Shakespeare's life

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William Shakespeare (National Portrait Gallery), Chandos portrait, artist and authenticity unconfirmed.

Most biographical information about William Shakespeare's life derives from public instead of private documents: vital records, real estate and tax records, lawsuits, records of payments, and references to Shakespeare and his works in printed and hand-written texts. The historical record documents that Shakespeare was baptised on 26 April 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire, England, in the Holy Trinity Church; at age 18 married Anne Hathaway with whom he had three children; and was an actor, playwright, poet, and theatre entrepreneur in London. Though more is known about Shakespeare's life than most other Elizabethan and Jacobean writers, because of his social status as a commoner, the low esteem in which his profession was held and the general disinterest of the time in the personal lives of writers, few personal biographical facts about Shakespeare survive.[1] Nevertheless, hundreds of biographies have been written and more continue to be, most of which rely on inferences and the historical context of the 70 or so hard facts recorded about Shakespeare the man, a technique that sometimes leads to embellishment or unwarranted interpretation of the documented record.[2]

Early life[edit]

The parish register entry of Shakespeare's christening in the Holy Trinity Church reads, in Latin: "Gulielmus filius Johannes Shakspere" (William son of John Shakespeare).

William Shakespeare [3] was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, a market town of around 1,500 residents about 100 miles (160 km) northwest of London. The town was a centre for the slaughter, marketing, and distribution of sheep, as well as for hide tanning and wool trading. The exact date of his birth is not known but has been traditionally taken to be April 23, 1564, which is also the Feast Day of Saint George, the patron saint of England. Shakespeare's baptismal record was dated 26 April 1564. He was the first son and the first surviving child in the family; two earlier children, Joan and Margaret, had died early.[4]

John Shakespeare's house, believed to be Shakespeare's birthplace, now belonging to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

He was the son of John Shakespeare, a successful glover originally from Snitterfield, and of Mary Arden, the youngest daughter of John's father's landlord. The Ardens were members of the local gentry. The couple married around 1557 and lived on Henley Street when Shakespeare was born in a house now known as Shakespeare's Birthplace. They had eight children: Joan (baptised 15 September 1558, died in infancy), Margaret (bap. 2 December 1562 – buried 30 April 1563), William, Gilbert (bap. 13 October 1566 – bur. 2 February 1612), Joan (bap. 15 April 1569 – bur. 4 November 1646), Anne (bap. 28 September 1571 – bur. 4 April 1579), Richard (bap. 11 March 1574 – bur. 4 February 1613) and Edmund (bap. 3 May 1580 – bur. London, 31 December 1607).[5]

Shakespeare's father, prosperous at the time of William's birth, was appointed to several municipal offices and served as an alderman in 1565, culminating in a term as bailiff in 1568, the chief magistrate of the town council before falling on hard times for reasons unclear to historians beginning in 1576, when his son William was 12.[6] He was prosecuted for unlicensed dealing in wool and usury, and mortgaged and subsequently lost some lands he had obtained through his wife's inheritance that would have been inherited by Shakespeare. After four years of non-attendance at council meetings, he was finally replaced as burgess in 1586.

Before being allowed to perform for the general public, touring playing companies were required to present their play before the town council to be licensed. Players first acted in Stratford in 1568, the year that John Shakespeare was bailiff.[7] Before Shakespeare turned 20, the Stratford town council had paid for at least 18 performances by no fewer than 12 playing companies.[8]

Education[edit]

A drawing from 1708, which was claimed to be a portrait of Anne Hathaway

Most Shakespeare biographers qualify his attendance at the King's New School in Stratford with phrases such as "almost certainly" because all attendance records for the time have been lost, but Shakespeare's works exhibit detailed knowledge of the grammar school curriculum and none of the university life that is evident in university-educated playwrights such as Marlowe.[9] Edward VI, the king honoured in the school's name, had in the mid-16th century diverted money from the dissolution of the monasteries to endow a network of grammar schools to "propagate good literature... throughout the kingdom", but the school had originally been set up by the Guild of the Holy Cross, a church institution in the town, early in the 15th century.[10] It was further endowed by a Catholic chaplain in 1482. It was free to male children in Stratford and it is presumed that the young Shakespeare attended,[11] although this cannot be confirmed because the school's records have not survived. Grammar schools varied in quality during the Elizabethan era, but the grammar curriculum was standardised by royal decree throughout England,[12][13] and the school would have provided an intensive education in Latin grammar and literature—"as good a formal literary training as had any of his contemporaries"[14] As a part of this education, the students were exposed to Latin plays that students performed to better understand the language. One of Shakespeare's earliest plays, The Comedy of Errors, bears similarity to Plautus's Menaechmi, which could well have been performed at the school. There is no evidence that he received a university education.

Marriage[edit]

On 28 November 1582 at Temple Grafton near Stratford, the 18-year-old Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway, who was 26. Two neighbours of Hathaway, Fulk Sandalls and John Richardson, posted bond ensuring that no legal impediments existed to the union. The ceremony may have been arranged in some haste; their first daughter, Susanna, was born on 26 May 1583, six months later.

Twin children, a son, Hamnet, and a daughter, Judith, were baptised on 2 February 1585. Hamnet died in 1596, Susanna in 1649 and Judith in 1662.

Lost years[edit]

After the birth of the twins, save for being party to a lawsuit to recover part of his mother's estate which had been mortgaged and lost by default, Shakespeare left no historical traces until he is mentioned as part of the London theatrical scene. Indeed, the seven-year period between 1585 (when his twin children were born) and 1592 (when Robert Greene called him an "upstart crow") is known as Shakespeare's "lost years" because no evidence has survived to show exactly where he was or why he left Stratford for London.[15] However, it is certain that before Greene’s attack Shakespeare had acquired a reputation as an actor and burgeoning playwright.[16]

Anecdotal traditions and theories[edit]

Shakespeare Before Thomas Lucy, a typical Victorian illustration of the poaching anecdote

Several theories have been put forth to account for his life during this time, and a number of stories are given by his earliest biographers, including that Shakespeare fled Stratford after he got in trouble for poaching deer from local squire Thomas Lucy, or that he wrote a scurrilous ballad about him. Shakespeare's first biographer Nicholas Rowe recorded both these tales, stating that he wrote the ballad after being prosecuted for poaching by Lucy. Rowe later passed on a story that Shakespeare minded the horses for theatre patrons in London. There is no documentary evidence to support any of these stories and they all were recorded only after Shakespeare's death.[17]

In his Brief Lives, written 1669-1696, John Aubrey reported that Shakespeare had been a "schoolmaster in the country" on the authority of William Beeston, son of Christopher Beeston, who had acted with Shakespeare in Every Man in His Humour (1598) as a fellow member of the Lord Chamberlain's Men.[18] In 1985 E. A. J. Honigmann proposed that Shakespeare acted as a schoolmaster in Lancashire,[19] on the evidence found in the 1581 will of a member of the Hoghton family, referring to plays and play-clothes and asking his kinsman Thomas Hesketh to take care of "...William Shakeshaft, now dwelling with me...". Honigmann proposed that John Cottam, Shakespeare's reputed last schoolmaster, recommended the young man. "Shakeshaft" was, however, a common name in Lancashire at the time. A better documented, but still far from conclusive, link was established some 20 years later in Shakespeare's life: in the will of London goldsmith Thomas Savage, Shakespeare's trustee at the Globe Theatre, one of the beneficiaries was Hesketh's widow.[20][21] Scope for further speculation is offered by records showing that Lord Strange's Men, a company of players linked with Shakespeare's early career in London, regularly performed in the area and would have been well known to the Hoghtons and the Heskeths.[22] This would provide a neat explanation of Shakespeare's arrival on the London theatre scene when the troupe returned to the city, but no evidence to support this notion has been found.[23]

An alternative theory is that Shakespeare may have joined Queen Elizabeth's Men in 1587, after the sudden death of actor William Knell in a fight while on a tour which later took in Stratford. As Samuel Schoenbaum puts it, "When the Queen's Men stopped in Stratford in 1587, they were short a man, William Knell having been lately killed in a brawl with a fellow actor. Maybe Shakespeare took Knell's place and thus found his way to London and stage-land."[24] Shakespeare's father John, as High Bailiff of Stratford, was responsible for the acceptance and welfare of visiting theatrical troupes.[25] However there is no direct evidence of Shakespeare's membership of the Queen's Men, so it remains speculation.

London and theatrical career[edit]

Shakespeare's signature, from his will

As a married man Shakespeare was ineligible to attend university and debarred from taking up a formal indentured apprenticeship in a trade with an established guild. But acting companies had so-called 'apprenticeships' which had much looser entry requirements.[26] This is a possible clue to Shakespeare's route into the profession.

Most scholars believe that by 1592 Shakespeare was a playwright in London, and that he had enough of a reputation for Robert Greene to denounce him in the posthumous Greenes, Groats-worth of Witte, bought with a million of Repentance as "an upstart crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tygers hart wrapt in a Players hyde, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blanke verse as the best of you: and being an absolute Johannes factotum, is in his owne conceit the onely Shake-scene in a countrey." (The italicized line parodies the phrase, "Oh, tiger's heart wrapped in a woman's hide" which Shakespeare wrote in Henry VI, part 3.)[27]

By late 1594, Shakespeare was part-owner of a playing company, known as the Lord Chamberlain's Men—like others of the period, the company took its name from its aristocratic sponsor, in this case the Lord Chamberlain. The group became popular enough that after the death of Elizabeth I and the coronation of James I (1603), the new monarch adopted the company and it became known as the King's Men, after the death of their previous sponsor. The works are written within the frame of reference of the career actor, rather than a member of the learned professions or from scholarly book-learning.[28]

Shakespeare's coat of arms

The Shakespeare family had long sought armorial bearings and the status of gentleman. William's father John, a bailiff of Stratford with a wife of good birth, was eligible for a coat of arms and applied to the College of Heralds, but evidently his worsening financial status prevented him from obtaining it. The application was successfully renewed in 1596, most probably at the instigation of William himself as he was the more prosperous at the time. The motto "Non sanz droict" ("Not without right") was attached to the application, but it was not used on any armorial displays that have survived. The theme of social status and restoration runs deep through the plots of many of his plays, and at times Shakespeare seems to mock his own longing.[29]

By 1596, Shakespeare had moved to the parish of St. Helen's, Bishopsgate, and by 1598 he appeared at the top of a list of actors in Every Man in His Humour written by Ben Jonson. He is also listed among the actors in Jonson's Sejanus: His Fall. Also by 1598, his name began to appear on the title pages of his plays, presumably as a selling point.

There is a tradition that Shakespeare, in addition to writing many of the plays his company enacted and concerned with business and financial details as part-owner of the company, continued to act in various parts, such as the ghost of Hamlet's father, Adam in As You Like It, and the Chorus in Henry V.[30]

He appears to have moved across the River Thames to Southwark sometime around 1599. In 1604, Shakespeare acted as a matchmaker for his landlord's daughter. Legal documents from 1612, when the case was brought to trial, show that Shakespeare was a tenant of Christopher Mountjoy, a Huguenot tire-maker (a maker of ornamental headdresses) in the northwest of London in 1604. Mountjoy's apprentice Stephen Bellott wanted to marry Mountjoy's daughter. Shakespeare was enlisted as a go-between, to help negotiate the details of the dowry. On Shakespeare's assurances, the couple married. Eight years later, Bellott sued his father-in-law for delivering only part of the dowry. During the 'Bellott v. Mountjoy' case, Shakespeare was called to testify, but said he remembered little of the circumstances.

Business affairs[edit]

New Place, Shakespeare's home, sketched in 1737 by George Vertue from a description

By the early 17th century, Shakespeare had become very prosperous. Most of his money went to secure his family's position in Stratford. Shakespeare himself seems to have lived in rented accommodation while in London. According to John Aubrey, he travelled to Stratford to stay with his family for a period each year.[31] Shakespeare grew rich enough to buy the second-largest house in Stratford, New Place, which he acquired in 1597 for £60 from William Underhill. The Stratford chamberlain's accounts in 1598 record a sale of stone to the council from "Mr Shaxpere", which may have been related to remodelling work on the newly purchased house.[32] The purchase was thrown into doubt when evidence emerged that Underhill, who died shortly after the sale, had been poisoned by his oldest son, but the sale was confirmed by the new heir Hercules Underhill when he came of age in 1602.[33]

In 1598 the local council ordered an investigation into the hoarding of grain, as there had been a run of bad harvests causing a steep increase in prices. Speculators were acquiring excess quantities in the hope of profiting from scarcity. The survey includes Shakespeare's household, recording that he possessed ten quarters of malt. This has often been interpreted as evidence that he was listed as a hoarder. Others argue that Shakespeare's holding was not unusual. According to Mark Eccles, "the schoolmaster, Mr. Aspinall, had eleven quarters, and the vicar, Mr. Byfield, had six of his own and four of his sister's".[32] Samuel Schoenbaum and B.R. Lewis, however, suggest that he purchased the malt as an investment, since he later sued a neighbour, Philip Rogers, for an unpaid debt for twenty bushels of malt.[32] Bruce Boehrer argues that the sale to Rogers, over six installments, was a kind of "wholesale to retail" arrangement, since Rogers was an apothecary who would have used the malt as raw material for his products.[32] Boehrer comments that,

Shakespeare had established himself in Stratford as the keeper of a great house, the owner of large gardens and granaries, a man with generous stores of barley which one could purchase, at need, for a price. In short, he had become an entrepreneur specialising in real estate and agricultural products, an aspect of his identity further enhanced by his investments in local farmland and farm produce.[32]

Shakespeare's biggest acquisitions were land holdings and a lease on tithes in Old Stratford, to the north of the town. He bought a share in the lease on tithes for £440 in 1605, giving him income from grain and hay, as well as from wool, lamb and other items in Stratford town. He purchased 107 acres of farmland for £320 in 1607, making two local farmers his tenants. Boehrer suggests he was pursuing an "overall investment strategy aimed at controlling as much as possible of the local grain market", a strategy that was highly successful.[32] In 1614 Shakespeare's profits were potentially threatened by a dispute over enclosure, when local businessman William Combe attempted to take control of common land in Welcombe, part of the area over which Shakespeare had leased tithes. The town clerk Thomas Greene, who opposed the enclosure, recorded a conversation with Shakespeare about the issue. Shakespeare said he believed the enclosure would not go through, a prediction that turned out to be correct.[34] Greene also recorded that Shakespeare had told Greene's brother that "I was not able to bear the enclosing of Welcombe". It is unclear from the context whether Shakespeare is speaking of his own feelings, or referring to Thomas's opposition.[35]

Shakespeare's last major purchase was in March 1613, when he bought an apartment in a gatehouse in the former Blackfriars priory;[36] The Gatehouse was near Blackfriars theatre, which Shakespeare's company used as their winter playhouse from 1608. The purchase was probably an investment, as Shakespeare was living mainly in Stratford by this time, and the apartment was rented out to one John Robinson. Robinson may be the same man recorded as a labourer in Stratford, in which case it is possible he worked for Shakespeare. He may be the same John Robinson who was one of the witnesses to Shakespeare's will.[37]

Later years and death[edit]

Rowe was the first biographer to pass down the tradition that Shakespeare retired to Stratford some years before his death;[38] but retirement from all work was uncommon at that time,[39] and Shakespeare continued to visit London. In 1612 he was called as a witness in the Bellott v. Mountjoy case.[40] A year later he was back in London to make the Gatehouse purchase.

In June 1613 Shakespeare's daughter Susanna was slandered by John Lane, a local man who claimed she had caught gonorrhea from a lover. Susanna and her husband Dr John Hall sued for slander. Lane failed to appear and was convicted. From November 1614 Shakespeare was in London for several weeks with his son-in-law Hall.[41]

In the last few weeks of Shakespeare's life, the man who was to marry his younger daughter Judith — a tavern-keeper named Thomas Quiney — was charged in the local church court with "fornication". A woman named Margaret Wheeler had given birth to a child and claimed it was Quiney's; she and the child both died soon after. Quiney was thereafter disgraced, and Shakespeare revised his will to ensure that Judith's interest in his estate was protected from possible malfeasance on Quiney's part.

Shakespeare died on 23 April 1616, at the age of 52.[42] He died within a month of signing his will, a document which he begins by describing himself as being in “perfect health”. No extant contemporary source explains how or why he died. After half a century had passed, John Ward, the vicar of Stratford, wrote in his notebook: “Shakespeare, Drayton and Ben Jonson had a merry meeting and, it seems, drank too hard, for Shakespeare died of a fever there contracted.”[43][44] It is certainly possible he caught a fever after such a meeting, for Shakespeare knew Jonson and Drayton. Of the tributes that started to come from fellow authors, one refers to his relatively early death: “We wondered, Shakespeare, that thou went'st so soon/From the world’s stage to the grave’s tiring room.”[45]

Shakespeare was survived by his wife Anne Hathaway and by two daughters, Susanna and Judith. His son Hamnet had died in 1596. His last surviving descendant was his granddaughter Elizabeth Hall, daughter of Susanna and John Hall. There are no direct descendants of the poet and playwright alive today, but the diarist John Aubrey recalls in his Brief Lives that William Davenant, his godson, was "contented" to be believed Shakespeare's actual son. Davenant's mother was the wife of a vintner at the Crown Tavern in Oxford, on the road between London and Stratford, where Shakespeare would stay when travelling between his home and the capital.[46]

Shakespeare's gravestone.

Shakespeare is buried in the chancel of Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon. He was granted the honour of burial in the chancel not on account of his fame as a playwright but for purchasing a share of the tithe of the church for £440 (a considerable sum of money at the time). A monument on the wall nearest his grave, probably placed by his family,[47] features a bust showing Shakespeare posed in the act of writing. Each year on his claimed birthday, a new quill pen is placed in the writing hand of the bust. He is believed to have written the epitaph on his tombstone.[48]

Shakespeare genealogy[edit]

See also[edit]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ Bate 1998, p. 4; Southworth 2000, p. 5; Wells 1997, pp. 4–5
  2. ^ Holderness 2011, p. 19.
  3. ^ also spelled Shakspere, Shaksper and Shake-speare, as spelling in Elizabethan times was not fixed and absolute. See Spelling of Shakespeare's name.
  4. ^ Potter 2012, 1, 10.
  5. ^ Chambers 1930, II:1-2.
  6. ^ Schoone-Jongen 2008, 13
  7. ^ Potter 2012, 15.
  8. ^ Schoone-Jongen 2008, 15.
  9. ^ Potter 2012, 48; Bate 1998, 8; Schoenbaum 1987, 62–63.
  10. ^ Bate, Jonathan (2008). "Stratford Grammar". Soul of the Age: the life, mind and world of William Shakespeare. London: Viking. p. 81. ISBN 978-0-670-91482-1. 
  11. ^ Honan, Park. Shakespeare: A Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999, 43.
  12. ^ Baldwin 1944, 179-80, 183; Cressy 1975, 28, 29.
  13. ^ Cressy, David (1975), Education in Tudor and Stuart England, New York: St Martin's Press, ISBN 0-7131-5817-4, OCLC 2148260, pp. 28-9.
  14. ^ Baldwin 1944, 117; 663.
  15. ^ Shakespeare: The Lost Years by E. A. J. Honigmann, Manchester University Press; 2nd edition, 1999, page 1.
  16. ^ Ackroyd, Peter. Shakespeare the Biography. Chatto & Windus, 2005, pp. 97, 187; Duncan-Jones, Katherine. Shakespeare an Ungentle Life. Methuen Drama, 2010, p. 48.
  17. ^ "The Lost Years," Shakespeare Time line, accessed 8 November 2006.
  18. ^ Schoenbaum, 1987, pp. 110–111.
  19. ^ Honigmann, E. A. J. (1985). Shakespeare: the lost years. Manchester, England: Manchester University Press. pp. 41–48. ISBN 0-7190-1743-2. 
  20. ^ Hotson, Leslie (1949). Shakespeare's Sonnets Dated. New York: Oxford University Press. OCLC 531743921. , quoted in Schoenbaum, S. (1991). Shakespeare's Lives. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. p. 544. ISBN 0-19-818618-5. 
  21. ^ Michael Wood "In Search of Shakespeare" (2003) BBC Books, ISBN 0-563-52141-4 p.80
  22. ^ Chambers, E.K (1944). Shakespearean gleanings. OCLC 463278779. , quoted in Schoenbaum (1991: 535–6)
  23. ^ Schoenbaum (1991: 535–6)
  24. ^ S. Schoenbaum, Shakespeare, the Globe & the World, Oxford University Press, 1979, p.43.
  25. ^ Pierce, Patricia, "Shakespeare and the Forgotten Heroes", History Today, Volume: 56. Issue: 7, July 2006, p.3.
  26. ^ English Professional Theatre 1530-1660 by G. Wickham, H. Berry and W. Ingram, Cambridge U.P.; 2000, page 155. "as stage-players had no formal recognition as a Guild, this sort of training (was not) hedged around with the constraints of age and marital status imposed by the City on more formal kinds of apprenticeship"
  27. ^ Schoenbaum, Samuel (1977). "The upstart crow". A Compact Documentary Life. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 151–158. ISBN 0-19-502211-4. 
  28. ^ Neilson, William (1915). "The Baconian question". The Facts about Shakespeare. New York: Macmillan. pp. 164–165. OCLC 358453. "Records amply establish the identity between Shakespeare the actor and the writer. ... The extent of observation and knowledge in the plays is, indeed, remarkable but it is not accompanied by any indication of thorough scholarship, or a detailed connection with any profession outside of the theater..." 
  29. ^ Greenblatt (2004: "The Dream of Restoration", 76–86)
  30. ^ Article on Shakespeare's Globe Theatre Zee News on Shakespeare, accessed 23 January 2007.
  31. ^ Dobson & Wells (ed), The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare, Oxford University Press, 2001, p.28.
  32. ^ a b c d e f Boehrer, Bruce, Environmental Degradation in Jacobean Drama, Cambridge University Press, 2013, pp.208-9.
  33. ^ Schoenbaum, Samuel, Shakespeare: A Compact Documentary Life, Oxford University Press, 1987, p.234.
  34. ^ Dobson & Wells (ed), The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare, Oxford University Press, 2001, p.128.
  35. ^ See Schoenbaum, S, William Shakespeare: A Compact Documentary Life, p. 284-5. Schoenbaum concludes that "any attempt to interpret the passage is guesswork, and no more". It has also been suggested that the word "bear" (spelled "beare" in the original) was intended for "bar" - meaning that Greene would not be able to stop the enclosure. See Lois Potter, The Life of William Shakespeare: A Critical Biography, John Wiley, 2012, P.404. Palmer, A & Palmer V, Who's Who in Shakespeare's England, Palgrave Macmillan, 1999, p.96.
  36. ^ Schoenbaum, 1977, pp. 272–274
  37. ^ Pogue, Kate, Shakespeare's Friends, Greenwood, 2006, pp.42-3.
  38. ^ Ackroyd, p. 476.
  39. ^ Honan, pp. 382–383.
  40. ^ Honan, p. 326.; Ackroyd, pp. 462–464.
  41. ^ Honan, 387.
  42. ^ His age and the date are inscribed in Latin on his funerary monument: AETATIS 53 DIE 23 APR
  43. ^ Schoenbaum, Samuel. Shakespeare’s Lives. Oxford University Press. 1991. ISBN 9780198186182. Page 78.
  44. ^ Rowse, A. L. William Shakespeare; A Biography. Harper & Row. 1963. Page 453.
  45. ^ Kinney, Arthur F., editor. The Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare. Oxford University Press. 2012. ISBN 9780199566105. Page 11. Verse by James Mabbe printed in the First Folio.
  46. ^ Aubrey, John (1680). "William Davenant, Knight". Brief Lives. London. 
  47. ^ Cultural Shakespeare: Essays in the Shakespeare Myth by Graham Holderness, Univ of Hertfordshire Press, 2001, pages 152-54.
  48. ^ Dowdall, John (1693). Traditionary anecdotes of Shakespeare: Collected in Warwickshire, in the year MDCXCIII (quoted in William Shakespeare: A Documentary Life by Samuel Schoenbaum (1975) ed.). 

References[edit]

External links[edit]