The Mysterious Life of William Shakespeare
WORLD HISTORY | June 6, 2019
William Shakespeare. Source: (bl.uk)
The most famous playwright of all time, William Shakespeare, is also the most controversial. While his plays are the most read and performed of any playwright in history, there are those who believe he did not actually write the work for which he has received credit. Still, others doubt whether the playwright existed at all. However, it is clear that someone by the name of William Shakespeare existed as much of the information known about him is derived from official documents.
According to church records, he was baptized on April 26, 1564, at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon. Historians estimate his birthdate to have been April 23, 1564. He was the son of a leather merchant named John Shakespeare and a land heiress named Mary Arden. He had five siblings - two older sisters, Joan and Judith, and three younger brothers, Gilbert, Richard, and Edmund. In addition to being a successful merchant, John Shakespeare held the official positions of alderman and bailiff, a position similar to that of mayor; however, there is evidence that the family fortune declined during the 1570s.
The grammar school of Stratford during the 16th century was tuition-free, and, despite the lack of attendance records, it is assumed that young William would have attended King’s New School. There his education most likely consisted of Latin studies, reading and writing as well as studying the works of classical historians and poets. However, there is no evidence to suggest that he went on to university. The lack of information concerning his education has led many to doubt the authorship of his work.
Based on the episcopal registry at Worcester, historians have determined that William Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway on November 28, 1582, in Worcester, in Canterbury Province. Their first daughter, Susanna, was baptized at the Stratford church on May 26, 1583. Then on February 2, 1585, the twins, Hamnet and Judith, were baptized. Sadly, Hamnet died eleven years later. After the baptism of the twins, there is a period of about eight years during which there are no records of Shakespeare’s life. This period is referred to as Shakespeare’s “lost years.”
Shakespeare reappeared in the early 1590s as a managing partner in an acting company known as the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. The company later changed its name to the King’s Men after the coronation of King James I in 1603. The first mention of Shakespeare in the literary world came in an article written by London playwright Robert Green and published in the Stationers’ Register on September 20, 1592. The article implied Shakespeare was overreaching by trying to run in the same circles as those more educated than himself. By 1597, Shakespeare had already published fifteen plays.
According to the civil records, Shakespeare purchased the second largest house in Stratford around this time. Historians believe, however, that he spent most of his time in the city writing and acting. By 1599, Shakespeare and his partners had built the Globe Theater and, in 1605, he invested in several pieces of real estate near Stratford. Many believe it was the income from his real estate investments which allowed him the time to write his plays. According to church records, William Shakespeare was buried at Trinity Church on April 25, 1616, and many believe he died on his 52nd birthday, April 23, 1616. The exact cause of death is unknown, but it is believed to have been some sort of illness.
About 150 years after Shakespeare’s death, some scholars began to question whether he was really the author of the works credited to him. They cited as evidence his lack of formal education as well as the absence of details surrounding his life. While they acknowledge that a man named William Shakespeare lived in Stratford, they argue that there is no official evidence linking him to the theater. They believe he was just a man who made his living by investing in real estate. However, most scholars remain of the opinion that Shakespeare was the true author of his works. They feel that his early education in Stratford was sufficient and cite evidence of other authors and critics of the time who acknowledged him. Whether he truly wrote anything or not, William Shakespeare has acquired the legacy of the most well-known playwright in history.
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