William Shakespeare was born in April, 1564, in Stratford-upon-Avon (the exact date is debatable, estimates range range from the 20th to the 26th). He had 5 younger siblings, but one, Ann, passed away at the age of 8. He had three children with his wife, Anne Hathaway, named Susanna, Hamnet and Judith. He is commonly referred to as the world’s greatest playwright, or the “Bard of Avon”. Shakespeare died in 1616, in April, possibly around the time of his birthday. He was buried 2 days later, in his birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon.
Shakespeare is often considered the world’s writer. He was a playwright, a poet, a theatre administrator and an actor. He produced some of the most important plays, sonnets and poems the world has ever seen. He is also responsible for creating many English words (ie: zany, caked and rant). Shakespeare also built the Globe Theatre.
What plays did he write?
William Shakespeare has written 37 plays, being: 17 comedies, 10 tragedies, and 10 histories. He was also the co-author to “The Two Noble Kinsmen”, and allegedly 2 lost plays (Cardenio and Love’s Labour’s Won). Of these plays, his most famous are Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth (all tragedies).
Artist Delacroix's impression of Hamlet coming across the king, deciding whether or not to kill him.
Romeo and Juliet
An artist's impression of Romeo and Juliet, on the cover of the printed play.
Artist Henry Fuseli's impression of Lady Macbeth.
Shakespeare lived from the years 1564-1616, during the Elizabethan Era. He wrote most of his plays between 1589-1613.
Shakespeare’s audience ranged from the poor to the rich. People came from all through town to see his plays, and would pay a lot of money for it. The poorer people would pay a penny (which was, at the time, a lot of money for a poorer person) to stand near to the front to watch a play. The richer people would pay up to half a crown to watch, and they would be seated in the upper galleries. The audience was louder and more aggressive than theatre audiences today, yelling and shoving. Amongst the audience would be hecklers and gangs, causing as much trouble as possible.
What was society like at the time?
Shakespeare lived in a time called “The Elizabethan Era”, as Queen Elizabeth I was on the throne. I this time, life was simple, and often a struggle. People’s lives were short, as a result of a combination of terrible diseases, poor hygiene and little medicine. Religion was an extremely important part of their society, so much so that people who did not attend church were fined. Women had very few rights at this time, and were generally only given the jobs of cooking and cleaning.
Shakespeare was born and raised in Stratford-upon-Avon, but in 1585 he moved to London, to pursue his career as an actor. He lived there until he seems to have retired, in 1613, and then returned to Stratford-upon-Avon. He died there, three years later.
Where are his plays set?
Shakespeare’s plays were all set in real life locations, which were more often than not, quite exotic. He almost never wrote plays set in Britain. Some common locations are Rome, Italy and Venice.
Shakespeare most likely wrote his plays because he enjoyed writing, and realised that he was skilled at it. He enjoyed acting in the plays he wrote, and had an interest in theatre even before he first wrote.
Why do we still study him?
People still study Shakespeare, even today, simply because he was good at what he did. His plays portray a range of human emotions, from love to sorrow to anger, and the topics he covered are still relevant today. His plays are simply entertaining. They show us how writing and theatre worked in his time, and how people viewed the world. The reasons why Shakespeare wrote his many plays are intriguing, and it is interesting to discover new things about his life and his plays. Shakespeare is, to this day, a household name because he plays are educational, thought provoking, relevant, and above all, entertaining.