The Life and Times of William Shakespeare 1564-1616
William Shakespeare is considered by many to be the most influential writer in the English language. His impact on literature cannot be overstated, and his legacy still lives on today. Who was this man who has become so iconic?
How did he end up becoming a literary legend? This article will discuss William’s life from start to finish – his upbringing, young adulthood, marriage and professional life – as well as other interesting things about him that you may not know!
Table of Contents
William Shakespeare was born in 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon. He was the third child of John Shakespeare and Mary Arden, wealthy glovemaker and farmer, respectively. William’s father had been an alderman and bailiff, but by the time William came around, he had retired from public life to take care of his business interests on behalf of Lord Southampton.
In 1582, at age 18, William married Anne Hathaway, with whom he would have three children before her death in 1623 – Susanna, then twins Hamnet and Judith.
William Shakespeare’s Lost Years
Shakespeare left few historical traces of himself after the birth of his twins, with most scholarly evidence pointing to Michaelmas Term 1588 and 9 October 1589. When he is next mentioned in London, it’s as a participant at The Theatre – leaving scholars to wonder what had happened during those lost years between 1578–1582. We are not sure what consequences followed.
Anne Hathaway and William never had any children that survived past infancy, so literary students assume they did have an active sex life. However, there is no evidence to support this assumption- only speculation.
One thing we know for sure is how much he loved his wife: “I love her most unboundedly,” He writes in 1609 after she has been dead more than four decades.” She was my soulmate” (Letter). If not from a physical standpoint, one would assume that their relationship was at least platonic due to the generous outpouring of emotion expressed in his sonnets written about her, making up 154 out of the 154 poems collection.
Shakespeare’s Writing and Theatre
There have been many attempts to pin down when William Shakespeare began writing, but there is no definitive answer. However, history students infer from contemporary allusions and records of performances that a few plays had been on the London stage by 1592.
Shakespeare published his plays in a variety of formats. Some quarto editions, some folio editions, and others appeared not as books but through the theatre industry or other means.
Shakespeare’s early plays were not received well by critics, who thought them too wordy, too dark and the language not natural.
In 1594 Shakespeare’s company built its theatre in London called The Globe, with a capacity of 3000 people. After this point, his professional success turned around dramatically due to both increased critical interest and popularity among audiences who liked the new vernacular dialogue he had coined in plays such as Hamlet (1603).
Historians also believe that Shakespeare was an actor before he became a playwright – at least one line where Prospero speaks about being on stage for twelve years suggests this possibility.
Theatre companies would often buy unfinished scripts from writers like Shakespeare if they thought their next production could use it. Many scholars assume that, most likely, someone else completed the final two acts of The Tempest, but it is not clear who.
Shakespeare’s work was available to readers from many different sources: print anthologies, theatrical performances and scripts which could be purchased after each performance for distribution by players outside London.
The quarto editions of Shakespeare’s plays were often made available to readers by publishers who would compile the work from various sources, including those that originated with actors or playwrights. The manuscripts may have been copied by scriveners and then printed in small batches as demand warranted (Shakespeare was not always the sole author). These versions are colloquially referred to as “quartos.”
During his illustrious career, William frequently travelled between London and Stratford. He spent some time in each city, but he remained loyal to his hometown for most of the duration of his life.
In the year 1609, a deadly disease terrorised London’s population. The bubonic plague killed so many people that there were not enough labourers to work in the fields, and it caused food shortages throughout England.
The Bubonic Plague ravaged London for all of 1609 as its inhabitants scrambled to find shelter from this fatal illness which they could only do with great difficulty because most citizens had died or fled their homes out of desperation before succumbing themselves.
Shakespeare moved back to his hometown around this time since the London public playhouses were repeatedly closed during extended outbreaks of the plague. He continued to visit London during 1611–1614, but his visits were becoming less frequent.
During his final years, Shakespeare continued to write and collaborate on various theatrical productions. During this time, he wrote “The Tempest” and collaborated on “Henry VIII”. A few of the other plays he wrote during his later years are The Winter’s Tale (1609–11) and Cymbeline (c. 1608/1609, probably with William Browne).
On April 23, 1616, William Shakespeare died after a short illness that started with an infection of unknown origin and progressed to pneumonia. He was 52 years old when he passed away in his home town of Stratford-upon-Avon – where we now live today!
William Shakespeare’s last words were for his family: “Goodnight, my sweetest love” to each one as they left him for their beds. These are not just good night wishes – but also parting words from this world.
After his death, William Shakespeare’s friends and colleagues, John Heminges and Henry Condell, collected the manuscripts of his plays and sonnets and published them in a First Folio, released in 1623 – four years after William died.
Four hundred years later, Shakespeare’s plays still have a profound impact on literature. His poems are also famous today, with lines from his sonnets such as “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” referenced in many modern songs. Shakespeare’s influence has been so significant that even the language is called English after him!
Shakespeare’s plays are often performed on the Globe Theatre, a famous Elizabethan playhouse that still stands today as a tourist attraction and an important remnant of London history. The original construction started around 1599-1600, but Shakespeare retired from work for the theatre either in late 1599 or early 1600 – so he never saw it completed.
It opened its doors to performances two years later when many other buildings such as public halls were closed because of outbreaks of plague all over Europe during this era. Furthermore, Queen Elizabeth attended one performance at the new theatre and liked it very much!
However, there is some debate about who takes credit for the design of this iconic building. Some people believe that Francis Bacon was responsible for designing the Globe Theatre, but others say it was a talented architect and designer called Peter Smithson who designed it.
The theatre is made in Elizabethan style, so there are no windows or chimneys to allow smoke from candles out during performances. Instead, they would come up into a central space near the ceiling where an opening in the roof acted as a ventilator, allowing some air circulation within the hall and gave better acoustics for actors to make their voices heard across all seats!
William Shakespeare is considered the greatest English writer of all time. His sonnets are one reason for this title, but his work in theatre and what he wrote on stage has also contributed to his legendary status. The Globe Theatre was where Shakespeare found critical success after being overshadowed by Christopher Marlowe’s popularity; it would later become the most famous playhouse in London.
Regardless of how he passed away, we can’t deny that his legacy lives on today- people everywhere still read and study his works and will continue to do so for years to come. He’s quite possibly the most celebrated writer ever! Are you interested in his poetry? We compiled 11 of our favourite William Shakespeare sonnets here.