Dead People You Should Know: William Shakespeare

Born in Stratford-upon-Avon, most people were illiterate. William Shakespeare rose above the norm to paint with words and become possibly the most influential writer in English literature. He was born on April 23, 1564, or at least that is what scholars assume as record shows he was baptized on April 26, 1564. Most children were baptized at three days old, thus the 23. Like his birthday, a lot of Shakespeare’s history and life is composed of assumptions and mystery. In fact, most of the information comes only from his work and official documentation like records from the church and court. However, these things only provide snapshots of his life and say very little about him.

Stratford-upon-Avon is a small market town 103 miles west of London. Shakespeare’s father was a businessman and a leather merchant. Scholars believe his father was similar to what would have been a mayor. His mother did odd jobs around the community. William was one of 6 children. Joan and Judith were his elders, and he had three younger brothers named Gilbert, Richard and Edmund. Shakespeare probably went to the King’s New School to learn reading and writing, but because so few records exist of his childhood and education, some people question if he truly wrote his plays or if he even existed.

He was married on November 28, 1582 at age 18 to 26 year-old Anne Hathaway, who was already pregnant. Their first daughter, Susanna was born in May of 1583. Later, in 1585, his twins Hamnet and Judith were born. The next seven years of his life are known as the “lost years.”  There are various theories pertaining to what might have occurred. Most believe that he went to London in the late 1580’s and found some kind of work.

William Shakespeare started earning money as a playwright and an actor in London around 1590. He was also a managing partner of the acting company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. Later called the King’s Men, they had high popularity and gained the attention of nobles. 15 of the 37 plays with his name attached were published by the late 1590’s, and in 1599, he and his partners built the Globe Theater.

Excluding Romeo and Juliet, most of Shakespeare’s early plays were histories. He also wrote several comedies in his early period. His works then evolved into tragedies. His son Hamnet’s death at age 11 is said to have inspired the writing of Hamlet. Near the end of his playwriting days, he wrote “tragicomedies” like The Tempest. When the plague closed the theater, he had to make a living by writing more poems.

By the end of his life, Shakespeare had written 37 plays, 154 sonnets, and a number of other poems. There is an amount of lost plays he wrote and plays that he collaborated on. He was buried on April 25, 1616. Keeping with the traditions of the time, this would have been two days after his death, meaning he likely died on his birthday in 1616 at the age of 52.

Shakespeare’s writing still impacts us and invokes emotion in us today. He played with the English language for all its worth and many of today’s common phrases appeared for the first time in his works. Things like, “good riddance” made their first appearance in his writings. Today, his plays and poems are the second most quoted collected works behind the Bible. William Shakespeare is immortalized in his plays and poems.

I sing Disney songs at inappropriate times. I like soup a lot. 

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