William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon on a date that is widely acknowledged to be 23 April 1564. His father John Shakespeare was a glove-maker, and his mother Mary Arden was a local heiress. Although there is no evidence to support the idea, it is thought that Shakespeare probably attended the grammar school in Stratford, where he would have been given a strong classical education.

He married Anne Hathaway (a local woman who was eight years older than him) in November 1582. Anne was already pregnant at the time and gave birth six months later to their eldest child, Susanna. In January 1585 Anne gave birth to twins, Judith and Hamnet.

It is thought that shortly after the births of the twins Shakespeare left Stratford for London. Rumour has it that this was the result of him being caught poaching deer. Once in London, Shakespeare began to establish himself as an actor and a playwright.

Shakespeare didn’t publish his plays himself, they were written down and published by other actors and associates after they had been performed, so it is dif cult to know in which order he wrote them. However, it is most likely that his rst play was the comedy The Two Gentlemen of Verona, closely followed by The Taming of the Shrew. However, after writing these two Italian-based comedies, Shakespeare decided to turn his attentions to English History.

It is now thought that the rst history play Shakespeare wrote was The First Part of the Contention of the Two Famous Houses of York and Lancaster in 1590, closely followed by The True Tragedy of Richard Duke of York and the Good King Henry the Sixth in 1591. These are the plays that eventually became known as Henry VI: Parts Two and Three. Due to their success with audiences, in 1592 he wrote Henry VI: Part One as a prequel, before completing the cycle with Richard III in 1592–3.

The First Tetralogy (as this history cycle became known) undoubtedly contains some of Shakespeare’s earliest work as
a playwright; the raw and earthy dialogue of the Henry VI plays suggest a writer gradually exploring and developing his craft. By the time he wrote The Second Tetralogy, which charts the earlier cycle of English history, covering the reigns of Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V, his writing style had become more poetic and complex. But in Richard III we begin to see Shakespeare constructing a psychologically complex central character, awed yet charismatic, perhaps paving the way for future Shakespearean tragic heroes such as Hamlet and Macbeth.

Shakespeare went on to write a total of 38 plays, not including collaborations with other playwrights, as well as 154 sonnets and four narrative poems.

He died on 23 April 1616 at his house in Stratford-upon-Avon.

William Shakespeare