Who is the greatest writer to have ever lived? Most people would agree that the answer to that question is William Shakespeare. There is, however, no doubt that Shakespeare was the most popular playwright, writer, and even actor of his time. What was Shakespeare's life like? Although there are not many records of his private life, his professional life was full of events, accolades, and controversy.
What Shakespeare achieved in his life was something of a marvel. But where did it all begin? It all started in about 1550 when a man named John Shakespeare moved to Stratford-upon-Avon from the nearby village of Snitterfield in central England, where he started a glove-making business. John married Mary Arden seven years later. William Shakespeare was the first son of John and Mary and was baptized on April 26, 1564. A book titled "The Age of Shakespeare" by Laroque states, "Although the exact date of William's birth is not known, his birthday is celebrated on 23 April" (Laroque, page 16). This is evidence of the lack of records of Shakespeare's private life.
William grew up with a big family in a crowded house. He had three brothers (Gilbert, Richard, and Edmund) and two sisters (Joan and Anne). In his early years he attended the local grammar school where he learned Latin, Greek, and other subjects that would become important to his career as a writer. Shakespeare would memorize drama, poetry, and history during his long school days. After secondary school William did not continue on to a university. Instead, he became thoroughly self-educated. This comes as a surprise to many people because Shakespeare is widely regarded as a genius, yet he did not even go to college. As a descendant of a farmer, Shakespeare's life was filled with rural traditions, and this would influence his later works as there were frequent references to nature.
At the age of eighteen Shakespeare married a woman named Anne Hathaway. Anne was eight years older than William and was already expecting her first child which was a bit controversial. Susanna Shakespeare was baptized on May 26, 1583. Two years later Anne gave birth to twins, Hamnet and Judith, baptized on February 2, 1585. Hamnet died at the age of 11 and was buried on August 11, 1596. This was an extremely significant event in Shakespeare's life because he became somewhat depressed by the loss of only son. With a new family to support William traveled to London, the capital city, in order to find work.
After the birth of his twins there is a gap of about eight years in Shakespeare's life in which there are no recorded documents of any events in his life. But by 1592 he established himself in the capital city. During this time, with Queen Elizabeth I ruling, there was a huge increase in the population of London. It became overpopulated, polluted and filthy. "London was a city of seething activity, spectacle, and theater" (Laroque, page 41). It is not known when Shakespeare began writing or even when he took up an interest in drama, but there was evidence of his success in his career by a pamphlet written by a playwright Robert Greene in 1592. Greene attacked Shakespeare with the pamphlet, calling him "an upstart crow, beautified with our feathers" (Laroque, page 48). This showed that Shakespeare was well-known enough to create a rivalry with a university-educated playwright.
In 1594 Shakespeare joined a company called Lord Chamberlain's Men including popular actors Richard Burbage and William Kemp. Performances of Shakespeare's "The Comedy of Errors" were performed for the court during the Christmas season. His plays were quite popular from early on. "Audiences loved Will's plays. They squeezed into the Theatre with their food, drink, and rowdy chatter" (Aliki, page 22). When William's rival, Christopher Marlowe, died in a brawl there was no one that could challenge him and his work. Shakespeare wrote one brilliant play after another and helped his company flourish. Sooner or later even other companies started performing his plays.
For two years the Black Plague caused all of the playhouses to close down as thousands fell ill and died. During this time Shakespeare wrote two poems and dedicated them to the Earl of Southampton who then became William's patron. Later, the Lord Chamberlain's Men used the timber from their old Theatre to build the Globe in 1599. It opened to instant success. It was so successful that it drove away the nearby Rose Company to build another playhouse. Shakespeare wrote his greatest plays during the next several years. His tragedies reflected his mood at different times. Some were sad, some were dark, etc. William's plays and the Globe (he was a shareholder) made him very wealthy. He bought the second-finest house in Stratford-upon-Avon for his family and invested in other properties. After the Globe burned down from a stage cannon accident and was rebuilt even better within a year Shakespeare settled back on the countryside in Stratford-Upon-Avon. After the death of Queen Elizabeth I, King James I became a patron of William and his "players" because he admired them. They became The King's Men. Shakespeare wrote his last plays in the quiet of Stratford. He died on his 52nd birthday (April 23, 1616) and was buried in the Holy Trinity Church.
William Shakespeare wrote at least 37 plays, 154 sonnets, and 2 narrative poems. He lived an average life as a child and received an average education. But his love of language and unprecedented skills in the art of the theatre enabled him to produce a range of unrivaled works. Shakespeare was always curious about the world he lived in and looked back to scenes he remembered from his childhood to inspire some of his work. His success as an actor, playwright, and writer is evident because, today, we read his plays in school, see them in movies, and even write essays about them. Today, Shakespeare is so influential that everyone learns about him at some point in their life.