Henry IV, Part 1 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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William Shakespeare | Biography

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Only limited records about William Shakespeare's life (1564–1616) exist. Shakespeare was a commoner, and only members of noble families had their lives recorded in detail during the period in which he lived. Thus, any biography of Shakespeare contains gaps. Scholars know the highlights of his life: his baptism, his marriage, his children's births, and his death. There are also records of when many of his works were performed and published.

Shakespeare's family was in business, and his father was an alderman and bailiff, a high city office. Shakespeare attended the local grammar school, where he learned rhetoric and ethics and studied the classics, including Latin. He did not attend university.

Many readers have wondered how a man from such a background could have written as insightfully about nobles and monarchs as Shakespeare does in Henry IV, Part 1 and other plays. Some commentators have suggested that a nobleman actually wrote Shakespeare's works under an assumed name. Most scholars, however, accept that Shakespeare was the author, pointing out that during his lifetime, he was widely and publicly acknowledged as such.

Originally from Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway in 1582. They had a daughter named Susanna and twins named Hamnet and Judith. Hamnet died when he was only 11, which may be one reason father-son relationships play so large a role in Shakespeare's work, including Henry IV, Part 1.

In the 1580s Shakespeare moved to London to work in the theater. By about 1595 Shakespeare was a shareholder in a troupe of actors called the Lord Chamberlain's Men. Queen Elizabeth I loved plays and was a patron of the theater, which may partially explain why Shakespeare wrote so many history plays about English kings during the 1590s. Henry IV, Part 1 was a popular example of a history play, largely because of the comic character of Falstaff.

Shakespeare died on April 23, 1616, in Stratford-upon-Avon.

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