Facts About Shakespeare

  • William Shakespeare was born in Stratford–upon-Avon in April 1564.

  • Shakespeare probably started school aged seven. His home was just a short walk from the town’s grammar school.

  • In 1582 Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway, a local farmer’s daughter. William and Anne Shakespeare had three children; Susanna, born in 1583, and twins, Hamnet and Judith, born in 1585. As a young man Shakespeare went to seek his fortune in London.

  • In 1590-91 Shakespeare wrote his first plays The Two Gentlemen of Verona and The Taming of the Shrew.

  • In 1594 Shakespeare joins the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, an acting company.

  • In 1597 Shakespeare bought New Place, the largest residential home in Old Stratford.

  • In 1599 Shakespeare became part owner of the Globe Theatre in London.

  • By 1610 Shakespeare was living at New Place in Stratford-upon-Avon. Whilst living there he wrote The Tempest - thought to be the last play he wrote on his own.

  • Shakespeare wrote 37 plays, 154 sonnets and 5 long narrative poems.

  • William Shakespeare died on 23rd April in 1616, aged 52. He is buried in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon.

  • After his death two of Shakespeare’s friends gathered together his plays and published the First Folio. Without this many of Shakespeare's plays would have been lost.

From Ordinary to Extraordinary

William Shakespeare was an ordinary boy from Stratford-upon-Avon who grew up to do extraordinary things. It’s amazing to think that the world’s most famous writer came from a small town in Elizabethan England.

William Shakespeare was born in Stratford–upon-Avon in April 1564. People think that Shakespeare was born on the 23rd April but actually the precise date of his birth is not known. At that time it was customary to baptise an infant three days after birth and Shakespeare was baptised at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford, on the 26th April 1564.

William’s parents, John and Mary Shakespeare, had already had two babies that died before William was born so he was a very special boy. At the time William was born, the plague was in Stratford and many people died as a result. Thankfully for the world, William did survive!

When William was about seven-years-old he started ‘petty’ school. Petty schools (from the French 'petits', meaning 'little ones') taught very young boys basic reading. Girls were not allowed to go to school in those days! Once William had mastered the basics of reading, he would have entered the Grammar School or Big School, where he studied Latin and English grammar, as well as Greek, and history. William probably started at King’s New School in Stratford-upon-Avon (now King Edward VI School) in 1571. His home was just a short walk from the school and as the son of a member of the town council he was entitled to an education.

In 1573-74 a young William may have enjoyed some of the best theatrical performances of the day when the Lord Leicester’s Men visited Stratford-upon-Avon. Many people wonder if this was when Shakespeare became inspired by the love of theatre.

It’s possible, that when William Shakespeare left the grammar school aged fifteen, he might have worked for his father. John Shakespeare, William’s father, was a glove maker and there are more than 70 references to leather and glove making in Shakespeare’s plays.

In 1582 Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway. Anne was eight years older than William. They had three children; a daughter Susanna, and in 1585 twins, named Hamnet and Judith. Hamnet died aged 11.

William Shakespeare, the ordinary boy from Stratford-upon-Avon, who grew up to do extraordinary things, did not spend all his life in the town where he was born. In his early 20s he left Stratford-upon-Avon and moved to London to seek his fortune. He decided to work in the theatre. This ordinary boy was to become an actor and a playwright.

In London Shakespeare joined an acting troupe, The Lord Chamberlain’s Men, which later became The King's Men. Shakespeare and some of the other members of the acting company were given the opportunity to become part owners of the theatre. Having paid his £10 to help build it, Shakespeare owned 12.5% of the Globe Theatre. The first play performed there was probably Julius Caesar when it first opened in 1599. As well as writing the plays that were performed there, Shakespeare also acted in them. Legend has it that he played the ghost of Hamlet's father.

Many people believe that Shakespeare is the world’s greatest playwright. He wrote comedies; a funny play with a happy ending, tragedies; a play full of sadness with an unhappy ending, and histories; featuring kings, battles and historical events. His plays are still performed all across the globe; it is estimated that every minute of every day someone in the world is watching a play by Shakespeare.

In 1597 Shakespeare bought New Place, the largest home in Old Stratford-upon-Avon. The house was built of timber and brick (then quite a new thing, an innovation for the town). It had an impressive frontage with five gables, ten fireplaces, a great chamber, a gallery and over 20 rooms. Shakespeare had certainly done well for himself!

New Place was William Shakespeare's final home in Stratford-upon-Avon. Shakespeare died there on 23rd April 1616, aged 52. He was buried two days later in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon.

It was unusual for anyone to be buried inside the church (rather than the surrounding graveyard) and Shakespeare managed this by buying a tithe deed which gave him the right to have a grave in the chancel of the church. Shakespeare's grave is famous for having a curse as an epitaph on its gravestone which Shakespeare wrote himself. It was not uncommon for bones to be moved from people’s graves to make room for new bodies. This was obviously something that worried the playwright. The curse on Shakespeare's grave warns:

Good friend for Jesus sake forbeare,

To dig the dirt enclosed here,

Blessed be the man that spares these stones,

And cursed be he that moves my bones.

In 1623 friends of Shakespeare, John Heminges and Henry Condell, gathered together Shakespeare’s plays and published the First Folio. This was the first published collection of Shakespeare’s plays. Without this many of Shakespeare's plays would have been lost and with that so many of the words that we use today. Did you know that Shakespeare is responsible for almost 10 per cent of the most quoted words and phrases in the English language?
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