WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

BORN: 23 APRIL 1564
DIED: 23 APRIL 1616

 

Portrait of William Shakespeare, attributed to John Taylor
NPG London


On April 26, 1564, in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon, William, son of John Shakespeare and Mary Arden, was baptized. His actual birth date isn’t known for sure, but it is usually assumed that he was born on the 23 of April, and that is the date that is traditionally celebrated. It is also possible he was born on the 21 or 22. In 1616, this time definitely on the 23 of April, Shakespeare died and was buried two days later in the same church where he had been baptized 52 years before.

Young William grew up in Stratford, attended the town’s grammar school and in 1582 married Anne Hathaway, who was already several months pregnant and 8 years Shakespeare’s senior. The  child, Susanna, was born the following May. In February 1585, Anne gave birth to twins, Hamnet and Judith. Hamnet died in August 1596, but both Susanna and Judith lived to adulthood, married and had children of their own.

At some point in the late 1580s William left Stratford for London. By the early 1590s, after some time as an actor, we know that Shakespeare had also begun to author plays because he was attacked by playwright Robert Greene for having the temerity to be an actor who also wrote blank verse drama.

In 1593 Shakespeare became a published poet, with the publication of Venus and Adonis, followed by The Rape of Lucrece the next year. These were both written during a time when the playhouses in London had been closed during an outbreak of the plague. When the theaters re-opened in 1594, Shakespeare continued his work as actor and playwright, but also became a shareholder in his acting company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (who were later renamed the King’s Men). In 1599, the Globe Theatre was built in Southwark, along the south bank of the Thames opposite St. Paul’s Cathedral. This was to be the playhouse for the company for the next 14 years, until the theatre burned down during a performance of Shakespeare’s Henry VIII. Sir Henry Wotton described the disaster like this:

Certain cannons being shot off, some of the paper or other stuff wherewith one of them was stopped, did light on the thatch, where being thought at first but an idle smoke, and their eyes more attentive to the show, it kindled inwardly, and ran round like a train, consuming within less than an hour the whole house to the very ground… wherein yet nothing did perish but wood and straw, and  a few forsaken cloaks, only one man had his breeches set on fire, that would perhaps have broiled him, if he had not, by the benefit of a provident wit, put it out with bottle ale.

Within a year, the Globe was rebuilt, this time with a tiled roof. It was closed in 1642 by the Puritans and demolished a few years later. The current replica of the Globe, completed in 1997, is just a few yards from the original location and has the first thatched roof built in London after they were outlawed following the Great Fire of 1666.

At some point between 1610 and 1613, Shakespeare retired to Stratford-upon-Avon to New Place, the house where he died in 1616. As mentioned above, William Shakespeare was buried in Holy Trinity Church, where his grave can be visited. The memorable inscription on the grave reads:

Good friend, for Jesus' sake forebeare
To digg the dust enclosed heare;
Bleste be the man that spares thes stones,
And curst be he that moves my bones