William Shakespeare’s biography has become a must-read for learners of the language and culture. In this William Shakespeare biography for students, we will walk you through a concise history of his life and works.
Who is Shakespeare?
He was an English poet, playwright, and actor who lived between the latter half of the 16th century and early 17th century during the reign of Elizabeth I. In academic terms, his works were done during a period commonly called the “English Renaissance” or “Early Modern Period”.
Due to his massive collection of works, influence on the English language, and popularity among the masses and nobles alike, he has titled England’s national poet (which represents the language, identity, and culture) and Bard of Avon (due to him being born in Avon).
During his life of 52 years, he wrote 39 plays, 154 sonnets (lyrical, 14-line poems), three long narrative poems, and other works. Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Macbeth, and King Lear are among his most notable pieces. All of them are still considered as the finest of their genre until now.
He also introduced more or less 3000 words to the English language. Other than that, many of the idioms he invented are still in use today (such as “in a pickle” or “the world is your oyster”).
Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, located around 100 miles northwest of London from John Shakespeare and Mary Arden. He was their third son of eight children and also the eldest surviving son.
His father was a successful glover who held a good position in public and was also appointed as the town’s alderman, and his mother was a daughter of an affluent family that owned large swathes of land.
Shakespeare’s date of birth is unknown, but it is traditionally believed that he was born on the 23rd of April 1564. The date is also known as his date of death. As a child born in a Christian family, he was baptized on the 26th of April 1564. During his childhood, he lived in Henley Street with his big family.
Although no records from the period were found, almost all biographers believed he was educated at King’s New School, a grammar school in Stratford. There, he learned Latin, Greek, history, and poetry.
His Married Life
When he reached the age of 18, he married 26 years old Anne Hathaway in November 1582. During their marriage, three children were born. The first of them was Susanna in 1582. Afterward were the twins Hamnet and Judith in 1585. Hamnet, the only son, died at 11 years old due to a bubonic plague outbreak and was buried in Avon on the 11th of August 1596.
Susanna then married John Hall, a local doctor, in 1607 and gave birth to Shakespeare’s granddaughter, Elizabeth, the following year. Nine years later, Judith followed by marrying Thomas Quinney who was a vintner.
For most of his married life, Shakespeare lived away from Anne as a writer and playwright in London. After he retired from theater in 1613, however, he went back to Stratford-upon-Avon and lived with Anne until his death on 23rd of April 1616.
Anne then outlived Shakespeare by seven years until she died on the 6th of August 1623. She was around 66-67 years old when she passed away.
It wasn’t known when Shakespeare began writing. Biographers suggest that he may have begun his career around the mid-1580s. The earliest record of his work, however, was in 1592 London.
His first recorded works are Richard III and three parts of Henry VI allegedly written in the early 1590s. Studies also suggest that The Comedy of Errors, Titus Andronicus, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and The Taming of The Shrew may also fall into this earliest period of his works.
At the time, historical drama was the most popular genre. His early plays were influenced by other dramatists, medieval drama traditions, and Seneca’s margins (a Roman dramatist during the post-Augustan age of Latin Literature).
Middle to Late Career
In the mid-1590s, a romantic atmosphere dominated his comedy works. The most acclaimed ones are A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Merchant of Venice, Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It, and Twelfth Night.
In the late 1590s, his characters became more complex, and his narrative variation is characteristic of his mature works. His works at this period were Henry IV, Henry V, Romeo and Juliet, and Julius Caesar.
Then in the late 1590s to early 17th century, he wrote the famous “problem plays”, namely All’s Well That Ends Well, Measure for Measure, and Troilus and Cressida.
Shakespeare’s most mature works were written starting from the early 17th century. In this period, he wrote many tragedies that were considered the peak of his work. Among those he wrote were Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Antony and Cleopatra, and Coriolanus.
In the final period of his works, he then turned to the romance or tragicomedy genre. He completed Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale, The Tempest, Pericles, and Prince of Tyre. He also completed two joint works, Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen.
Here are some facts about William Shakespeare to top off our William Shakespeare short biography:
- His works were played in a theater called “Theatre” in his early plays, located in England.
- His works were played by an acting company called “Lord Chamberlain’s Men”, where he also worked as a playwright and as an actor.
- One day, the landowner where “Theatre” is on refused to let Lord Chamberlain’s Men continue their plays and decided to tear the Theatre down. The company then moved across the Thames River and built a new theater called The Globe Theatre. In 1997, a replica of The Globe Theatre was made and had become a popular tourist destination ever since.
- The Globe Theatre was famous and could house up to 3000 spectators. They also house many unique stage props, such as a cannon that fires blanks.
- Shakespeare’s works are the second most quoted after the Bible.
- He was “attacked” by playwright Robert Greene, who called him “an upstart crow” in his early career.
Due to being renowned and widely regarded as the most excellent writer in English history, almost all English students must know about Shakespeare’s life and works.
Not only his plays, his invented words and idioms are also still used and studied until today. Like our William Shakespeare biography for students? Stay tuned and keep reading for more exciting info and facts on the world of literature.