To be, or not to be, that is the question
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.
No birth records exist, but an old church record indicates that a 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 William Shakespeare's birthday.
William was the third child of John Shakespeare, a leather merchant, and Mary Arden, a local landed heiress. William had two older sisters, Joan and Judith, and three younger brothers, Gilbert, Richard and Edmund.
Scant records exist of William'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.
Being a public official's child, William would have undoubtedly qualified for free tuition. But this uncertainty regarding his education has led some to raise questions about the authorship of his work (and even about whether or not William Shakespeare really existed).
William Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway on November 28, 1582, in Worcester, in Canterbury Province. Hathaway was from Shottery, a small village one mile west of Stratford. William 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 later died of unknown causes at age 11.
Shakespeare's Lost Years
We know very little about Shakespeare's life during two major spans of time, commonly referred to as the lost years: 1578-82 and 1585-92. The first period covers the time after Shakespeare left grammar school, until his marriage to Anne Hathaway in November of 1582. The second period covers the seven years of Shakespeare's life in which he must have been perfecting his dramatic skills and collecting sources for the plots of his plays.
Shakespeare’s Writing Style
William 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.
William Shakespeare died on 23 April 1616, his 52nd birthday. In truth, the exact date of Shakespeare’s death is not known but assumed from a record of his burial two days later, 25 April 1616, at Holy Trinity Church. Stratford Upon Avon, where his grave remains.
When Shakespeare retired from London around 1610, he spent the remainder of his life in Stratford Upon Avon’s largest house – New House – which he had purchased as a family home in 1597. 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.
William Shakespeare death
The cause of Shakespeare’s death is not known for sure, though there’s a commonly held theory that Shakespeare died after contracting a fever after a drinking binge with fellow playwrights Ben Jonson and Michael Drayton. The source of this theory is John Ward, the vicar of Holy Trinity Church in. In 1661, many years after Shakespeare’s death, the 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.” However, most historians agree that given Stratford-upon-Avon’s reputation for scandalous stories and rumors in the 17th century this an overblown anecdote with no base in fact.
More convincing is the theory that Shakespeare was sick for over a month before he died. The evidence comes from the fact that on 25 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, giving evidence of his frailty at the time.
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare
All's Well That Ends Well
As You Like It
Comedy of Errors
Love's Labour's Lost
Measure for Measure
Merchant of Venice
Merry Wives of Windsor
Midsummer Night's Dream
Much Ado About Nothing
Taming of the Shrew
Two Gentlemen of Verona
Henry IV, Part I
Henry IV, Part II
Henry VI, Part I
Henry VI, Part II
Henry VI, Part III
Antony and Cleopatra
Romeo and Juliet
Timon of Athens
Troilus and Cressida