Who was William Shakespeare?

Who was William Shakespeare?

William Shakespeare (1564-1616). English poet and playwright –  Shakespeare is widely considered to be the greatest writer in the English language. He wrote 38 plays and 154 sonnets.  William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon on 23rd April 1564. His father William was a successful local businessman, and his mother Mary was the daughter of a landowner. Relatively prosperous, it is likely the family paid for Williams education, although there is no evidence he attended university.

In 1582 William, aged only 18, married an older woman named Anne Hathaway. They had three children, Susanna, Hamnet, and Juliet. Their only son Hamnet died aged just 11. After his marriage, information about the life of Shakespeare is sketchy, but it seems he spent most of his time in London – writing and acting in his plays. Due to some well-timed investments, Shakespeare was able to secure a firm financial background, leaving time for writing and acting. The best of these investments was buying some real estate near Stratford in 1605, which soon doubled in value. It seemed Shakespeare didn’t mind being absent from his family – he only returned home during Lent when all the theatres were closed. It is thought that during the 1590s he wrote the majority of his sonnets. This was a time of prolific writing and his plays developed a good deal of interest and controversy. His early plays were mainly comedies (e.g. Much Ado about Nothing, A Midsummer’s Night Dream) and histories (e.g. Henry V)

By the early Seventeenth Century, Shakespeare had begun to write plays in the genre of tragedy. These plays, such as Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear, often hinge on some fatal error or flaw in the lead character and provide fascinating insights into the darker aspects of human nature. These later plays are considered Shakespeare’s finest achievements.

Some academics, known as the “Oxfords,” claim that Shakespeare never actually wrote any plays. They contend Shakespeare was actually just a successful businessman, and for authorship suggest names such as Edward de Vere. Nevertheless, there is evidence of Shakespeare in theatres as he received a variety of criticism from people such as Ben Johnson and Robert Greene. 

His plays have retained an enduring appeal throughout history and the world. Some of his most popular plays include:

  • Twelfth Night
  • Henry V
  • Romeo and Juliet
  • Macbeth
  • Hamlet
  • King Lear
  • Othello

---------------------------------------***----------------------------------------
“All the world’s a stage,
and all the men and women merely players:
they have their exits and their entrances;
and one man in his time plays many parts…”

—As You Like It, Act II.

----------------------------------------***----------------------------------------


Shakespeare died in 1616; it is not clear how he died, and numerous suggestions have been put forward. John Ward, the local vicar of Holy Trinity Church in Stratford (where Shakespeare is buried), writes in a diary account that:

“Shakespeare, Drayton, and Ben Jonson had a merry meeting and it seems drank too hard, for Shakespeare died of a fever there contracted.”

In 1616, there was an outbreak of typhus (“The new fever”) which may have been the cause. The average life expectancy of someone born in London, England in the Sixteenth Century was about 35 years old, Shakespeare died age 52.