Childhood and Family Life
The childhood of William Shakespeare is a murky area for scholars since few records of his early activities exist. Very little is known about his birth, education, or upbringing. However, according to church records, he was baptized on April 26, 1564, in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, which leads scholars to the conclusion that he was born on April 23 of that year. Birth records were not usually kept in Shakespeare's time, although clergy fastidiously kept church records—baptisms, weddings, burials.
Shakespeare's family was solidly middle class, and he would have had a typical education for an English boy of his time at a public school endowed by Elizabeth I, which would have included studying the Latin language and Roman and Greek classical literature. At age 18 Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway, a woman eight years his elder who was pregnant with their daughter Susanna. Anne gave birth to twins—Judith and Hamnet—a few years later. Church records reveal Hamnet died in childhood.
Shakespeare moved to London to pursue a career as an actor and playwright, and over time he achieved success. He became a shareholder in the open-air Globe Theatre in London and enjoyed widespread fame as a playwright whose works included romantic and classically inspired comedies, histories, and tragedies. By the late 1590s, Shakespeare had achieved fame as a writer of both comedies and English histories. In The Merry Wives of Windsor he combined the two, turning Sir John Falstaff, a "breakout" character from the history plays, into the star of his own comedy. In all Shakespeare is credited with writing at least 37 plays and more than 150 sonnets.
Throughout his career, Shakespeare and his fellow actors were supported by the patronage of the nation's monarchs—first by Elizabeth I (1533–1603), under whose reign Shakespeare's company was known as The Lord Chamberlain's Men. When James I (1566–1625) assumed the throne in 1603, the company was renamed The King's Men. Although many of Shakespeare's plays were written for performance at the Globe, the King's Men also performed at the nearby Blackfriars Theatre, a smaller indoor space, after 1608.
Retirement and Legacy
Shakespeare retired in 1610 or 1611 and moved back to Stratford-upon-Avon. Despite his retirement from London life, the playwright continued to do some writing, contributing to Henry VIII and Two Noble Kinsmen as well as to another play, Cardenio, now lost. Scholars believe these final works to be collaborations with John Fletcher (1579–1625), another playwright.
Shakespeare most likely died on April 23, 1616, leading to the romantic notion he was born and died on the same date, although there are no records of the exact date of either event. He was 52 at his death and was buried on April 25 at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon. Over 400 years after his death, Shakespeare is still regarded as the greatest playwright of the English-speaking world.