This article gives an overview of Shakespeare’s life
William Shakespeare’s background
William Shakespeare’s father, John, was a man without any formal education other than a few years in a public school. He made something of himself in the world, though, running his own business as a glove maker and becoming an alderman in the town council of Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire.
John Shakespeare married Mary Arden, who had no formal education at all, likley in 1556. Young William was their third child, and they were to go on to have five more. The family lived in a townhouse right in the middle of Stratford.
Like his father, William made something of himself in the world in spite of the lack of formal education, which amounted, as was the case with his father, to a few years in a public school.
That wasn’t the end of his education, however, and we know from his plays that, although self-taught, William Shakespeare was very knowledgeable about history, geography, philosophy, and some areas of science. He obviously read widely, and had an interest in translations of the latest books from Europe.
It is thought that after Shakespeare left school at around the age of fourteen, he went to work with his father, making gloves.
Adult Shakespeare’s life
Around 1587, leaving his family in Stratford, Shakespeare went to London. Shakespeare worked in London for twenty-five years, commuting between London and Stratford.
By the middle of his life, William Shakespeare was famous. His plays were not only being performed in the theatre but also at court, not only for Queen Elizabeth but also for her successor, King James 1. One of his plays, Troilus and Cressida, was written for, and performed at, Oxford University. He became prosperous and bought New Place, one of the finest houses in Stratford.
He retired to Stratford in 1612 and lived quietly, enjoying family and friends, and collaborating with younger playwrights on plays. He died a rich man at fifty-two years old, the equivalent of the modern day multi-millionaire.
We think of Shakespeare as the great poet of our culture, the great dramatist, the top writer in the history of English language literature. But during his lifetime London was full of writers, some more highly regarded than he was. It’s sometimes forgotten that Shakespeare was a great entrepreneur: he built and managed theatres and companies of actors, and that’s where he made the good living he and his family enjoyed. As far as he was concerned his playwriting was a job that had to be done to fill the theatres every day.
The second half of the sixteenth century and the first decade of the seventeenth is often referred to as the golden age of English drama. That’s because theatre was very popular during that time, and like television today, it had a voracious appetite. Consequently, a great number of talented writers worked furiously to satisfy that appetite for plays. Shakespeare became one of those writers.
There was fierce competition among the twenty theatres so scores of writers were kept busy. It’s hard to imagine today how fast they wrote. Playwrights today may produce a play once a year but the Elizabethan writers had to write much faster than that to cope with the demand and fight the competition.
At least thirty-seven of Shakespeare’s plays have survived and there are three more that are thought to be by or partly by Shakespeare, bringing the total to about forty. There is at least one Shakespeare play, Cardenio, often referred to in documents, that has been lost. Some scholars argue that there are about thirty more lost plays.
That’s our brief piece on Shakespeare’s life. Check out the links below for more detailed info on each aspect of Shakespeare’s life.