Welcome to our new “Who Were They” series here at Beyond, where we look at influential figures in English, Maths, Science and more. This blog explores the bard himself, William Shakespeare, by providing a Shakespeare biography for KS3 or GCSE English students. Our Shakespeare biography will look at:
- William Shakespeare’s Family
- William Shakespeare’s Early life
- William Shakespeare in London
- Shakespeare’s Works
- Shakespeare’s Legacy
- Shakespeare Activities
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William Shakespeare’s Family
In 1564, Stratford-upon-Avon, England, the famous playwright William Shakespeare was born. The exact date of his birth is unknown. However, there are records of his baptism on the 26th of April. It was very common at this time to baptise babies around three days after their birth so his ‘official’ birthday is celebrated on the 23rd of April.
William was one of six children born to John and Mary Shakespeare. He had two older sisters, Joan and Judith and three younger brothers, Gilbert, Richard and Edmund.
William’s father was a leather merchant and his mother came from a wealthy family. She was often referred to as a ‘local-landed heiress’ for this reason.
- Shakespeare was born in 1564 Stratford-upon-Avon
- He was baptised on April 26th
- His parents were John and Mary Shakespeare
- He had five siblings
- His father was a successful merchant and his mother came from a wealthy family
William Shakespeare’s Early Life
Along with the lack of birth records, there is also a lack of school records for William Shakespeare. However, it is believed that we attended King’s New School in Stratford. Although there are no ‘official’ documents confirming his education there, the school often refers to itself as “Shakespeare’s School”. Traditionally an all boys school, the grammar school began admitting girls in 2013 and boasts a long list of notable ex students including famous musicians and actors.
William’s father, John Shakespeare, continued to be a successful merchant throughout William’s early life. He held positions such as alderman and bailiff which today would be similar to acting as Mayor to the town.
On the 28th November 1582, William Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway. She was 26 years old when they were married, whilst he was only 18 years old. She was pregnant with their first child at the time of their marriage. Their daughter Susana was born not long later in 1583. The couple then welcomed twins into the world two years later, a boy named Hamnet and a girl named Judith. Little is known about their mother or their lives. However, it is recorded that sadly at the age of 11, Hamnet died.
After his twin children were born, William Shakespeare disappeared from legal records. These years are often referred to as “The Lost Years”.
There are many theories to explain what Shakespeare may have been doing during this time. A popular story to cover this missing time revolves around William and a landowner named Sir Thomas Lucy. The story goes that Shakespeare had poached deer from Sir Lucy’s estate and had fled to London to escape punishment where he began his career as an actor.
Other theories ponder whether he had worked as a school master in Stratford or served time as a soldier. Either way it was very common during the 1500s to record baptisms, marriages and deaths. Therefore it is not unusual to find gaps and perhaps it is more fun to imagine where this famous playwright may have spent his time during these ‘lost years’.
- It is thought Shakespeare attended King’s New School in Stratford
- Shakespeare’s father was alderman and bailiff to the town
- On 28th November 1582, William Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway
- They had 3 children together, a daughter Susana and twinks Judith and Hamnet
- Between the baptism of his twins and his early success in London, there is no record of where Shakespeare was. This is known as “The Lost Years”.
William Shakespeare in London
In 1592, William Shakespeare was recorded once again, this time in London. When he first arrived it is believed he worked as a horse attendant at the local theatres. By the time he is next recorded in history, he was already earning money as an actor and playwright.
William Shakespeare joined an acting company whilst in London named The Lord Chamberlain’s Men. After King James I was crowned, they changed their name to The King’s Men in tribute.
It was during this time that Shakespeare began to sell his written work and his popularity amongst Londoners began to grow.
By 1597, he was earning so much money that he purchased a new home in Stratford. It was the second largest property in the town. However, it took almost four days to travel between London and Stratford at this time so he rarely visited. He usually would return during the forty days of Lent when the theatres would close and he was not needed in London.
As his fortune grew, he began to invest in other properties around Stratford and rent them out, becoming a prosperous landlord. It is said he earned around £60 a year from his properties. This is the equivalent of approximately £8,000 today and would cover 1200 days of regular wages.
- In 1592, Shakespeare was a successful actor and playwright in London
- He was a member of The Lord Chamberlain acting company which was later renamed The King’s Men as tribute to James I who had become King
- In 1597, Shakespeare bought the second largest house in Stratford
- He continued to expand his property portfolio and became a prosperous landlord
William Shakespeare wrote over 38 plays and over 150 poems during his career. His plays could be broken down into three categories. Comedies, which were full of fun, irony, wordplay and mystery. He wrote Tragedies which as the name would suggest often ended in sadness or heartbreak. The final plays under the category of Historical, exploring the kings and queens of Britain and other figures throughout history and mythology.
Many of his plays were performed for Queen Elizabeth I and included themes of religion, love and monarchy.
There are several plays that are famous throughout the world such as Romeo and Juliet or Macbeth. However, it is in his lesser known plays that some of Shakespeare’s best writing can be found.
- All’s Well That Ends Well
- As You Like It
- The Comedy of Errors
- Love’s Labour’s Lost
- Measure for Measure
- The Merry Wives of Windsor
- The Merchant of Venice
- A Midsummer Night’s Dream
- Much Ado About Nothing
- Prince of Tyre
- Taming of the Shrew
- The Tempest
- Troilus and Cressida
- Twelfth Night
- Two Gentlemen of Verona
- Winter’s Tale
- Henry IV, part 1
- Henry IV, part 2
- Henry V
- Henry VI, part 1
- Henry VI, part 2
- Henry VI, part 3
- Henry VIII
- King John
- Richard II
- Richard III
- Antony and Cleopatra
- Julius Caesar
- King Lear
- Romeo and Juliet
- Timon of Athens
- Titus Andronicus
- The Sonnets
- A Lover’s Complaint
- The Rape of Lucrece
- Venus and Adonis
- Funeral Elegy by W.S.
- Shakespeare wrote over 38 plays and over 150 poems
- His plays come under three categories – Comedy, Tragedy and History
- His work often features themes of religion, love and monarchy
- Queen Elizabeth I attended many performances of Shakespeare’s work
The works of William Shakespeare have become so popular that they have been translated into 80 languages, worldwide. We ourselves have over three hundred words and well-known phrases in the English language, which Shakespeare invented himself.
Some of these words for example include, ‘barefaced’, ‘fair-play’, ‘well-read’ and ‘lacklustre’. We can also thank Shakespeare for phrases such as ‘seen better days’. ‘Wild goose chase’ and ‘good riddance’.
Included in Shakeseare’s poetry are his 154 sonnets. A sonnet is a poem with 14 lines and is written in iambic pentameter. The term ‘sonnet’ comes from the Italian word ‘sonetto’, meaning “a little sound or song”. Most of Shakespeare’s sonnets are about love, loss and death.
William Shakespeare died on April 23rd 1616 at the age of 52. A vicar reported several years later that he likely died from a fever he had caught after a night out ‘merry making’, but no official cause of death was ever recorded.
A few months before his death, William Shakespeare had written his will. He wrote, “Item I gyve unto my wife my second best bed with the furniture”. Many people have mistakenly thought this was a snub towards his wife, Anne. However, this was not unusual. The ‘best bed’ was often an heirloom passed down from generation to generation. It could have also been a reference to the guest room which was kept grand for when people came to visit. The second best bed is a reference to the one he would have shared with his wife. Therefore it more likely means he left their shared belongings of their home to her. He left the rest of his belongings to his eldest daughter Susana.
William Shakespeare is buried in the Holy Trinity churchyard in Stratford. Shortly after he was laid to rest, there was some discussion about moving his remains to Westminster Abbey. However, the decision to leave him in his hometown was made. Instead on the 29th January 1741, a life-size marble statue was erected of the bard in the Poet’s corner of Westminster Abbey. It is here that many other actors and actresses are now buried and remembered for their work in Shakespearean plays.
- William Shakespeare’s work has been translated into 80 languages
- He invented over 300 words and phrases that are used in English today
- He wrote 154 sonnets about love, loss and death
- He died on April 23rd 1616 at the age of 52
- He left his shared belongings to his wife and the rest of his things to his eldest daughter
- William Shakespeare is buried in Holy Trinity churchyard, Stratford
- He is also remembered through his life-size marble statue in Westminster Abbey
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