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The Biography Index
William Shakespeare (1564-1610)
William Shakespeare was christened on 26th April 1564. It is not known exactly which day he was born since no official records have been kept from that time. His birthday is usually celebrated on 23 April (which happens to be the date he died) because it is also St. George's Day. It is likely that Shakespeare went to school but he did not study for very long. He was married to Anne Hathaway in 1582. He was only eighteen and she was three months pregnant. By 1585 he was already the father of three.
Shakespeare was unhappy about being tied down to a family. He had always wanted to be an actor, so when an acting company called the Queen's Men came to Stratford missing one of their number, Shakespeare was quick to step in. Before long he had moved to London, leaving his family in Stratford. He also changed acting companies and by 1592 he was playing with Lord Strange's Men in the Rose Theatre. The Rose was outside the city limits since the Puritans, who had the majority in the Parliament, did not approve of the theatre. Shakespeare's play Henry VI was shown at the Rose and Lord Strange's Men performed for the Queen on several occasions. The English were very patriotic in the latter part of the 16th century. This was because of the tensions building up between England and Spain. This patriotism made historical plays very popular, and Shakespeare's Henry V was a great success.
Unfortunately the end of 1592 saw a very bad outbreak of the plague in London. All public meeting places were closed, and this included the theatres. The plague was very bad for the next year - one thousand people were dying each day in the city of London alone. The Theatres did not open again until 1594. Shakespeare turned to writing poetry in order to make a living. Wealthy people paid very well for a sonnet (a fourteen line poem) to be written for them. Shakespeare wrote 150 sonnets between 1594 and 1610.
In 1595, with the theatres re-opened, Shakespeare formed a new company called The Lord Chamberlain's Men. He was now a rich man and had bought a large house in Stratford for his family, although he still preferred to live in London. His company now played at the Globe Theatre. (The Globe burned down after only thirteen years - the fire was started by a spark from a gun being used in the play).
The Globe Theatre 2006 © Shirley Burchill
In 1603 James VI of Scotland became James I of England. The new king enjoyed watching plays, even more than his predecessor Elizabeth I. Shakespeare's company changed its name to The King's Men and stayed at court for a while.
In 1610 Shakespeare moved back to Stratford. He died on St. George's Day, 23 April 1616. He had seen all his sonnets published in 1609. Seven years after his death, in 1623, thirty six of his plays were published in a book called the First Folio.
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