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William Shakespeare



William Shakespeare portrait
William Shakespeare attributed to John Taylor

Early Life

Very little is known about William Shakespeare's childhood. He was born in the English city of Stratford-upon-Avon about 100 miles northwest of London in 1564. William's father was a successful leather merchant who once held the public position of alderman. He was the third of six children including two older sisters and three younger brothers.

Growing up in Stratford-upon-Avon William lived in a house with his big family on Henley Street. He went to the local grammar school where he learned about poetry, history, Greek, and Latin.

When William turned eighteen he married Anne Hathaway. Anne was eight years older than William. They soon had a family including a daughter named Susanna and twins named Hamnet and Judith.

London and the Lost Years

After William and Anne had the twins, there are no records of the next several years of his life. Historians often refer to these years as the "lost years." There are lots of theories and stories about what William was doing during this time. In any event, he and his family eventually ended up in London where William was working at the theatre.

Lord Chamberlain's Men

William was part of an acting company called Lord Chamberlain's Men. An acting company in England at this time worked together to put on plays. There were typically around ten actors in a company including a lead actor, character actors, and some comedians. Young boys typically played women's roles as women were not allowed to act.

Early Plays

Shakespeare wrote plays for the Lord Chamberlain's Men. He worked as an actor as well. His plays became very popular in London and soon the Lord Chamberlain's Men were one of the most popular acting companies in the city. Some of Shakespeare's early plays include The Taming of the Shrew, Richard III, Romeo and Juliet, and A Midsummer Night's Dream.

The Theater Shuts Down

These early plays were put on at a theater called the "Theatre". While Lord Chamberlain's Men owned the Theatre, the land was owned by Giles Allen. In 1597 Allen decided he wanted to tear the Theatre down. He locked it up and refused to let the actors perform. They tried to renegotiate the lease on the land, but Allen again refused.

One night, several members of the company dismantled the Theatre and moved the timber across the Thames River to another spot. There they built a new theatre called the Globe Theatre.

The Globe Theatre

The Globe Theatre became the place to be in London. It could house up to 3,000 spectators and had a uniquely designed stage with a painted ceiling, columns, and stage wall. They had specially trained musicians who made special effects noises during the plays. They even had a cannon that fired blanks.

Later Plays

Many of Shakespeare's greatest plays were written in the last half of his career. These included Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth. His success in the theatre, as well as his investments in land and the Globe, made Shakespeare a wealthy man. He purchased a large home in Stratford for his family called New Place.


Shakespeare also became famous for his poetry. His most famous poem of the time was Venus and Adonis. He also wrote poems called sonnets. A book of 154 of Shakespeare's sonnets was published in 1609.


William retired to his home in Stratford and died on his fifty-second birthday.


Shakespeare is considered by many to be the greatest writer of the English language. He is also one of the most influential. Through his works, he is credited with introducing nearly 3,000 words to the English language. In addition, his works are the second most often quoted after the Bible.

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