William Shakespeare was surely the world’s most performed and admired playwright. He was well known in his time, and like many artists his fame continues to grow after his death. His plays dealt with many controversial topics, from racism to witchcraft- perhaps adding to the appeal of his plays in general. Shakespeare led an amazing life for his time, a time when actors and actresses were looked down upon and discriminated. He helped to change this stereotype and altered the world perception of theatre forever. In this report, I will outline many areas of Shakespeares life, including His birth, marriage and children, parents and family, education, as well as his death.
William Shakespeare the famous playwright was born in April, 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, about 100 miles northwest of London. According to the records of Stratford’s Holy Trinity Church, he was baptized on April 26. It was customary to baptize infants within days of birth, and because Shakespeare died 52 years later on April 23, and-most significantly-since April 23 is St. George’s day, the patron saint of England, it has become traditional to assign the birth day of England’s most famous poet to April 23. As with most sixteenth century births, the actual day was never officially recorded, but along with most remarkable men the power of myth and symmetry has proven irresistible, so April 23 it has become.
Shakespeare’s parents were John and Mary Shakespeare, who lived in Henley Street, in Stratford.John, the son of Richard Shakespeare, was a whittawer (a maker, worker, and seller of leather goods such as purses, belts and gloves) and a dealer in agricultural commodities. He was a solid, middle class citizen at the time of William’s birth, and a man on the rise. He served in Stratford government successively as a member of the Council (1557), constable (1558), chamberlain (1561), alderman (1565), and finally high bailiff (1568)–the equivalent of town mayor.About 1577 John Shakespeare’s fortunes began to decline for unknown reasons.There are records of some debts he may have had, but of course, none can be verified for certain.In 1586 he was replaced as alderman for shirking responsibilities, and in 1592 was reprimanded for not coming to church for fear of process of debt.
Records for the Stratford grammar school from the time Shakespeare would have attended have been lost, but attend he undoubtedly did since the school was built and maintained expressly for the purpose of educating the sons of prominent citizens.The sons of burgesses attended free. The curriculum commenced with the hornbook in order to learn the English alphabet, and thereafter was largely devoted to learning the Latin grammar. School began at dawn and proceeded most of the day, with breaks for meals, six days a week. How long Shakespeare attended the school is not known, but from his obvious mastery and love for the Latin authors, the grammar school must have at least begun the process that he later mastered. No one knows how long Shakespeare remained at the Stratford Grammar School, but Nicholas Rowe reports that …the want of his assistance at Home, forc’d his Father to withdraw him from thence. Rowe’s source was the actor Thomas Betterton, who made a journey to Warwickshire on purpose to gather up what remains he could, of a name for which he had so great a veneration. We cannot be certain, but it would seem likely that William was apprenticed to his father’s business in the usual way, perhaps some time around 1577 when John Shakespeare’s fortunes seem to take a turn for the worse.
Undoubtedly Shakespeare’s son-in-law, Dr. Hall, attended him at his death. The nature of his final illness is remains unknown. A legend has grown up based on an entry in John Ward, a Stratford vicar’s diary. Ward wrote that “Shakespeare Drayton and Ben Johnson had a merry meeting and it seems drank too hard for Shakespeare died of a feavour theyre contracted.” The problem is that the report came from a diary half a century after Shakespeare’s death, and cannot be confirmed otherwise. Undoubtedly Ward was a local gossip and knew Judith Shakespeare in her later years, but we cannot know if this story amounts to anything more than just and idle rumor. Shakespeare died on April 23, 1616 and was buried in the chancel of Holy Trinity Church April 25. On the slab over his grave appear the words:
Shakespeare lead a very interesting and eventful life. This report helped to inform about the life that he lead, yet it is only able to scratch the surface of the events that he influenced in his lifetime. Shakespeare managed to impact thousands of people by turning theatre into a respectable and admirable profession instead of a discriminated one. At the same time, he created many works that remain to be arguably the best ever written. His writings continue to be a benchmark in modern theatre, which are yet to be surpassed.
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