in-law, Stephen Bellott for defaulting on a promised marriage settlement. Shakespeare had been involved in the dowry negotiations and so was called to give evidence in the case.

Shakespeare enjoyed visits from his many friends in the world of theatre, arts, and letters to his home in Stratford-upon-Avon. He continued to collaborate with younger playwrights , participating in the writing of Henry VIII , Two Noble Kinsmen , and also the lost play, Cardenio , with his friend John Webster .

Shakespeare’s Death

We aren’t sure of the exact date of his death but it is assumed, from a record of his burial two days later at Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-Upon-Avon that he died on his 52nd birthday on 23rd April 1616. His gravestone remains there and bears the following engraving:

Good frend for Jesus sake forbeare To digg the dust enclosed heare; Blese be ye man yt spares these stones And curst be he yt moves my bones

It is believed that Shakespeare’s death occurred in New House, where he would have been attended by his son-in-law, Dr John Hall, the local physician.

Most historians agree that in the 17th Century Stratford-Upon-Avon had a reputation for scandalous stories and rumours with no basis in fact. This means that we must be cautious in believing for certain the commonly held theory about the cause of Shakespeare’s death:

in 1661, many years after Shakespeare’s death John Ward, the vicar of Holy Trinity Church noted in his diary : “Shakespeare, Drayton, and Ben Jonson had a merry meeting, and it seems drank too hard; for Shakespeare died of a fever there contracted.” It is therefore often stated that Shakespeare died from a fever after a drinking binge with fellow playwrights Ben Jonson and Michael Drayton . There are other reports that Michael Drayton and Ben Johnson visited Shakespeare a week before he died and spent the evening eating and drinking together.

This may be true, but there is a further theory that Shakespeare was sick for over a month before he died. The evidence comes from the fact that on 25th March 1616 (just 4 weeks before his death) Shakespeare dictated his will – in keeping with the 17th Century tradition of drawing up wills on one’s deathbed. This points to the fact that Shakespeare was aware his life was coming to an end. Some scholars also point to his signature on his will being somewhat shaky, suggesting his frailty at the time. As an aside, there is lots of historical discussion and exploration about whether bequeathing his second-best bed to his wife Anne Hathaway was a slight against her or not. It probably wasn’t but we don’t know for sure.

Despite all of the theories, the cause of Shakespeare’s death at the age of just 52 will likely remain a mystery. Shakespeare died a grandfather after living a relatively long and healthy life where the average life expectancy was just 35.

Shakespeare was buried on 25th April, 1616, in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford.

Shakespeare's grave in Holy Trinity Church, complete with curse and flowers

William Shakespeare’s grave in Holy Trinity Church, complete with curse and flowers

peter ackroyd 'shakespeare the biography' book cover

Buy Peter Ackroyd’s “Shakespeare The Biography” on Amazon

In search of Shakepseare book cover

Buy Michael Wood’s “In Search of Shakespeare” on Amazon

Shakespeare the invention of human book cover

Buy Harold Bloom’s “Shakespeare, The Invention of Human” on Amazon

Bill Brtson Shakespeare nook cover

Buy Bill Bryson’s “Shakespeare” on Amazon

Read Our Favourite Shakespeare Biographies in Print

There are so many books out there about Shakespeare and his life, but these four below are our all-time favourites. Each one is readable, informative and well worth relaxing with for a few hours to get a deeper understanding about the man himself:

Author’s Notes

Despite William Shakespeare’s fame as a historical figure, there are very few hard facts known about him. Historians use the following primary sources to piece together his life:

  • Shakespeare’s works — the plays, poems and sonnets.
  • Official records such as church and court records ( available here ).
  • Written commentary about Shakespeare and his work from contemporaries such as Robert Green and Ben Johnson.

Biographers over the years have amassed an immense amount of knowledge and information Some fact, some opinion. A key purpose of this biography of William Shakespeare has been to make clear what is supposition or assumption rather than fact. We acknowledge here our reference to the following established secondary sources:

Bill Bryson. Shakespeare. London. Wilkie Collins. 2016 Peter Ackroyd. Shakespeare the biography. London. Vintage 2006. https://www.shakespeare.org.uk/ https://www.rsc.org.uk/ https://www.folger.edu/ https://www.britannica.com/biography/William-Shakespeare/ http://theshakespeareblog.com/http://www.william-shakespeare.info/ https://www.gutenberg.org/files/ http://www.literarygenius.info/education-of-william-shakespeare.htm http://www.william-shakespeare.info/ http://www.shakespeare-online.com/biography/shakespeareeducation.html

As an Amazon Associate, we may earn a commission from qualifying purchases, at no additional cost to you.

Read More About Shakespeare’s Life

Shakespeare’s life | Shakespeare timeline | Shakespeare biography | Shakespeare’s early childhood | Shakespeare’s teenage years | Shakespeare’s lost years | Shakespeare’s London years | Shakespeare’s final years | Shakespeare’s death

Read More About Shakespeare’s Family

Shakespeare’s family |  Shakespeare’s family tree | Shakespeare’s grandparents | Shakespeare’s parents | Mary Arden, Shakespeare’s mother | John Shakespeare, Shakespeare’s father | Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare wife | Shakespeare’s children | Judith Quiney | Hamnet Shakespeare |  Shakespeare’s grandchildren

  • Pinterest 0

William

thanks this biography helped me with a school project!

Param

Same Here!! lol :D

zaiba

this will help me with my school project for history and i have probably gone beyond what we have learent in school

Mary

WoW! Thanks alot!! I actually had to do reasearch on william shakesphere for school!!! :)

you spelled a lot wrong.

you spelled it wrong

Bruce Stark

More process information and knowledge in terms of facts and his plays is needed otherwise, this is one of the few websites helping me to do my presentation on Shakey! Thanks for the help!

Vidushi Agarwal

You guys can add some more stuff to it. Although this proved to be helpful for me yet I’d say that more points about Shakespeare’s life can be added.

dakota

can’t find quiz

Myreen Moore Nicholson

I have very recently discovered that my Great+ grandfather, Thomas Ffoxe, Jr. lived on Silver Street, which was only a block long, and on which Shakespeare lived 1602-1612. Thomas was baptized at St. Olave’s Church, which was Hugenot, or Scandinavian, in 1618. I am still researching to see if Thomas’ father of the same name lived there before him. This church was catecorner to the Mountjoy House, a headdress maker and shop, where Shakespeare lived as a lodger during this period.

Pamela Mathis-Yon

Enjoyed reading this and thank you .

Leave a Reply

Leave a reply cancel reply.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.

follow on facebook

shakespeare biography for students

  • History Classics
  • Your Profile
  • Find History on Facebook (Opens in a new window)
  • Find History on Twitter (Opens in a new window)
  • Find History on YouTube (Opens in a new window)
  • Find History on Instagram (Opens in a new window)
  • Find History on TikTok (Opens in a new window)
  • This Day In History
  • History Podcasts
  • History Vault

William Shakespeare

By: History.com Editors

Updated: June 7, 2019 | Original: October 3, 2011

Did Shakespeare Write His Own Plays?

Considered the greatest English-speaking writer in history and known as England’s national poet, William Shakespeare (1564-1616) has had more theatrical works performed than any other playwright. To this day, countless theater festivals around the world honor his work, students memorize his eloquent poems and scholars reinterpret the million words of text he composed. They also hunt for clues about the life of the man who inspires such “bardolatry” (as George Bernard Shaw derisively called it), much of which remains shrouded in mystery. Born into a family of modest means in Elizabethan England, the “Bard of Avon” wrote at least 37 plays and a collection of sonnets, established the legendary Globe theater and helped transform the English language.

Shakespeare’s Childhood and Family Life

William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, a bustling market town 100 miles northwest of London, and baptized there on April 26, 1564. His birthday is traditionally celebrated on April 23, which was the date of his death in 1616 and is the feast day of St. George, the patron saint of England. Shakespeare’s father, John, dabbled in farming, wood trading, tanning, leatherwork, money lending and other occupations; he also held a series of municipal positions before falling into debt in the late 1580s. The ambitious son of a tenant farmer, John boosted his social status by marrying Mary Arden, the daughter of an aristocratic landowner. Like John, she may have been a practicing Catholic at a time when those who rejected the newly established Church of England faced persecution.

Did you know? Sources from William Shakespeare's lifetime spell his last name in more than 80 different ways, ranging from “Shappere” to “Shaxberd.” In the handful of signatures that have survived, he himself never spelled his name “William Shakespeare,” using variations such as “Willm Shakspere” and “William Shakspeare” instead.

William was the third of eight Shakespeare children, of whom three died in childhood. Though no records of his education survive, it is likely that he attended the well-regarded local grammar school, where he would have studied Latin grammar and classics. It is unknown whether he completed his studies or abandoned them as an adolescent to apprentice with his father.

At 18 Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway (1556-1616), a woman eight years his senior, in a ceremony thought to have been hastily arranged due to her pregnancy. A daughter, Susanna, was born less than seven months later in May 1583. Twins Hamnet and Judith followed in February 1585. Susanna and Judith would live to old age, while Hamnet, Shakespeare’s only son, died at 11. As for William and Anne, it is believed that the couple lived apart for most of the year while the bard pursued his writing and theater career in London. It was not until the end of his life that Shakespeare moved back in with Anne in their Stratford home.

Shakespeare’s Lost Years and Early Career

To the dismay of his biographers, Shakespeare disappears from the historical record between 1585, when his twins’ baptism was recorded, and 1592, when the playwright Robert Greene denounced him in a pamphlet as an “upstart crow” (evidence that he had already made a name for himself on the London stage). What did the newly married father and future literary icon do during those seven “lost” years? Historians have speculated that he worked as a schoolteacher, studied law, traveled across continental Europe or joined an acting troupe that was passing through Stratford. According to one 17th-century account, he fled his hometown after poaching deer from a local politician’s estate.

Whatever the answer, by 1592 Shakespeare had begun working as an actor, penned several plays and spent enough time in London to write about its geography, culture and diverse personalities with great authority. Even his earliest works evince knowledge of European affairs and foreign countries, familiarity with the royal court and general erudition that might seem unattainable to a young man raised in the provinces by parents who were probably illiterate. For this reason, some theorists have suggested that one or several authors wishing to conceal their true identity used the person of William Shakespeare as a front. (Most scholars and literary historians dismiss this hypothesis, although many suspect Shakespeare sometimes collaborated with other playwrights.)

Shakespeare’s Plays and Poems

Shakespeare’s first plays, believed to have been written before or around 1592, encompass all three of the main dramatic genres in the bard’s oeuvre: tragedy (“Titus Andronicus”); comedy (“The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” “The Comedy of Errors” and “The Taming of the Shrew”); and history (the “Henry VI” trilogy and “Richard III”). Shakespeare was likely affiliated with several different theater companies when these early works debuted on the London stage. In 1594 he began writing and acting for a troupe known as the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (renamed the King’s Men when James I appointed himself its patron), ultimately becoming its house playwright and partnering with other members to establish the legendary Globe theater in 1599.

Between the mid-1590s and his retirement around 1612, Shakespeare penned the most famous of his 37-plus plays, including “Romeo and Juliet,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Hamlet,” “King Lear,” “Macbeth” and “The Tempest.” As a dramatist, he is known for his frequent use of iambic pentameter, meditative soliloquies (such as Hamlet’s ubiquitous “To be, or not to be” speech) and ingenious wordplay. His works weave together and reinvent theatrical conventions dating back to ancient Greece, featuring assorted casts of characters with complex psyches and profoundly human interpersonal conflicts. Some of his plays—notably “All’s Well That Ends Well,” “Measure for Measure” and “Troilus and Cressida”—are characterized by moral ambiguity and jarring shifts in tone, defying, much like life itself, classification as purely tragic or comic.

Also remembered for his non-dramatic contributions, Shakespeare published his first narrative poem—the erotic “Venus and Adonis,” intriguingly dedicated to his close friend Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton—while London theaters were closed due to a plague outbreak in 1593. The many reprints of this piece and a second poem, “The Rape of Lucrece,” hint that during his lifetime the bard was chiefly renowned for his poetry. Shakespeare’s famed collection of sonnets, which address themes ranging from love and sensuality to truth and beauty, was printed in 1609, possibly without its writer’s consent. (It has been suggested that he intended them for his intimate circle only, not the general public.) Perhaps because of their explicit sexual references or dark emotional character, the sonnets did not enjoy the same success as Shakespeare’s earlier lyrical works.

Shakespeare’s Death and Legacy

Shakespeare died at age 52 of unknown causes on April 23, 1616, leaving the bulk of his estate to his daughter Susanna. (Anne Hathaway, who outlived her husband by seven years, famously received his “second-best bed.”) The slabstone over Shakespeare’s tomb, located inside a Stratford church, bears an epitaph—written, some say, by the bard himself—warding off grave robbers with a curse: “Blessed be the man that spares these stones, / And cursed be he that moves my bones.” His remains have yet to be disturbed, despite requests by archaeologists keen to reveal what killed him.

In 1623, two of Shakespeare’s former colleagues published a collection of his plays, commonly known as the First Folio. In its preface, the dramatist Ben Jonson wrote of his late contemporary, “He was not of an age, but for all time.” Indeed, Shakespeare’s plays continue to grace stages and resonate with audiences around the world, and have yielded a vast array of film, television and theatrical adaptations. Furthermore, Shakespeare is believed to have influenced the English language more than any other writer in history, coining—or, at the very least, popularizing—terms and phrases that still regularly crop up in everyday conversation. Examples include the words “fashionable” (“Troilus and Cressida”), “sanctimonious” (“Measure for Measure”), “eyeball” (“A Midsummer Night’s Dream”) and “lackluster” (“As You Like It”); and the expressions “foregone conclusion” (“Othello”), “in a pickle” (“The Tempest”), “wild goose chase” (“Romeo and Juliet”) and “one fell swoop” (“Macbeth”).

shakespeare biography for students

Sign up for Inside History

Get HISTORY’s most fascinating stories delivered to your inbox three times a week.

By submitting your information, you agree to receive emails from HISTORY and A+E Networks. You can opt out at any time. You must be 16 years or older and a resident of the United States.

More details : Privacy Notice | Terms of Use | Contact Us

Study.com

In order to continue enjoying our site, we ask that you confirm your identity as a human. Thank you very much for your cooperation.

Website navigation

Shakespeare for kids.

It’s never too early to discover Shakespeare! Check out our resources for kids and for Shakespeare beginners.

Tips for seeing your first Shakespeare play

What’s the best way to share your love of Shakespeare with someone seeing the plays for the first time? We asked our theater partners across the country for tips on taking someone to their first Shakespeare performance.

Shakespearean insults, compliments, and quotations

Help kids to have fun as they connect with Shakespeare’s language. Click each link to download the PDF.

Lines of Love and Friendship

Shakespeare Insults for Kids

Shakespeare Compliments

Try Your Hand at Shakespeare

Short Shakespeare play scripts for kids

Perform one of Shakespeare’s most loved plays using one of our short scripts listed below. Click to download the PDF.

The Merry Wives of Windsor

Much Ado About Nothing

The Tempest (Act 1, Scene 1)   |     (Act 2, Scene 2)

The Winter’s Tale

A young girl with long dark hair holds up her portrait of Shakespeare, created with crayons.

We’ve reimagined the Folger collection as coloring pages. Pick a coloring book filled with images of Shakespeare’s plays and poems or choose animals, flowers, and more from Shakespeare’s world. For artists of all ages! Color our collections! Shakespeare’s Plays and Poems    |  Shakespeare’s World

David Tennant and Bart Simpson as Hamlet

Pop culture representations of Shakespeare’s plays aren’t just fun: they can help us take ownership of Shakespeare’s language, critically examine his plots, and connect to his themes. On this Shakespeare Unlimited podcast episode, a high school English teacher shares pop culture Shakespeare resources that are popular in her classroom for deepening understanding and appreciation of Shakespeare.

Stay connected

Find out what’s on, read our latest stories, and learn how you can get involved.

Biography Online

Biography

Short Biography William Shakespeare

Shakespeare

Short bio of William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon on 23rd April 1564.

His father William was a successful local businessman, and his mother Mary was the daughter of a landowner. Relatively prosperous, it is likely the family paid for Williams education, although there is no evidence he attended university.

In 1582 William, aged only 18, married an older woman named Anne Hathaway. They had three children, Susanna, Hamnet and Juliet. Their only son Hamnet died aged just 11.

shakespeare

Due to some well-timed investments, Shakespeare was able to secure a firm financial background, leaving time for writing and acting. The best of these investments was buying some real estate near Stratford in 1605, which soon doubled in value.

It seemed Shakespeare didn’t mind being absent from his family – he only returned home during Lent when all the theatres were closed. It is thought that during the 1590s he wrote the majority of his sonnets. This was a time of prolific writing and his plays developed a good deal of interest and controversy. His early plays were mainly comedies (e.g. Much Ado about Nothing , A Midsummer’s Night Dream ) and histories (e.g. Henry V )

By the early Seventeenth Century, Shakespeare had begun to write plays in the genre of tragedy. These plays, such as Hamlet , Othello and King Lear , often hinge on some fatal error or flaw in the lead character and provide fascinating insights into the darker aspects of human nature. These later plays are considered Shakespeare’s finest achievements.

When writing an introduction to Shakespeare’s First Folio of published plays in 1623, Johnson wrote of Shakespeare:

“not of an age, but for all time”

Shakespeare the Poet

William Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets mostly in the 1590s. These short poems, deal with issues such as lost love. His sonnets have an enduring appeal due to his formidable skill with language and words.

“Let me not to the marriage of true minds Admit impediments. Love is not love Which alters when it alteration finds, Or bends with the remover to remove:”

– Sonnet CXVI

The Plays of Shakespeare

The plays of Shakespeare have been studied more than any other writing in the English language and have been translated into numerous languages. He was rare as a play-write for excelling in tragedies, comedies and histories. He deftly combined popular entertainment with an extraordinary poetic capacity for expression which is almost mantric in quality.

 “This above all: to thine ownself be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man. Farewell: my blessing season this in thee!”

– Lord Polonius, Hamlet Act I, Scene 3

During his lifetime, Shakespeare was not without controversy, but he also received lavish praise for his plays which were very popular and commercially successful.

His plays have retained an enduring appeal throughout history and the world. Some of his most popular plays include:

  • Twelfth Night
  • Romeo and Juliet
“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts…”

Death of Shakespeare

Shakespeare died in 1616; it is not clear how he died, and numerous suggestions have been put forward. John Ward, the local vicar of Holy Trinity Church in Stratford (where Shakespeare is buried), writes in a diary account that:

“Shakespeare, Drayton, and Ben Jonson had a merry meeting and it seems drank too hard, for Shakespeare died of a fever there contracted.”

In 1616, there was an outbreak of typhus (“The new fever”) which may have been the cause. The average life expectancy of someone born in London, England in the Sixteenth Century was about 35 years old, Shakespeare died age 52.

Was Shakespeare really Shakespeare?

Some academics, known as the “Oxfords,” claim that Shakespeare never actually wrote any plays. They contend Shakespeare was actually just a successful businessman, and for authorship suggest names such as Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford .  Arguments have also been made for Francis Bacon . The argument that Shakespeare was actually the Earl of Oxford relies on circumstantial evidence and similarities in his writing style and relationships between his life and the play of Shakespeare. 

However, there is no hard evidence tying the Earl of Oxford to the theatre or writing the scripts.  By contrast, there is evidence of William Shakespeare working in theatres and he received a variety of criticism from people such as Ben Johnson and Robert Greene. Also, the Earl of Oxford died in 1604, and it is generally agreed there were 12 plays published after this date. (Oxfords contend these plays were finished by other writers.)

It is also hard to believe the vain Earl of Oxford (who killed one of his own servants) would write such amazing scripts and then be happy with anonymity. Also, to maintain anonymity, it would also require the co-operation of numerous family members and other figures in the theatre world. The theory of other writers to Shakespeare only emerged centuries after the publishing of the First Folio.

Shakespeare’s Epitaph

Good friend for Jesus sake forbeare To digg the dust encloased heare Blessed by y man y spares hes stones And curst be he y moves my bones

– More interesting facts on Shakespeare

shakespear

Quotes on Shakespeare

“Shakespeare, no mere child of nature; no automaton of genius; no passive vehicle of inspiration possessed by the spirit, not possessing it; first studied patiently, meditated deeply, understood minutely, till knowledge became habitual and intuitive, wedded itself to his habitual feelings, and at length gave birth to that stupendous power by which he stands alone, with no equal or second in his own class; to that power which seated him on one of the two glorysmitten summits of the poetic mountain, with Milton’s his compeer, not rival.”

– Samuel Taylor Coleridge , Biographia Literaria (1817)

Citation: Pettinger, Tejvan . “Biography of William Shakespeare”, Oxford, www.biographyonline.net , 18th May 2006. Last updated 1 March 2019.

Popular quotes of Shakespeare

“This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

– Polonius, giving Laertes a pep talk. ( Hamlet )

“To be, or not to be: that is the question Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them. To die: to sleep;”

– Hamlet

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in our philosophy.”

– Hamlet (to Horatio on seeing a ghost)

“We are such stuff As dreams are made on, and our little life Is rounded with a sleep.”

– The Tempest (Prospero)

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

Julius Caesar (Cassius to Brutus)

“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more. It is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.”

– Macbeth (on learning of the death of Queen)

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

— Hamlet in Hamlet

“Self-love, my liege, is not so vile a sin, as self-neglecting.”

—Dauphin in Henry V

“Our doubts are traitors, And make us lose the good we oft might win, By fearing to attempt.”

—Lucio in Measure for Measure

The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works 2nd Edition

Book Cover

The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works 2nd Edition at Amazon

Shakespeare: The Biography

Book Cover

Shakespeare: The Biography at Amazon

Related pages

Sir_Winston_S_Churchill

Other Biographies and Resources on Shakespeare

  • Jokes about Shakespeare
  • Facts about Shakespeare
  • Popular poems of William Shakespeare
  • Shakespeare at BBC

web analytics

William Shakespeare Biography

William Shakespeare Portrait

William Shakespeare was indisputably among the top English-language poets and playwrights of all time. He was born in the village of Stratford-upon-Avon in April 1564 and died there in April 1616. His surviving body of work includes 38 plays, 154 sonnets and two narrative poems, the majority of which he penned between 1589 and 1613. While much of Shakespeare's biography is unknown, murky or subject to dispute, historians have managed to verify factual data through his own writings, the works of his contemporaries and historical documents.

Early Years: 1564 to 1585

The Bard of Avon, as William Shakespeare is also known, was the child of a leather merchant and glover, John Shakespeare. His mother was from a family of landed gentry. In the absence of records detailing Shakespeare's early education, historians guess he attended a nearby school where he learned to read and write English as well as Latin.

In 1582, when he was just 18, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway, a woman eight years his senior. They would have three children, a daughter in 1583 and a set of twins in 1585. They lost their only son, Hamnet, when the boy was 11 years old. Daughters Susanna and Judith would live to be 66 and 77, respectively.

Middle Years: 1586 to 1599

From 1586 until 1592, very little information is available regarding the Shakespeare household or the bard himself. During this period that historians refer to as the writer's lost years, only a scant legal document or two gives evidence of Shakespeare's existence. Over the years, various biographers have speculated that he may have been a poacher on the run from a disgruntled landowner, a horse-minder at a London theater, or more probably, a local schoolmaster.

Also during his lost years, the bard was devoting a good portion of his time to playwriting. By 1592, solid evidence shows that one if not more of his plays was underway on London stages. The first of his plays in production was probably "Henry IV, Part One," an historical work which not only chronicles the active years of the monarch's reign but also introduces his son Hal and Henry Percy, or Hotspur, a rival.

The bard had established himself in London prior to 1592, as evidenced by a mention in the London Times by a fellow playwright. He completed "Henry IV, Part Two" and "Henry V" early in the 1590s. By 1594, he and a group of colleagues had formed an acting troupe they called The Lord Chamberlain's Men, in honor of their patron, which would soon grow to prominence in the London theater scene.

The 1590s were quite a prolific time for Shakespeare. He wrote additional historic plays, including "Richard II," "Richard III," and "Titus Andronicus." He also penned the comedies "Two Gentlemen of Verona," "The Taming of the Shrew" and "A Comedy of Errors," probably early in the decade.

From around 1595 to the end of the century, Shakespeare turned his sights toward more romantic comedies, including "A Midsummer Night's Dream," "The Merchant of Venice," Twelfth Night" and "Much Ado About Nothing." The bard wrote the tragedies "Romeo and Juliet," and "Julius Caesar" during this period of his life as well,

By 1597, Shakespeare had written approximately 15 of his 38 surviving plays. He had achieved enough financial success to purchase one of Stratford's nicest homes for his family. He continued to live principally in London where he wrote and acted in his plays. During periods such as Lent when theaters were closed and when outbreaks of the plague shut down the city, he likely spent time with his family in Stratford..

Shakespeare was not only writing scripts for his company, often based on stories from mythology, literature and historic accounts, but he was also acting in his own plays. The Lord Chamberlain's Men put on performances at such London venues as The Theatre and The Curtain. In 1599, the acting troupe built The Globe from the ruins of The Theater, establishing their own playhouse, which opened in 1599.

Later Years: 1600-1613

Early in the new century, the bard continued to produce great literature, penning such masterworks as "Troilus and Cressida," "Measure for Measure," "All's Well That Ends Well," and some of his most renowned tragedies, including "Hamlet," "Othello" and "King Lear." In 1603, The Lord Chamberlain's Men delivered a command performance of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at Queen Elizabeth's Hampton court. When the Queen died later that year, the acting troupe changed its name to The King's Men in honor of the newly crowned King James I. Their first performance for the monarch was "As You Like It."

The bard was growing artistically during this era, customizing his mastery of blank verse with wit and intention to enrich his characters' dialogue and enliven the action. He employed such techniques as run-on lines and inflected phrasing to breathe life into a poetic form that tended to the monotone if used within strict parameters of ten syllables per line and alternating stressed and unstressed syllables. The dialogue of his play "Hamlet," for example, seems animated in comparison to the more strictly patterned lines of earlier works such as "Henry V." Shakespeare also provided moments of variation in his plays by inserting bits of rhymed verse in the dialogue, for example in Puck's epilogue in "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

During the first decade of the 17th century, Shakespeare published his "Sonnets," a collection of 154 14-line works that employed the same blank verse format as his plays but with the specific rhyme scheme of three quatrains and a concluding couplet. Released as a printed collection in 1609, Shakespeare's sonnets had likely been written individually over time, and those within his circle of friends were probably already familiar with some of them. The form the bard employed for his verses became known as the Shakespearean sonnet, as opposed to the traditional Petrarchan sonnet, which consists of an octet and a sestet.

In his last plays, "Cymbeline," "A Winter's Tale," and "The Tempest," the bard test-drove a hybrid genre, the tragicomedy, also known as the romance. While they take a more somber, serious tone than such comedies as "Twelfth Night," these tragicomedies end on a positive note, unlike such tragedies as "King Lear." The bard also completed two last works for theater, "Henry VIII" and "The Two Noble Kinsmen," with a collaborator, likely John Fletcher, a contemporary playwright.

Just after the completion of "Henry VIII" in 1613, The King's Men lost the Globe playhouse to a fire. By the time they reopened in 1614, Shakespeare had already retired to his family home in Stratford where he died in 1616 at the age of 52. While no verified version of the manner of his death exists today, one account, written by the vicar of Stratford 50 years later, attributes his untimely demise to drinking too hard with his friends John Drayton and Ben Johnson, and catching a fatal fever as a result.

The Controversy

Due in part to the great gaps in knowledge regarding Shakespeare's early education and the lost years, the bard has always been shrouded in mystery. In addition, not a single manuscript he wrote in his own hand survived the centuries. One scholarly explanation for this lack of historical verification is that "William Shakespeare" was the pen name of some more illustrious, well-educated figure of the Elizabethan era.

The controversy did not see the light of day until more than two centuries after the bard's death. Among the first to question the authorship of such all-time great works as "Macbeth" was a Pennsylvanian Lutheran named Samuel Schmucker, and he was merely drawing an analogy. He likened the scholarly trend of his time in using historic data to raise doubts about the existence of Christ was akin to speculating that Shakespeare never existed. An offhand remark, but that is all it took to sow the seed of controversy.

Some of the fuel for the fire included: 1. The lack of documentation for Shakespeare's existence. 2. The disputed authorship of particular works. 3. The unlikelihood that someone with the bard's background would rise to greatness.

Among the most famous doubters were Mark Twain, Henry James, Sigmund Freud and Orson Wells. Among the candidates people have mentioned as the "real" William Shakespeare are Sir Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, and Earl of Oxford Edward DeVere. The controversy has even found its way into the U.S. Supreme Court as the subject of a moot debate.

The Influence of William Shakespeare Through the Centuries

One of the bard's most enduring influences is on the English language. Not only are many quotes from his plays, such as Polonius' advice to Hamlet, "Neither a borrower nor a lender be," a part of the English lexicon, but the way in which Shakespeare shaped the language to suit his own artistic purposes would influence future writers and poets throughout subsequent history, from Charles Dickens to Maya Angelou. Charles Dickens drew upon the bard's writings for many of his titles as well as numerous quotations he used within his novels.

Shakespeare also enriched the language with the addition of approximately 2,000 new words and numerous new usages of existing vocabulary. Some of the words attributed to the bard include "auspicious," "dwindle" and "sanctimonious." Phrases he originated that are still in the popular lexicon include, "break the ice" from "The Taming of the Shrew" and "in a pickle" from "The Tempest."

The bard's masterful characterizations have become archetypes for social standards. Such larger-than-life characters as Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, Romeo and Juliet, Ophelia and a host of others inform contemporary social standards in ways that are inextricably woven into the fabric of modern society. They not only appear as standard icons in the theater, movies, literature and visual arts, but also have established themselves as cultural norms, particularly in English-speaking societies. It is not even necessary to have read the works of Shakespeare to be familiar with his well-known quotations and characters.

Even the controversy surrounding the authorship of Shakespeare's plays and sonnets serves to keep the bard very much a vital figure in contemporary lore. The probability that the mystery will probably never be resolved, given the lack of hard evidence, means that Shakespearean scholars, school teachers and their students will be reading and discussing the 16th-century master far into the future.

shakespeare biography for students

  • DIGITAL MAGAZINE

shakespeare biography for students

MOST POPULAR

shakespeare biography for students

15 top William Shakespeare facts!

Learn all about william shakespeare, the world-famous playwright and poet….

Please take your seats, the show is about to commence! All settled? Then let’s discover the life of the ‘greatest ever playwright’ in our fascinating Shakespeare facts…

William Shakespeare facts

Shakespeare facts

Full name:  William Shakespeare. Born:  Exact date unknown, but baptised 26 April 1564. Hometown:  Stratford-upon-Avon, England. Occupation:  Playwright, actor and poet. Died:  23 April 1616. Best known for:  Writing hugely successful theatre plays! Also known as: The Bard of Avon.

1) During his lifetime, William Shakespeare wrote around 37 plays for the theatre and over 150 poems ! No one can say the exact number, because some of his work may have been lost over time – and some may have been written with the help of other people.

2) William was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1564, during England’s Tudor period . He was one of eight children born to John Shakespeare , a well-to-do glove-maker and leather worker, and his wife, Mary Arden , an heiress from a wealthy family.

3) Very little is known about William Shakespeare’s early years. In fact, his actual date of birth remains a mystery to this day! But it’s believed he had a good upbringing, attended a good school and enjoyed playing outdoors a lot.

Shakespeare facts

Did you know that we have a FREE downloadable William Shakespeare primary resource ? Great for teachers, homeschoolers and parents alike!

4) In 1582, William married a farmer’s daughter called Anne Hathaway . They had three children together – a daughter called Susanna , and twins,  Judith and Hamnet .

5) Come 1585, the mysterious William Shakespeare disappeared from records for around seven years! Historians often refer to this part of the writer’s life as ‘ the lost years ‘ …

6)   Then, in 1592 he suddenly turned up in London as an actor and playwright. But poor William didn’t have it easy – his jealous rivals, known as the ‘ University Wits ’, criticised and made fun of his work. One writer, named Robert Greene , referred to him as ‘an upstart crow’!

Shakespeare facts

7) William was part of a theatre company called Lord Chamberlain’s Men , who regularly performed at a place called ‘ The Theatre ’. But after a dispute with the landlord, they took the building apart, rebuilt it across the river and named it the Globe .

8) A large, open-air theatre, the Globe accommodated for people from all walks of life, meaning that anyone could watch a performance there. If you were poor, you could only afford tickets to the ground floor where there were no seats and you were exposed to the cold, wind and rain that came in through the open top. If you were rich, you could afford to sit in the higher-level, covered galleries in a comfy seat – away from the smelly poor people below!

9) Shakespeare’s plays were immediately big hits! He wrote different kinds of plays, all of which could be divided into three categories:

Tragedy – including Hamlet , Othello , King Lear and Romeo and Juliet Comedy – including Twelfth Night and the The   Taming of the Shrew History – including Henry IV , Henry V and Richard III

His plays made him very rich and famous. So much so, that by 1598, William owned houses in London and Stratford-up-Avon.

10) Shakespeare’s plays had the royal seal of approval. Both  Queen Elizabeth I   and James VI of Scotland and I of England would often hire Shakespeare’s company to come and perform at the royal court.

11) Plays in Shakespeare’s time were different to the ones we have today. There were no female actors (women’s parts were played by men!), and audiences could be very rowdy. They would shout, boo and even throw food at the actors they didn’t like!

Shakespeare facts

12) Plays at the Globe featured lots of exciting special effects , with trap doors, actors lifted on wires, smoke, fire and even cannons! Disaster struck in 1613 when a cannon shot set fire to the roof of the Globe and burned it down! It wasn’t long after that Shakespeare retired from the theatre.

13) Towards the end of his life, William lived quietly back in his hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon. He died on 23 April 1616 , aged 52, after falling ill. It’s believed he may have died on his birthday, but without an official birth record, no one can be sure!

14) Written on Shakespeare’s gravestone in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon, is a curse written by the famous wordsmith himself. It reads:

‘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.’

15) Today, Shakespeare’s work is studied in schools and universities around the world, and his stories are depicted on TV and in films. In 1997, the modern Globe Theatre  was opened in London. A reconstruction of the original, it’s just a few hundred metres from where the original one once stood. People can go to watch plays – just like in Shakespeare’s day!

shakespeare biography for students

Did you know…? Many scholars wonder if Shakespeare actually wrote his plays! He made no mention of his career in his will – and he showed great knowledge of other countries in his plays, despite never leaving England. What’s most likely, however, is that Shakespeare pinched his references from classic old plays, just like everyone else did!

What did you think of our top Shakespeare facts? Leave a comment below and let us know!

Leave a comment.

Your comment will be checked and approved shortly.

WELL DONE, YOUR COMMENT HAS BEEN ADDED!

amazing information

Thank you! Great facts for my homework!☺️

That's alot of great information

lots of info

thank u so much for this! It helped me so much with my school project!

Thanks you! This helped me so much! I learned so many interesting facts that I did not know before!

thank u for this info!

this is so cool!!

it helped me a lot for my writing essay about Shakespeare!

this helped me in my biography a lot

Interesting

i like turtles

Very interesting.

This really helped with my homework!

thanks this was helpfull

I LOVE SHAKESPEARE POEM

good info v helpful

this was really usefull

hi everyone have a good day xo

this helped a lot!

So interesting

How old is shakespeare is he when he was alive

how did shakespeare come up with over 1700 words

interesting

thank you so much! helped with my homework a lot :)

I like aacting

Excellent facts

Nice! Very interesting, I learned alot.

[…] April is the month for celebrating Easter, ANZAC Day and the birth… and death of famous English playwright and poet, William Shakespeare. […]

Wow I didn't know that its so amazing thx for teaching me

[…] https://www.natgeokids.com/uk/discover/history/general-history/shakespeare-facts/ […]

CUSTOMIZE YOUR AVATAR

More like general history.

shakespeare biography for students

15 facts about the Victorians!

shakespeare biography for students

Mini Histories Comic – Max Visits the Victorians!

shakespeare biography for students

The life of Florence Nightingale

shakespeare biography for students

The Great Fire of London Facts

National Geographic Kids Logo

Sign up to our newsletter

Get uplifting news, exclusive offers, inspiring stories and activities to help you and your family explore and learn delivered straight to your inbox.

You will receive our UK newsletter. Change region

WHERE DO YOU LIVE?

COUNTRY * Australia Ireland New Zealand United Kingdom Other

By entering your email address you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy and will receive emails from us about news, offers, activities and partner offers.

You're all signed up! Back to subscription site

Type whatever you want to search

More Results

shakespeare biography for students

You’re leaving natgeokids.com to visit another website!

Ask a parent or guardian to check it out first and remember to stay safe online.

shakespeare biography for students

You're leaving our kids' pages to visit a page for grown-ups!

Be sure to check if your parent or guardian is okay with this first.

Biography of William Shakespeare, History's Most Famous Playwright

His plays and sonnets are still studied and performed to this day

fitopardo.com / Moment / Getty Images

  • Shakespeare's Life and World
  • Best Sellers
  • Classic Literature
  • Plays & Drama
  • Short Stories
  • Children's Books
  • M.A., Theater Studies, Warwick University
  • B.A., Drama and English, DeMontfort University

William Shakespeare (April 23, 1564–April 23, 1616) wrote at least 37 plays and 154 sonnets , which are considered among the most important and enduring ever written. Although the plays have captured the imagination of theatergoers for centuries, some historians claim that Shakespeare didn’t actually write them .

Amazingly, little is known about Shakespeare’s life. Even though he is the world’s most famous and popular playwright , historians have had to fill in the gaps between the handful of surviving records from Elizabethan times .

Fast Facts: William Shakespeare

  • Known For : One of history's most famous playwrights, who wrote at least 37 plays, which are still studied and performed to this day, as well as 154 sonnets, which are also highly regarded
  • Also Known As : The Bard
  • Born : April 23, 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon, England
  • Parents : John Shakespeare, Mary Arden
  • Died : April 23, 1616 in Stratford-upon-Avon
  • Published Works : " Romeo and Juliet" (1594–1595), "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" (1595–1596), " Much Ado About Nothing " (1598–1599), "Henry V" (1598–1599), " Hamlet " 1600–1601, "King Lear" (1605–1606), "Macbeth" ( 1605–1606), "The Tempest" (1611–1612)
  • Awards and Honors : After Shakespeare's death, a funerary monument was erected to honor him at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon, where he is buried. It depicts a half-effigy of The Bard in the act of writing. Numerous statues and monuments have been erected around the world to honor the playwright.
  • Spouse : Anne Hathaway (m. Nov. 28, 1582–April 23, 1616)
  • Children : Susanna, Judith and Hamnet (twins)
  • Notable Quote : "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages."

Early Years

Shakespeare was probably born on April 23, 1564 , but this date is an educated guess because we only have a record of his baptism three days later. His parents, John Shakespeare and Mary Arden, were successful townsfolk who moved to a large house in Henley Street, Stratford-upon-Avon, from the surrounding villages. His father became a wealthy town official and his mother was from an important, respected family.

It is widely assumed that Shakespeare attended the local grammar school where he would have studied Latin, Greek, and classical literature . His early education must have made a huge impact on him because many of his plots draw on the classics.

Shakespeare’s Family

At age 18, on November 28, 1582, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway from Shottery, who was already pregnant with their first daughter. The wedding would have been arranged quickly to avoid the shame of having a child born out of wedlock. Shakespeare fathered three children, Susanna, born in May 1583 but conceived out of wedlock, and Judith and Hamnet, twins who were born in February 1585.

Hamnet died in 1596 at age 11. Shakespeare was devastated by the death of his only son, and it is argued that "Hamlet," written four years later, is evidence of this.

Theater Career

At some point in the late 1580s, Shakespeare made the four-day ride to London, and by 1592 had established himself as a writer. In 1594, an event occurred that changed the course of literary history: Shakespeare joined Richard Burbage’s acting company and became its chief playwright for the next two decades. Here, Shakespeare was able to hone his craft, writing for a regular group of performers.

Shakespeare also worked as an actor in the theater company , although the lead roles were always reserved for Burbage himself. The company became very successful and often performed in front of the Queen of England, Elizabeth I. In 1603, James I ascended the throne and granted his royal patronage to Shakespeare’s company, which became known as The King’s Men.

Shakespeare the Gentleman

Like his father, Shakespeare had excellent business sense. He bought the largest house in Stratford-upon-Avon by 1597, owned shares in the Globe Theater, and profited from some real estate deals near Stratford-upon-Avon in 1605. Before long, Shakespeare officially became a gentleman, partly due to his own wealth and partly due to inheriting a coat of arms from his father who died in 1601.

Later Years and Death

Shakespeare retired to Stratford in 1611 and lived comfortably off his wealth for the rest of his life. In his will, he bequeathed most of his properties to Susanna, his eldest daughter, and some actors from The King’s Men. Famously, he left his wife his “second-best bed” before he died on April 23, 1616 . (This date is an educated guess because we only have a record of his burial two days later).

If you visit Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon, you can still view his grave and read his epitaph engraved into the stone:

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.

More than 400 years after his death, Shakespeare's plays and sonnets still hold a special place in theaters, libraries, and schools around the world. "His plays and sonnets have been performed in nearly every major language on every continent," notes Greg Timmons writing on Biography.com.

In addition to the legacy of his plays and sonnets, many of the words and phrases Shakespeare created infuse dictionaries today and are embedded in modern English, including these sayings from some of his plays:

  • All that glitters isn't gold (" The Merchant of Venice ")
  • All's well that ends well (" All's Well that Ends Well ")
  • To be-all and the end-all (" Macbeth ")
  • Break the ice (" The Taming of the Shrew )
  • We have seen better days (" As You Like It ")
  • Brave new world (" The Tempest ")
  • Brevity is the soul of wit (" Hamlet ")
  • Cruel to be kind ("Hamlet")
  • It's Greek to me (" Julius Caesar ")
  • Something wicked this way comes ("Macbeth")
  • Star-crossed lovers (" Romeo and Juliet ")
  • Wild-goose chase ("Romeo and Juliet")
  • The world is my oyster (" The Merry Wives of Windsor ")

Few writers, poets, and playwrights—and Shakespeare was all three—have had the influence on culture and learning that Shakespeare has. With luck, his plays and sonnets may still be revered and studied four centuries from now.

  • “ IWonder - William Shakespeare: The Life and Legacy of England's Bard. ”  BBC.
  • “ Shakespeare's Words & Phrases. ”  Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.
  • Timmons, Greg. “ William Shakespeare's 400th Anniversary: The Life & Legacy of The Bard. ”  Biography.com , A&E Networks Television, 2 Nov. 2018.
  • “ Who Was William Shakespeare? Everything You Need to Know. ”  Childhood, Life Achievements & Timeline , thefamouspeople.com.
  • “ William Shakespeare Quotes. ”  BrainyQuote , Xplore.
  • A Complete List of Shakespeare’s Plays
  • What Is a Sonnet?
  • Facts About Shakespeare
  • A Timeline of William Shakespeare's Life
  • William Shakespeare's Family
  • Fun and Creative Ways to Celebrate Shakespeare's Birthday
  • Where Was Writer William Shakespeare Born?
  • How Did William Shakespeare Die?
  • What We Know About Shakespeare's Death
  • Biography of Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare's Wife
  • Top Quotes From Shakespeare
  • William Shakespeare's School Life, Childhood, and Education
  • Shakespeare's Brothers and Sisters
  • Cervantes and Shakespeare: What They Had in Common (and Didn’t)
  • Shakespeare Authorship Debate
  • The Influence of the Renaissance in Shakespeare's Work

Twelfth Night

William shakespeare: biography.

Oil painting of Shakespeare, balding on top and long brown hair over his ears, and a short beard.  He wears a gold hoop earring, a black shirt with a white open collar.

The Chandos Portrait of William Shakespeare, long believed to be the only portrait painted from life, until one other recently appeared.

William Shakespeare (26 April 1564 (baptised) – 23 April 1616) was an English poet, playwright, and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world’s pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England’s national poet and the “Bard of Avon”. His extant works, including some collaborations, consist of around38 plays,   154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, and a few other verses, of which the authorship of some is uncertain. His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright.

Shakespeare was born and brought up in Stratford-upon-Avon. At the age of 18, he married Anne Hathaway, with whom he had three children: Susanna, and twins Hamnet and Judith. Between 1585 and 1592, he began a successful career in London as an actor, writer, and part-owner of a playing company called the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, later known as the King’s Men. He appears to have retired to Stratford around 1613 at age 49, where he died three years later. Few records of Shakespeare’s private life survive, and there has been considerable speculation about such matters as his physical appearance, sexuality, religious beliefs, and whether the works attributed to him were written by others.

Shakespeare produced most of his known work between 1589 and 1613. His early plays were mainly comedies and histories and these works remain regarded as some of the best work produced in these genres. He then wrote mainly tragedies until about 1608, including Hamlet , Othello , King Lear , and  Macbeth , considered some of the finest works in the English language. In his last phase, he wrote tragicomedies, also known as romances, and collaborated with other playwrights.

Many of his plays were published in editions of varying quality and accuracy during his lifetime. In 1623, John Heminges andHenry Condell, two friends and fellow actors of Shakespeare, published the First Folio, a collected edition of his dramatic works that included all but two of the plays now recognised as Shakespeare’s. It was prefaced with a poem by Ben Jonson, in which Shakespeare is hailed, presciently, as “not of an age, but for all time”. In the 20th and 21st centuries, his work has been repeatedly adopted and rediscovered by new movements in scholarship and performance. His plays remain highly popular today and are constantly studied, performed, and reinterpreted in diverse cultural and political contexts throughout the world.

Additional information on Shakespeare’s life, work, and influence can be found here. 

  • William Shakespeare. Provided by : Wikipedia. Located at : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Shakespeare . License : CC BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike
  • Image of Shakespeare. Authored by : John Taylor. Located at : https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Shakespeare.jpg . License : Public Domain: No Known Copyright

shakespeare biography for students

Beyond GCSE Revision

Gcse-grade revision from beyond, powered by twinkl, shakespeare biography: who was william shakespeare.

shakespeare biography for students

Welcome to our new “Who Were They” series here at Beyond, where we look at influential figures in English, Maths, Science and more. This blog explores the bard himself, William Shakespeare, by providing a Shakespeare biography for KS3 or GCSE English students. Our Shakespeare biography will look at:

  • William Shakespeare’s Family 
  • William Shakespeare’s Early life 
  • William Shakespeare in London 
  • Shakespeare’s Works 

Shakespeare’s Legacy

Shakespeare activities.

You can also subscribe to  Beyond Secondary Resources  for access to thousands of worksheets and revision tools. Our site was created with teachers in mind and includes lots of teacher instructions, however, it also contains content for students that will be particularly useful when revising! You can  sign up for a free account here  and take a look around  at our free resources  before you subscribe too.

William Shakespeare’s Family

In 1564, Stratford-upon-Avon, England, the famous playwright William Shakespeare was born. The exact date of his birth is unknown. However, there are records of his baptism on the 26th of April. It was very common at this time to baptise babies around three days after their birth so his ‘official’ birthday is celebrated on the 23rd of April.

William was one of six children born to John and Mary Shakespeare. He had two older sisters, Joan and Judith and three younger brothers, Gilbert, Richard and Edmund.

William’s father was a leather merchant and his mother came from a wealthy family. She was often referred to as a ‘local-landed heiress’ for this reason.

  • Shakespeare was born in 1564 Stratford-upon-Avon
  • He was baptised on April 26th
  • His parents were John and Mary Shakespeare
  • He had five siblings
  • His father was a successful merchant and his mother came from a wealthy family

William Shakespeare’s Early Life

Along with the lack of birth records, there is also a lack of school records for William Shakespeare. However, it is believed that we attended King’s New School in Stratford. Although there are no ‘official’ documents confirming his education there, the school often refers to itself as “Shakespeare’s School”. Traditionally an all boys school, the grammar school began admitting girls in 2013 and boasts a long list of notable ex students including famous musicians and actors.

William’s father, John Shakespeare, continued to be a successful merchant throughout William’s early life. He held positions such as alderman and bailiff which today would be similar to acting as Mayor to the town.

On the 28th November 1582, William Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway. She was 26 years old when they were married, whilst he was only 18 years old. She was pregnant with their first child at the time of their marriage. Their daughter Susana was born not long later in 1583. The couple then welcomed twins into the world two years later, a boy named Hamnet and a girl named Judith. Little is known about their mother or their lives. However, it is recorded that sadly at the age of 11, Hamnet died.

After his twin children were born, William Shakespeare disappeared from legal records. These years are often referred to as “The Lost Years”. 

There are many theories to explain what Shakespeare may have been doing during this time. A popular story to cover this missing time revolves around William and a landowner named Sir Thomas Lucy. The story goes that Shakespeare had poached deer from Sir Lucy’s estate and had fled to London to escape punishment where he began his career as an actor.

Other theories ponder whether he had worked as a school master in Stratford or served time as a soldier. Either way it was very common during the 1500s to record baptisms, marriages and deaths. Therefore it is not unusual to find gaps and perhaps it is more fun to imagine where this famous playwright may have spent his time during these ‘lost years’.

  • It is thought Shakespeare attended King’s New School in Stratford
  • Shakespeare’s father was alderman and bailiff to the town
  • On 28th November 1582, William Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway
  • They had 3 children together, a daughter Susana and twinks Judith and Hamnet
  • Between the baptism of his twins and his early success in London, there is no record of where Shakespeare was. This is known as “The Lost Years”.

William Shakespeare in London

In 1592, William Shakespeare was recorded once again, this time in London. When he first arrived it is believed he worked as a horse attendant at the local theatres. By the time he is next recorded in history, he was already earning money as an actor and playwright.

William Shakespeare joined an acting company whilst in London named The Lord Chamberlain’s Men. After King James I was crowned, they changed their name to The King’s Men in tribute. 

It was during this time that Shakespeare began to sell his written work and his popularity amongst Londoners began to grow.

By 1597, he was earning so much money that he purchased a new home in Stratford. It was the second largest property in the town. However, it took almost four days to travel between London and Stratford at this time so he rarely visited. He usually would return during the forty days of Lent when the theatres would close and he was not needed in London.

As his fortune grew, he began to invest in other properties around Stratford and rent them out, becoming a prosperous landlord. It is said he earned around £60 a year from his properties. This is the equivalent of approximately £8,000 today and would cover 1200 days of regular wages.

  • In 1592, Shakespeare was a successful actor and playwright in London
  • He was a member of The Lord Chamberlain acting company which was later renamed The King’s Men as tribute to James I who had become King
  • In 1597, Shakespeare bought the second largest house in Stratford
  • He continued to expand his property portfolio and became a prosperous landlord

Shakespeare’s Works

William Shakespeare wrote over 38 plays and over 150 poems during his career. His plays could be broken down into three categories. Comedies, which were full of fun, irony, wordplay and mystery. He wrote Tragedies which as the name would suggest often ended in sadness or heartbreak. The final plays under the category of Historical, exploring the kings and queens of Britain and other figures throughout history and mythology.

Many of his plays were performed for Queen Elizabeth I and included themes of religion, love and monarchy.

There are several plays that are famous throughout the world such as Romeo and Juliet or Macbeth. However, it is in his lesser known plays that some of Shakespeare’s best writing can be found.

You can find all of Shakespeare’s plays in alphabetical order here .

Shakespeare’s Comedies

  • All’s Well That Ends Well
  • As You Like It
  • The Comedy of Errors
  • Love’s Labour’s Lost
  • Measure for Measure
  • The Merry Wives of Windsor
  • The Merchant of Venice
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • Much Ado About Nothing
  • Pericles, 
  • Prince of Tyre 
  • Taming of the Shrew 
  • The Tempest 
  • Troilus and Cressida 
  • Twelfth Night 
  • Two Gentlemen of Verona 
  • Winter’s Tale 

Shakespeare’s Histories 

  • Henry IV, part 1 
  • Henry IV, part 2 
  • Henry V 
  • Henry VI, part 1 
  • Henry VI, part 2 
  • Henry VI, part 3 
  • Henry VIII 
  • King John 
  • Richard II 
  • Richard III 

Shakespeare’s Tragedies

  • Antony and Cleopatra 
  • Coriolanus 
  • Hamlet 
  • Julius Caesar 
  • King Lear 
  • Macbeth 
  • Othello 
  • Romeo and Juliet 
  • Timon of Athens 
  • Titus Andronicus 

Shakespeare’s Poetry 

  • The Sonnets 
  • A Lover’s Complaint 
  • The Rape of Lucrece 
  • Venus and Adonis 
  • Funeral Elegy by W.S.
  • Shakespeare wrote over 38 plays and over 150 poems
  • His plays come under three categories – Comedy, Tragedy and History
  • His work often features themes of religion, love and monarchy
  • Queen Elizabeth I attended many performances of Shakespeare’s work

The works of William Shakespeare have become so popular that they have been translated into 80 languages, worldwide. We ourselves have over three hundred words and well-known phrases in the English language, which Shakespeare invented himself. 

Some of these words for example include, ‘barefaced’, ‘fair-play’, ‘well-read’ and ‘lacklustre’. We can also thank Shakespeare for phrases such as ‘seen better days’. ‘Wild goose chase’ and ‘good riddance’.

Included in Shakeseare’s poetry are his 154 sonnets. A sonnet is a poem with 14 lines and is written in iambic pentameter. The term ‘sonnet’ comes from the Italian word ‘sonetto’, meaning “a little sound or song”. Most of Shakespeare’s sonnets are about love, loss and death.

William Shakespeare died on April 23rd 1616 at the age of 52. A vicar reported several years later that he likely died from a fever he had caught after a night out ‘merry making’, but no official cause of death was ever recorded.

A few months before his death, William Shakespeare had written his will. He wrote, “Item I gyve unto my wife my second best bed with the furniture”. Many people have mistakenly thought this was a snub towards his wife, Anne. However, this was not unusual. The ‘best bed’ was often an heirloom passed down from generation to generation. It could have also been a reference to the guest room which was kept grand for when people came to visit. The second best bed is a reference to the one he would have shared with his wife. Therefore it more likely means he left their shared belongings of their home to her. He left the rest of his belongings to his eldest daughter Susana.

William Shakespeare is buried in the Holy Trinity churchyard in Stratford. Shortly after he was laid to rest, there was some discussion about moving his remains to Westminster Abbey. However, the decision to leave him in his hometown was made. Instead on the 29th January 1741, a life-size marble statue was erected of the bard in the Poet’s corner of Westminster Abbey. It is here that many other actors and actresses are now buried and remembered for their work in Shakespearean plays.

  • William Shakespeare’s work has been translated into 80 languages
  • He invented over 300 words and phrases that are used in English today
  • He wrote 154 sonnets about love, loss and death
  • He died on April 23rd 1616 at the age of 52
  • He left his shared belongings to his wife and the rest of his things to his eldest daughter
  • William Shakespeare is buried in Holy Trinity churchyard, Stratford
  • He is also remembered through his life-size marble statue in Westminster Abbey

You can continue learning about Wiliam Shakespeare and his work using these links below:

An Introduction to Shakespeare's Verse Lesson Pack

Check us out on YouTube, too!

Don’t forget to read even more of our blogs  here ! You can also  subscribe to Beyond  for access to thousands of secondary teaching resources. You can  sign up for a free account here  and take a look around  at our free resources  before you subscribe too.

Share this:

  • Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)
  • Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)
  • Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)
  • Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)

Leave a Reply Cancel reply

Discover more from beyond gcse revision.

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Type your email…

Continue reading

  • Grades 6-12
  • School Leaders

Check Out Our 32 Fave Amazon Picks! 📦

15 Show-Stopping Books About Shakespeare For Kids and Teens

Make the Bard accessible for kids of every age.

Collage of Books About Shakespeare for Kids

“Can one desire too much of a good thing?” asks Rosalind in As You Like It.   When it comes to ways to introduce Shakespeare to kids, we say definitely not! This collection of books makes the playwright meaningful for every age, giving students background on one of the world’s most famous authors. From a pop-up book for wee ones to historical fiction for young adults–and plenty of options in between–you’ll find everything you need to know about Shakespeare’s life and works. Now, get thee to a library!

(Note: WeAreTeachers may collect a share of sales from the links on this page. We only recommend items our team loves!)

1. Flibbertigibbety Words: Young Shakespeare Chases Inspiration by Donna Guthrie (Pre-K to Gr. 2)

Flibbertigibbety Words: Young Shakespeare Chases Inspiration (Shakespeare for Kids)

Enjoy the adventure as young Shakespeare chases the words and phrases he’ll one day make famous all over town! The sweet illustrations will engage little ones and adults alike.

2. William Shakespeare & The Globe by Aliki (Pre-K to Gr. 2)

William Shakespeare & The Globe (Books About Shakespeare for Kids)

Brightly-colored pictures and simple text tell Shakespeare’s story all the way through to the present-day reconstruction of the Globe theater. It’s a terrific introduction to Shakespeare for kids.

3. Bard of Avon: The Story of William Shakespeare by Diane Stanley and Peter Vennema (K-4)

Bard of Avon: The Story of William Shakespeare

The beautiful full-page illustrations are full of details for kids to explore. The text is perfect for a read-aloud or for slightly older students to discover on their own.

[contextly_auto_sidebar]

4. World of Shakespeare Sticker Book by Rosie Dickins (K-5)

World of Shakespeare Sticker Book

Sticker books are a fun and interactive approach to Shakespeare for kids. This one is also full of intriguing facts and useful information about the famous playwright.

5. The Shakespeare Timeline Sticker Book by Christopher Lloyd (K-5)

The Shakespeare Timeline Sticker Book

This unique Shakespeare sticker book includes a fold-out timeline that stretches to nearly six feet! Add in the stickers to complete the famous stories from Shakespeare’s plays and learn about his life too.

6. Pop-Up Shakespeare by Jennie Maizels (Gr. 2-5)

Pop-up Shakespeare by Jennie Maizels

Here’s another fun way to grab their attention—a pop-up book! It features fun little details like characters to move across the stage and flaps to lift to learn more about the scene.

7. Will’s Words: How William Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk by Jane Sutcliffe (Gr. 2-5)

Will's Words: How William Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk (Books About Shakespeare for Kids)

Shakespeare coined hundreds of words and phrases we use today, from “admirable” to “zany.” Learn the stories behind some of the more well-known ones, accompanied by gorgeous illustrations of Shakespeare’s London.

8. Eyewitness: Shakespeare by DK Publishing (Gr. 2-7)

Eyewitness: Shakespeare

This is an ideal reference about Shakespeare for kids in upper elementary and middle school. There’s so much to learn, with facts about every part of the Bard’s life brought to life with engaging artwork.

9. Who Was William Shakespeare? by Celeste Mannis (Gr. 2-7)

Who Was William Shakespeare? by Celeste Mannis

Part of the popular “WhoHQ” series, this short chapter book breaks Shakespeare’s life down from childhood to death, covering his experiences in Elizabethan England. It includes descriptions of many of his works, too.

10. Shakespeare for Kids: His Life and Times, 21 Activities by Colleen Aagesen and Margie Blumberg (Gr. 4-8)

Shakespeare for Kids: His Life and Times, 21 Activities

Teachers will find this book useful in the classroom, but kids can enjoy it too. You’ll find craft ideas like making a quill, recipes and games to try, and other activities from learning to juggle to making sound effects. They’ll all help bring the Bard’s time alive.

11 . The Shakespeare Stealer by Gary Blackwood (Gr. 4-8)

The Shakespeare Stealer

For students who love historical fiction, this well-reviewed middle-grade novel does an outstanding job of taking the reader back in time to experience life backstage at the Globe theater. An orphan named Widge is tasked with stealing the script for Hamlet , but as he gets to know the actors and the great playwright himself, he must decide where his loyalty lies. If you enjoy it, there’s a follow-up book, Shakespeare’s Scribe .

12. Bravo, Mr. William Shakespeare by Marcia Williams (Gr 6.-12)

Bravo Mr William Shakespeare

There are a lot of fantastic adaptations of Shakespeare for kids, but this one is a real gem that belongs in any lit teacher’s collection. Seven of his most famous plays are re-told in brief graphic novel form, with hilarious sidebars from the audience. Use it to introduce a new play to a high school audience or sum up the works for middle schoolers.

13. Shakespeare: Investigate the Bard’s Influence on Today’s World by Andi Diehn (Gr. 7-10)

Shakespeare: Investigate the Bard's Influence on Today's World

When you start teaching Shakespeare, you get a lot of complaints, including “This is so old! It doesn’t mean anything to us anymore!” This book brings Shakespeare into the present, helping students relate to the themes and characters. It even includes QR codes you can scan to see photos and information on topics like Anne Hathaway’s cottage.

14. The Shakespeare Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained by DK Publishing (Gr. 7-12)

The Shakespeare Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained by DK Publishing

Every high school lit teacher will want to keep a copy of this book handy. The simple language makes complicated plots accessible, with graphics and illustrations to support the text. Use it as a reference as you explore various plays and sonnets, or read it straight through to learn all about Shakespeare’s life and works.

15. The Diary of William Shakespeare, Gentleman by Jackie French (Gr. 9-12)

The Diary of William Shakespeare, Gentleman

Historical fiction for the older crowd! Written in a style true to diaries of the day, this is a down-and-dirty look at Shakespeare’s daily life. Author French did extensive research and based this novel on historical facts. The unique style may not appeal to all readers, but it’s definitely a different take on a popular subject.

Looking for more ways to teach Shakespeare for kids? Try these 30 Shakespeare Activities & Printables for the Classroom .

Plus, find out how other teachers are tackling the bard and his plays on the weareteachers helpline group on facebook .

15 Show-Stopping Books About Shakespeare For Kids and Teens

You Might Also Like

Best Memoirs and Biographies for Teens

12 Inspiring Memoirs and Biographies for Teens

Looking for biographies and memoirs for teens? We got you. Continue Reading

Copyright © 2024. All rights reserved. 5335 Gate Parkway, Jacksonville, FL 32256

William Shakespeare’s Short Biography

William Shakespeare's Short Biography

Reading Comprehension: William Shakespeare’s Short Biography

Develop your reading skills. Read this text about William Shakespeare’s short biography and do the comprehesnion task.

William Shakespeare: A Literary Legacy

William Shakespeare, born on April 26, 1564, in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, remains an iconic figure in the realm of literature. His parents, John Shakespeare, a prosperous local businessman, and Mary Arden, the daughter of a landowner, provided the backdrop for his upbringing. Widely acclaimed as the greatest writer in the English language, Shakespeare’s contributions to literature and drama are unparalleled.

Around 1613, at the age of 49, Shakespeare retired to Stratford, where he spent his remaining years. He passed away on April 23, 1616, at the age of 52. Despite the scarcity of records concerning his private life, Shakespeare’s literary legacy endures.

Adapted from Wikipedia

Comprehension:

Related Pages:

Biography of William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare is arguably the most famous writer in the English language, known for both his plays and sonnets. Though much about his life remains open to debate due to incomplete evidence, the following biography consolidates the most widely accepted facts about Shakespeare's life and career.

In the mid-sixteenth century, William Shakespeare's father, John Shakespeare, moved to the idyllic town of Stratford-upon-Avon. There, he became a successful landowner, moneylender, glove maker, and dealer of wool and agricultural goods. In 1557, he married Mary Arden.

During John Shakespeare's time, the British middle class was expanding in both size and wealth, allowing its members more freedoms and luxuries, as well as a stronger collective voice in local government. John took advantage of the changing times and became a member of the Stratford Council in 1557, which marked the beginning of his illustrious political career. By 1561, he was elected as one of the town's fourteen burgesses, and subsequently served as Constable, then Chamberlain, and later, Alderman. In all of these positions, the elder Shakespeare administered borough property and revenues. In 1567, he became bailiff—the highest elected office in Stratford and the equivalent of a modern-day mayor.

Town records indicate that William Shakespeare was John and Mary's third child. His birth is unregistered, but legend pins the date as April 23, 1564, possibly because it is known that he died on the same date 52 years later. In any event, William's baptism was registered with the town of Stratford on April 26, 1564. Little is known about his childhood, although it is generally assumed that he attended the local grammar school, the King's New School. The school was staffed by Oxford-educated faculty who taught the students mathematics, natural sciences, logic, Christian ethics, and classical languages and literature.

Shakespeare did not attend university, which was not unusual for the time. University education was reserved for wealthy sons of the elite, and even then, mostly just those who wanted to become clergymen. The numerous classical and literary references in Shakespeare’s plays are a testament, however, to the excellent education he received in grammar school, and speaks to his ability as an autodidact. His early plays in particular draw on the works of Seneca and Plautus. Even more impressive than Shakespeare's formal education is the wealth of general knowledge he exhibits in his work. His vocabulary exceeds that of any other English writer of his time by a wide margin.

In 1582, at the age of eighteen, William Shakespeare married twenty-six-year-old Anne Hathaway . Their first daughter, Susanna, was not baptized until six months after her birth—a fact that has given rise to speculation over the circumstances surrounding the marriage. In 1585, Anne bore twins, baptized Hamnet and Judith Shakespeare. Hamnet died at the age of eleven, by which time William Shakespeare was already a successful playwright. Around 1589, Shakespeare wrote Henry VI, Part 1 , which is considered to be his first play. Sometime between his marriage and writing this play, he moved to London, where he pursued a career as a playwright and actor.

Although many records of Shakespeare's life as a citizen of Stratford have survived, including his marriage and birth certificates, very little information exists about his life as a young playwright. Legend characterizes Shakespeare as a roguish young man who was once forced to flee London under suspect circumstances, perhaps related to his love life, but the paltry amount of written information does not necessarily confirm this facet of his personality.

In any case, young Will was not an immediate universal success. The earliest written record of Shakespeare's life in London comes from a statement by rival playwright Robert Greene. In Groatsworth of Witte (1592), Greene calls Shakespeare an "upstart crow...[who] supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you." While this is hardly high praise, it does suggest that Shakespeare rattled London's theatrical hierarchy from the beginning of his career. In retrospect, it is possible to attribute Greene's complaint to jealousy of Shakespeare's ability, but the scarcity of evidence renders the comment ambiguous.

With Richard III , Henry VI , The Comedy of Errors , and Titus Andronicus under his belt, Shakespeare became a popular playwright by 1590. (The dates of composition and debut performance of almost all of Shakespeare's plays remain uncertain. The dates used here are widely agreed upon by scholars, but there is still significant debate around the dates of completion for many of his plays.) The year 1593, however, marked a major leap forward in his career when he secured a prominent patron: the Earl of Southampton. In addition, Venus and Adonis was published; it was one of the first of Shakespeare's known works to be printed, and it was a huge success. Next came The Rape of Lucrece . By this time, Shakespeare had also made his mark as a poet, as most scholars agree that he wrote the majority of his sonnets in the 1590s.

In 1594, Shakespeare returned to the theater and became a charter member of the Lord Chamberlain's Men—a group of actors who changed their name to the King's Men when James I ascended the throne. By 1598, Shakespeare had been appointed the "principal comedian" for the troupe; by 1603, he was "principal tragedian." He remained associated with the organization until his death. Although acting and playwriting were not considered noble professions at the time, successful and prosperous actors were relatively well respected. Shakespeare’s success left him with a fair amount of money, which he invested in Stratford real estate. In 1597, he purchased the second-largest house in Stratford—known as "the New Place"—for his parents. In 1596, Shakespeare applied for a coat of arms for his family, in effect making himself a gentleman. Consequently, his daughters made “good matches,” and married wealthy men.

The same year that he joined the Lord Chamberlain's Men, Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet , Love's Labour's Lost , The Taming of the Shrew , and several other plays. In 1600, he wrote two of his greatest tragedies, Hamlet and Julius Caesar . Many literary critics and historians consider Hamlet to be the first modern play because of its multi-faceted main character and unprecedented depiction of the human psyche.

The first decade of the seventeenth century witnessed the debut performances of several of Shakespeare’s most celebrated works, including many of his so-called history plays: Othello in 1604 or 1605, Antony and Cleopatra in 1606 or 1607, and King Lear in 1608. The last of Shakespeare's plays to be performed during his lifetime was most likely King Henry VIII in either 1612 or 1613.

William Shakespeare died in 1616. His wife Anne died in 1623, at the age of 67. Shakespeare was buried in the chancel of his church at Stratford. The lines above his tomb, allegedly written by Shakespeare himself, read:

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.

GradeSaver will pay $15 for your literature essays

Study Guides on Works by William Shakespeare

All's well that ends well william shakespeare.

Composed sometime between 1595 and 1603, the first recorded performance of William Shakespeare’s tragicomedy All’s Well That Ends Well took place on November 8, 1623. That the next recorded performance did not occur until 1741 provides some...

  • Study Guide
  • Lesson Plan

Antony and Cleopatra William Shakespeare

Shakespeare lived in a time of great transformation for Western Europe. New advances in science were overturning ancient ideas about astronomy and physics. The discovery of the Americas had transformed the European conception of the world....

As You Like It William Shakespeare

As You Like It was likely written between 1598 and 1600. It was entered in the Stationers' Register on August 4, 1600 but no edition followed the entry, thereby leading to the ambiguity in its publication date. Two topical references have been...

Cardenio William Shakespeare

Cardenio is considered a lost play. The authors are believed to be John Fletcher and William Shakespeare. The attribution is based primarily upon two 1613 performances by the King’s Men acting troupe of a play listed by either the title Cardenno...

Comedy of Errors William Shakespeare

The Comedy of Errors is one of Shakespeare's earliest plays. It was first printed in the First Folio in 1623, and the earliest known performance is recorded to have been at Gray's Inn, one of London's law schools, on December 28th, 1594. However,...

Coriolanus William Shakespeare

Shakespeare's principal source for the story of Coriolanus is a history written by Plutarch, of a Coriolanus who supposedly lived in ancient Rome. Shared with this source material is a concern for the overlap between virtue and valour; whereas, in...

Cymbeline William Shakespeare

Cymbeline , one of Shakespeare's most ambitious and complicated plays, tells the story of a mythic king of England, Cymbeline, who reigned during the first century A.D. Its several plots trace the tribulations of the King and his royal family on...

Hamlet William Shakespeare

The story of the play originates in the legend of Hamlet (Amleth) as recounted in the twelfth-century Danish History, a Latin text by Saxo the Grammarian. This version was later adapted into French by Francois de Belleforest in 1570. In it, the...

Henry IV Part 1 William Shakespeare

Henry IV, Part One first appeared in print in 1598, when two separate quartos were made. The second quarto serves as the standard text for most modern editions, and was followed closely by five more quartos in 1599, 1604, 1608, 1613, and 1622. The...

Henry IV Part 2 William Shakespeare

Henry v william shakespeare.

Henry V was probably the greatest military leader that England ever had. He laid claim to the French throne in 1414 by invoking an English royal claim, and managed to win the Battle of Agincourt the following year against seemingly impossible...

Henry VIII William Shakespeare

Although Henry VIII is attributed to the Shakespeare canon and found in nearly every single collection of his plays, the general consensus has long been that the play which brings into the cycle of Shakespeare’s histories the most drama-worthy of...

Julius Caesar William Shakespeare

The only authoritative edition of Julius Caesar is the 1623 First Folio, which appears to have used the theater company's official promptbook rather than Shakespeare's manuscript. Some anomalies exist, most notably in Act Four where there is...

King Lear William Shakespeare

The story of King Lear and his three daughters existed in some form up to four centuries before Shakespeare recorded his vision. Lear was a British King who reigned before the birth of Christ, allowing Shakespeare to place his play in a Pagan...

Love's Labour's Lost William Shakespeare

Love's Labour's Lost is a comedy by William Shakespeare, believed to be one of his early comedies performed for the court of Queen Elizabeth I. Perhaps more than any Shakespeare play, Love’s Labour’s Lost seems to be directed toward the specific...

Macbeth William Shakespeare

Legend says that Macbeth was written in 1605 or 1606 and performed at Hampton Court in 1606 for King James I and his brother-in-law, King Christian of Denmark. Whether it was first performed at the royal court or was premiered at the Globe...

Measure for Measure William Shakespeare

The first performance of Measure for Measure is believed to have taken place in 1604, during the reign of King James I. By this time, Shakespeare is believed to have begun writing his plays for performance at the Blackfriars theatre, a small,...

Merchant of Venice William Shakespeare

The Merchant of Venice was first printed in 1600 in quarto, of which nineteen copies survive. This was followed by a 1619 printing, and later an inclusion in the First Folio in 1623. The play was written shortly after Christopher Marlowe's...

The Merry Wives of Windsor William Shakespeare

The Merry Wives of Windsor is a comedy written by William Shakespeare which, tradition dictates, was composed at the request of Queen Elizabeth I. The play premiered in 1597 with publication occurring in 1602. Were it not for the appearance of ...

A Midsummer Night's Dream William Shakespeare

A Midsummer Night's Dream is first mentioned by Francis Meres in 1598, leading many scholars to date the play between 1594 and 1596. It is likely to have been written around the same period Romeo and Juliet was created. Indeed, many similarities...

Much Ado About Nothing William Shakespeare

Much Ado About Nothing was first published in 1600 and was likely written in 1598. The 1600 printing was the only copy published during Shakespeare's lifetime, and bears the title inscription describing that the play "hath been sundrie times...

Othello William Shakespeare

The plot of Shakespeare's Othello is largely taken from Giraldi Cinthio's Gli Hecatommithi , a tale of love, jealousy, and betrayal; however, the characters, themes, and attitudes of the two works are vastly different, with Shakespeare's play being...

Pericles, Prince of Tyre William Shakespeare

There are some significant doubts over the authorship of Pericles, Prince of Tyre, a Jacobean play most frequently attributed to William Shakespeare. It is widely agreed that the Bard was the author of the main portion of the play that follows...

The Phoenix and the Turtle William Shakespeare

“The Phoenix and the Turtle,” first published in 1601, is one of William Shakespeare’s non-dramatic poems. While Shakespeare is most famous for his plays and sonnets, he also wrote a number of shorter poems. Of these, “The Phoenix and the Turtle”...

Rape of Lucrece William Shakespeare

T’was a plague that gave birth to William Shakespeare’s long narrative poem “The Rape of Lucrece.” Between June 1592 and May 1594, acting companies were banished from London and the theater essentially became non-existent. The reason for this was...

Richard II William Shakespeare

Richard II was first printed in 1597 in a good quality text most likely taken from Shakespeare's manuscript. Two reprints in 1598 mention Shakespeare as the author. Later prints in 1608 and 1615 appear to be taken from the earlier versions, but...

Richard III William Shakespeare

Richard III generated a great deal of interest both during and after Shakespeare's lifetime. It was published in quarto at least five times after being performed in 1592. Richard Burbage first played Richard the Third and made the "poisonous...

Romeo and Juliet William Shakespeare

Romeo and Juliet , Shakespeare's most famous tragedy and one of the world's most enduring love stories, derives its plot from several sixteenth century sources. Shakespeare's primary inspiration for the play was Arthur Brooke's Tragical History of...

Shakespeare's Sonnets William Shakespeare

Shakespeare's sonnets comprise 154 poems in sonnet form that were published in 1609 but likely written over the course of several years. Evidence for their existence long preceding publication comes from a reference in Francis Mere's 1598 Palladis...

Sonnet 138: When my love swears that she is made of truth William Shakespeare

Shakespeare's Sonnet 138, which concerns a difficult relationship in which both the speaker and the lover lie to each other, was initially published in 1599 in a collection called The Passionate Pilgrim . The book was attributed to William...

Sonnet 30: When to the sessions of sweet silent thought William Shakespeare

Sonnet 30, in which the speaker reflects wistfully on his own life but is comforted by the thought of his friend, was first published in Shakespeare’s 1609 Quarto. Like the other sonnets in the collection, Sonnet 30 is made up of 14 lines: three...

The Taming of the Shrew William Shakespeare

Like many of Shakespeare's plays, the origins of The Taming of the Shrew are difficult to ascertain. The play as we have it today comes from the First Folio of 1623. However, an earlier version of the play, entitled The Taming of a Shrew , was...

The Tempest William Shakespeare

The Tempest first appeared in print as the first play in Shakespeare's 1623 Folio. It has been variously regarded as a highlight of Shakespeare's dramatic output, as a representation of the essence of human life, and as containing Shakespeare's...

Titus Andronicus William Shakespeare

For centuries, Titus Andronicus has carried the reputation of being the worst play by the best playwright. Though it was a great success when first staged in the late sixteenth century, in 1687 an English producer, Edward Ravenscroft, declared ...

Troilus and Cressida William Shakespeare

Sardonic, farcical, dark and tragicomic, Troilus and Cressida is a play that seems more comfortable on today's stage than it ever was in Shakespeare's day. Indeed, Troilus went unstaged for three hundred years; following its first performance in...

Twelfth Night William Shakespeare

Twelfth Night is one of the most commonly performed Shakesperean comedies, and was also successful during Shakespeare's lifetime. The first surviving account of the play's performance comes from a diary entry written early in 1602, talking about...

The Two Gentlemen of Verona William Shakespeare

The Two Gentlemen of Verona was written by William Shakespeare sometime between 1590 and 1594, thus placing it among the earliest of the Bard’s plays. Some scholars suggest that the play was likely the very first play Shakespeare wrote for the...

The Two Noble Kinsmen William Shakespeare

The Two Noble Kinsmen is a Jacobean tragicomedy involving two cousins who battle for their city and fall in love with one woman. The play is based on "The Knight's Tale" from Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales , a long poem written in Middle...

Venus and Adonis William Shakespeare

Venus and Adonis is a long narrative poem by William Shakespeare. It is historically important because it is believed to be Shakespeare's first ever published poem. When it was published in 1593, few had heard of the young man who would become one...

The Winter's Tale William Shakespeare

Shakespeare lived in a time of great transformation for Western Europe. New advances is science were overturning ancient ideas about astronomy and physics. The discovery of the Americas had transformed the European conception of the world....

shakespeare biography for students

IMAGES

  1. William Shakespeare Biography Pack

    shakespeare biography for students

  2. William Shakespeare Biography

    shakespeare biography for students

  3. William Shakespeare Biography: Life, Education, Works & Achievements

    shakespeare biography for students

  4. Essay on William Shakespeare

    shakespeare biography for students

  5. Shakespeare Biography Comp. Qs..pdf

    shakespeare biography for students

  6. William Shakespeare History, Facts & Worksheets

    shakespeare biography for students

VIDEO

  1. William Shakespeare Biography

  2. William Shakespeare biography #students

  3. William Shakespeare

  4. William Shakespeare

  5. The literary genius of William Shakespeare #biography #shakespeare #history #literature

  6. William Shakespeare Biography (Demo Class

COMMENTS

  1. William Shakespeare

    William Shakespeare is often praised as the world's greatest playwright . Though he lived 400 years ago, his plays are still studied and enjoyed today.

  2. William Shakespeare Biography

    William Shakespeare was a renowned English poet, playwright, and actor born in 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon.His birthday is most commonly celebrated on 23 April (see When was Shakespeare born), which is also believed to be the date he died in 1616. Shakespeare was a prolific writer during the Elizabethan and Jacobean ages of British theatre (sometimes called the English Renaissance or the Early ...

  3. William Shakespeare

    William Shakespeare (baptized April 26, 1564, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England—died April 23, 1616, Stratford-upon-Avon) was a poet, dramatist, and actor often called the English national poet. He is considered by many to be the greatest dramatist of all time. Shakespeare occupies a position unique in world literature.Other poets, such as Homer and Dante, and novelists, such as Leo ...

  4. Biography: William Shakespeare for Kids

    Occupation: Playwright, actor and poet. Born: April 26, 1564 baptized in Stratford-upon-Avon, England (likely born on April 23rd) Died: April 23, 1616 in Stratford-upon-Avon, England. Best known for: Writing plays such as Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and Macbeth. Biography: William Shakespeare attributed to John Taylor. Early Life.

  5. William Shakespeare: Biography, Playwright, Poet

    William Shakespeare was an English poet, playwright, and actor of the Renaissance era. He was an important member of the King's Men theatrical company from roughly 1594 onward. Known throughout ...

  6. William Shakespeare

    William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, in 1564. This was the sixth year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Shakespeare was christened on April 26 of that year. The day of his birth is unknown. It has long been celebrated on April 23, the feast day of St. George.

  7. Shakespeare's life

    Shakespeare's works Read and search the complete works of Shakespeare for free; Student programs All kinds of programs for all kinds of students; Research. Research. View All . ... William Shakespeare: A biography. Since William Shakespeare lived more than 400 years ago, and many records from that time are lost or never existed in the first ...

  8. Who was William Shakespeare?

    William Shakespeare's life. William Shakespeare was born in the town of Stratford-upon-Avon in 1564. His father John had a successful job as a glove maker. Historic events happened during his life ...

  9. William Shakespeare

    William Shakespeare (c. 23 April 1564 - 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet and actor.He is widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon" (or simply "the Bard").His extant works, including collaborations, consist of some 39 plays, 154 sonnets, three long ...

  10. William Shakespeare Biography: The Life Of The Bard

    A Very Brief William Shakespeare Biography. Parents: John Shakespeare & Mary Shakespeare (nee Arden). Date of Birth: Generally accepted as 23rd April 1564. Shakespeare was baptised on 26th April, 1564. Wife: Anne Hathaway (married 1582). Children: Susanna (born 1583), Hamnet and Judith (twins, born 1585).

  11. William Shakespeare

    Between the mid-1590s and his retirement around 1612, Shakespeare penned the most famous of his 37-plus plays, including "Romeo and Juliet," "A Midsummer Night's Dream," "Hamlet ...

  12. William Shakespeare Lesson for Kids: Facts & Biography

    That's about 450 years ago! Shakespeare was a playwright, or a person who writes plays, and he is known for writing more than 30 plays and more than 150 sonnets, a type of poem. Shakespeare was ...

  13. Shakespeare for kids

    On this Shakespeare Unlimited podcast episode, a high school English teacher shares pop culture Shakespeare resources that are popular in her classroom for deepening understanding and appreciation of Shakespeare. Folger Shakespeare Library is the world's largest Shakespeare collection, the ultimate resource for exploring Shakespeare and his ...

  14. Short Biography William Shakespeare

    William Shakespeare (1564-1616). English poet and playwright - Shakespeare is widely considered to be the greatest writer in the English language. He wrote 38 plays and 154 sonnets. Short bio of William Shakespeare. William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon on 23rd April 1564. His father William was a successful local businessman ...

  15. William Shakespeare Biography

    William Shakespeare was indisputably among the top English-language poets and playwrights of all time. He was born in the village of Stratford-upon-Avon in April 1564 and died there in April 1616. His surviving body of work includes 38 plays, 154 sonnets and two narrative poems, the majority of which he penned between 1589 and 1613.

  16. 15 top Shakespeare facts!

    1) During his lifetime, William Shakespeare wrote around 37 plays for the theatre and over 150 poems! No one can say the exact number, because some of his work may have been lost over time - and some may have been written with the help of other people. 2) William was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1564, during England's Tudor period.

  17. Biography of William Shakespeare, Famous Playwright

    Shakespeare retired to Stratford in 1611 and lived comfortably off his wealth for the rest of his life. In his will, he bequeathed most of his properties to Susanna, his eldest daughter, and some actors from The King's Men. Famously, he left his wife his "second-best bed" before he died on April 23, 1616.

  18. William Shakespeare: Biography

    William Shakespeare (26 April 1564 (baptised) - 23 April 1616) was an English poet, playwright, and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon". His extant works, including some collaborations, consist of around38 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative ...

  19. Shakespeare Biography

    In 1564, Stratford-upon-Avon, England, the famous playwright William Shakespeare was born. The exact date of his birth is unknown. However, there are records of his baptism on the 26th of April. It was very common at this time to baptise babies around three days after their birth so his 'official' birthday is celebrated on the 23rd of April.

  20. 15 Engaging Books About Shakespeare For Kids and Teens

    12. Bravo, Mr. William Shakespeare by Marcia Williams (Gr 6.-12) There are a lot of fantastic adaptations of Shakespeare for kids, but this one is a real gem that belongs in any lit teacher's collection. Seven of his most famous plays are re-told in brief graphic novel form, with hilarious sidebars from the audience.

  21. William Shakespeare's Short Biography

    William Shakespeare, born on April 26, 1564, in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, remains an iconic figure in the realm of literature. His parents, John Shakespeare, a prosperous local businessman, and Mary Arden, the daughter of a landowner, provided the backdrop for his upbringing. Widely acclaimed as the greatest writer in the English language ...

  22. William Shakespeare Biography

    We do know that in November of 1582, at the age of eighteen, he married Anne Hathaway (a woman eight years his senior), and that she gave birth to a daughter, Susanna, six months later. Two years ...

  23. Biography of William Shakespeare

    Consequently, his daughters made "good matches," and married wealthy men. The same year that he joined the Lord Chamberlain's Men, Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet, Love's Labour's Lost, The Taming of the Shrew, and several other plays. In 1600, he wrote two of his greatest tragedies, Hamlet and Julius Caesar.

  24. Shakespeare for the Young

    Charles and Mary Lamb's 1807 book serves as a delightful introduction to Shakespeare for young and old. <i>Tales from Shakespeare</i> will spark or rekindle a love for the Bard.