On April 23rd 1564, the great English dramatist and poet William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-on-Avon, and on April 23rd 1616, he died. It is impossible to be certain the exact day on which he was born, but church records show that he was baptised on April 26, and three days was a customary amount of time to wait before baptising a newborn.
Shakespeare was born and brought up in Stratford-upon-Avon. At the age of 18, he married Anne Hathaway, who was eight years his senior and pregnant, and they had three children: Susanna, and twins Hamnet and Judith. Nothing is known of the period between the birth of the twins and Shakespeare’s emergence as a playwright in London in the early 1590s, but unfounded stories have him stealing deer, joining a group of travelling players, becoming a schoolteacher, or serving as a soldier in the Low Countries.
Between 1585 and 1592, he began a successful career in London as an actor, writer, and part owner of a playing company called the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, later known as the King’s Men. The company grew into England’s finest, in no small part because of Shakespeare, who was its principal dramatist. It also had the finest actor of the day, Richard Burbage, and the best theatre, the Globe, which was located on the Thames’ south bank. Shakespeare stayed with the King’s Men until his retirement and often acted in small parts.
Shakespeare produced most of his known work between 1589 and 1613. His early plays were mainly comedies and histories, genres he raised to the peak of sophistication and artistry by the end of the 16th century. He then wrote mainly tragedies until about 1608, including Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, and Macbeth, considered some of the finest works in the English language. In his last phase, he wrote tragicomedies, also known as romances, and collaborated with other playwrights.
He retired to Stratford in 1610, where he wrote his last plays, including The Tempest (1611) and The Winter’s Tale (1610-11). Meanwhile, he had written more than 100 sonnets, which were published in 1609. Although pirated versions of Titus Andronicus, Romeo and Juliet and some other plays were published during Shakespeare’s lifetime, no definitive collection of his works was published until after his death. In 1623, two members of Shakespeare’s troupe collected the plays and printed what is now called the First Folio (1623).
Today, nearly 400 years later, his plays are performed and read more often and in more nations than ever before. In a million words written over 20 years, he captured the full range of human emotions and conflicts with a precision that remains sharp today. As his great contemporary the poet and dramatist Ben Jonson said, “He was not of an age, but for all time.”