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William Shakespeare | Biography

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Neither the exact birth or death dates of William Shakespeare are known. However, he was probably born around April 23, 1564, as the third child of John Shakespeare and Mary Arden. This date is based on a record of his baptism, which occurred on April 26, 1564, in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, and the fact that baptisms were customarily done three days from birth. Very little information is known about Shakespeare's childhood or early adulthood, outside of the marriages, baptisms, and burials recorded by Holy Trinity Church. He married Anne Hathaway, eight years older than Shakespeare and pregnant with his child, when he was 18. A daughter, Susanna, was born to the couple on May 26, 1583, a few months later. Twins—Judith and Hamnet—were born a few years after; Hamnet died in childhood.

In approximately 1588, Shakespeare moved to London to pursue a career in the theater. As Shakespeare became known as an actor and playwright, references to him outside of church records can be found. The Lord Chamberlain's Men's records indicate that by 1594 Shakespeare was a managing partner in the troupe, as well as an actor and playwright. The fact that some of his plays were actually recorded and sold as popular literature, even during his lifetime, attests to the fact his work was unusually popular. He owned shares in the London's Globe Theater, which was built in 1599.

Shakespeare's main source for the story of Othello was Italian writer Giraldi Cinthio's 1565 work, the Hecatommithi. The earliest records suggest Othello was first performed in 1604 under the title The Moor of Venice; it was popular throughout the 1600s and remained so well into the 18th century. Early versions of the play include the sworn oaths S'blood ("God's blood") and Zounds ("God's wounds"), but these were later removed in accordance with an act of Parliament in 1606 that made such uses of God's name in plays illegal. In 1660, actress Margaret Hughes, playing Desdemona, became the first woman to perform on the English stage. Before this time, all roles—male and female—were performed by men and boys.

Shakespeare retired in 1611, and he died a few years later in 1616 at age 52—likely on his birthday, although the official records of Holy Trinity Church only give his burial date, April 25.

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