Biography: William Shakespeare (England, 15641616)


Figure 1.--

English poet and playwright William Shakespeare is generally considered to be the greatest writer in the English language and perhaps the most important dramatist. He played a major role in the development of the English language. A vast number of modern words and phrases first appeared in his 38 known plays in addition to 2 long narrative poems, 154 sonnets, and a variety of other poems. He was born and raised in Stratford-upon-Avon. There are lots of speculations about Shakespeare's childhood in Stratford-upon-Avon, but there are no documentable facts beyond his baptism. We know that his father, John Shakespeare, was a glover and Alderman from Snitterfield and the family lived in comfortable circumstances. His mother was Mary Arden, the daughter of an affluent landowning family. William was the eldest surviving son. We assume that the young William went to the local grammar school--the King Edward VI Grammar School in Stratford. King Edward was known for supporting education. Historians believe that the young William almost certainly was educated there. Given his father's status in the community and his literary accomplishments, he clearly had an education and the local grammar is the only place that he would have gotten his education. William lived close to the school and there were no other schools in that Warwickshire town. Shakesperian scholars speculate as to John's loss of possition as Alderman. Some believe it was because of Catholic sympathies and this would have significantly colored William's prospects. Our first documented knowledge of Shakespeare concerns his marriage to Anne Hathaway and his early career in London in connection with the theatre. He had three children, but these stayed behind with his wife in Stratford while Shakespeare lived a single life in London. Ironically, the great writer made no provision for his daughter's education. HBC has done some work on his plays in our Renaissance drama section.

Parents

We know that his father, John Shakespeare, was a glover and Alderman from Snitterfield and the family lived in comfortable circumstances. His mother was Mary Arden, the daughter of an affluent landowning family. It is believed that the family had Catholic sympsthies. Shakesperian scholars speculate as to John's loss of possition as Alderman. Some believe it was because of Catholic sympathies and this would have significantly colored William's prospects.

Childhood

He was born and raised in Stratford-upon-Avon. There are lots of speculations about Shakespeare's childhood in Stratford-upon-Avon, but there are no documentable facts beyond his baptism. William was the eldest surviving son.

Education

We assume that the young William went to the local grammar school--the King Edward VI Grammar School in Stratford. King Edward was known for supporting education. Historians believe that the young William almost certainly was educated there. Given his father's status in the community and his literary accomplishments, he clearly had an education and the local grammar is the only place that he would have obtained his education. William lived close to the school and there were no other schools in that Warwickshire town.


Figure 2.--This is the Anne Hathaway house in Shottery. It was where Anne grew up and lived until marrying William. Her family lived there until 1892. It has been preserved and is a popular local landmark. Here we an albumen photograph of the home in the 1890s with some local children.

Marriage

Our first documented knowledge of Shakespeare concerns his marriage to Anne Hathaway and his early career in London in connection with the theatre. As much as we know about Shsakespeare, next to nothing is known about Anne. What we know can very easily be stated in a short paragraph. She is believed to have been born in Shottery (1556). Their home has been preserved and is a popular local landmark (figure 2). Her father was Richard Hathaway, a local landowner. She grew up in a moderately prosprrous home, although their circumstances were declining somewhat. She married Shakespeare (1582). He was only 18 years old and she was 26 years old. This was relatively old for a woman to marry at the time. The marrige took place because Anne was pregnant with their first child, Susanna. It was not socially acceptable for women from prosperous families to have a child out of wedlock. At this time Anne moved from her family home into the the Stratford home of Shakespeare's parents. Anne had two more children, the twins Hamnet and Judith (1585). It is at this time William goies to London. While William was making a name for himself in London, Anne stayed home in Stratford. She lived for over a decade with Shakespeare's family in their house on Henley Street. Then she lived in the New Place home when Shakespeare purchased (1597). William's success allowed her to live in relative luxury. William often visited his family. William retired and came back to Stratford (1611). He spent his final years with Anne in their Stratford home. She outlived her husband and passed away (1623). She is buried in the chancel of Stratford's Holy Trinity church next to her husband. The lack of infirmation about Anne has not prevented Shakespeare scholars from speculate endlessly anhd wildly about her. Scholars and popular authors over the centuries have concocted various depictions of Anne. There are suggestions a cuckolded, country bumpkin wife left behind in Stratford because William was embarassed to introiduce her to his sophisticated London social circle. Others are kinder, suggesting a deep love thst inspired Shakespeare's muse. And time has not led to any consensus. Recent books on Anne continue to provide very different depictions and are essentially histiricl novels playing on the Shakespeare name. . <>br>

Children

He had three children, but these stayed behind with his wife in Stratford while Shakespeare lived a single life in London. Ironically, the great writer made no provision for his daughter's education. Shakespeare's son was called named Hamnet. Most scholars don't think there is any connection with Hamlet, however, because the name of the tragic character appears in Shakespeare's literary sources. It has been speculated, however, that the character of Prince Arthur, who dies from a falling accident in the play, King John, which was written (1595-96) close to the time of Hamnet's death, may have been influenced to some extent by the boy's premature demise. He died at ahe 11 years, oprobably of polague. In 'King John', the character of Constance, Arthur's mother, grieves extravagantly for her son, and some critics have thought that Shakespeare poured his own grief for Hamnet into the speeches of Constance. This point cannot, of course, be proved. And Shakespeare had such a fertile imagination that he may simply have created the characters of Arthur and Constance out of whole cloth. Both characters are, after all, historical and appear in Shakespeare's source, Peele's 'Troublesome Reign of King John' and Holinshed's chronicle, Peele's Source, which Shakespeare also consulted independently.

Renaissance Drama

We are compiling a of Renaissance plays with boy characters. They seem particularly common in English drama, notably in Shakespeare's plays. Several of Shakespeare's historical plays include boy characters. A wide range of drawings and paintings provide us images of those characters. We are less familiar with the other great Renaissance drama tradition--Spanish plays. We do not yet know of boy characters in Spanish or other European plays, but we will add them here if we learn of any.

Importance

English poet and playwright William Shakespeare is generally considered to be the greatest writer in the English language and perhaps the most important dramatist. He played a major role in the development of the English language. A vast number of modern words and phrases first appeared in his 38 known plays in addition to 2 long narrative poems, 154 sonnets, and a variety of other poems.






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Created: 12:31 AM 6/19/2009
Last updated: 7:07 PM 5/2/2018