English poet and playwright (1564-1616). Born on April 20 in Stratford-on-Avon, he is considered by many to be the greatest writer in history. He had no education beyond grammar school and married Anne Hathaway, an older woman, when he was just 18. They had three children, Susanna, Hamnet, and Judith (the latter two were twins). Hamnet died at only 11 years old, and his father love for his son may have influenced "Hamlet" and other of his tragedies. 

After moving to London (he continued to support his family back in Stratford), Shakespeare got work as an actor and playwright for the King's Men, an extremely successful acting company. After the King's Men built the famous Globe Theater, Shakespeare became quite wealthy. He eventually retired to Stratford, where he died on his birthday.

Shakespeare is, of course, best known for his sonnets and his many plays, including "Macbeth," "Hamlet," "The Tempest," "Julius Caesar," "Romeo and Juliet," "King Lear," "Othello," "Much Ado about Nothing," "The Taming of the Shrew," "Henry V," and many, many more. He actually valued his poems more than his plays -- he considered his work for the stage to be merely commercial labor to pay his bills. He may have been bisexual, since many of his sonnets were written to an unknown young man.

Research from GURPS Who's Who, compiled by Phil Masters, "William Shakespeare" by William H. Stoddard.

Born (1564)
Peace made between England and France

1 (1565)
Brueghel's 'Hunters in the Snow' picture

2 (1566)
Elizabeth for bids Parliament to discuss her marraige
Royal Exchange founded

3 (1567)
Queen Mary (of Scots)forced to abdicate
Foundation of Rio de Janeiro

4 (1568)
Spanish Inquisition condemns all Dutch to death as heretics
Indian slavery in Brazil abolished

5 (1569)
Rebellion against Elizabeth in favour of Mary Queen of Scots
Invention of Mercator Chart

6 (1570)
Map of mouth of Hudson River
Elizabeth excommunicated and declared a usurper
Ascham's 'The Schoolmaster' on education
Palladio's 'Treatise on Architecture'
Sulphuric acid

7 (1571)
Ridolfi Plot against Elizabeth
Turks take Cyprus from Venice
Titian's 'Christ crowned with thorns'
Theodolite invented - and, maybe, the telescope

8 (1572)
Drake's first sight of the Pacific

9 (1573)
Work begun on cathedral in Mexico City

10 (1574)
Burbage receives licence to open theatre
Astrological clock in Strasbourg Cathedral

11 (1575)
Elizabeth offered sovereignty of Netherlands against Spanish - refused
Gilbert's 'Discourse' advocates development of English colonisation

12 (1576)
M P attacks Elizabeth's interference with House of Commons
First theatre in England - at Shoreditch
Typhus fever identified
Houses of correction for vagabonds established

13 (1577)
Holinshed's 'Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland'
Complaints over enclosure of common land - talk of over - population
Drake starts circumnavigation of earth

14 (1578)
Hillyarde's miniature of Elizabeth
Gilbert given patent of colonisation and sets out for the North West

15 (1579)
Rebellion in Ireland
'Plutarch's Lives' translated
Drake claims New Albion (California)
First national atlas

16 (1580)
Montaigne's 'Essays'
Earliest references to the song 'Greensleeves'
Potatoes introduced to Spain

17 (1581)
Sidney's 'Defence of Poetry'
Drake returns from his round the world voyage
Galileo Galilei discovers isochronous property of the pendulum

18 (1582)
Gilbert founds first English colony, Newfoundland
Hakluyt's 'Divers Voyages touching the Discoverty of America'
Standardisation of weights (unaltered until 1824)
First London waterworks established
Shakespeare marries Anne Hathaway

19 (1583)
Throckmorton Plot against Elizabeth
Cambridge University Press starts
Life insurance policy issued
The Shakespeares' daughter, Susanna, baptised

20 (1584)
Pope launches campaign to restore Catholicism to England
Artifcial respiration
Raleigh discovers Virginia

21 (1585)
Davis discovers the Davis Straight searching for the North West Passage
England goes to war against the Spanish in the Netherlands
Paddle boats designed
Decimal point in general use
All printing presses outside London suppressed
The Shakespeares' twins, Hamnet and Judith, baptised

22 (1586)
Babington Plot to kill Elizabeth - Mary Queen of Scots found guilty
Sonata introduced
Stevinus publishes on statics and hydrostatics

23 (1587)
Mary Queen of Scots executed
Marlowe's Tamburlaine

24 (1588)
Defeat of Spanish Armada
Coffer dam used to work on river beds

25 (1589)
First knitting machine

26 (1590)
Marlowe's Jew of Malta
Janssen invents the compound microscope
First English paper mill

27 (1591)
First Englishmen to East Indies

28 (1592)
Juan da Luca discovers British Columbia
First printed mention of Shakespeare, as an 'upstart Crowe'

29 (1593)
Elizabeth - Parliamentary freedom of speech limited to 'Aye or No'

30 (1594)
Version of Henry VI and Titus Andronicus published
Derivative Taming of a Shrew published
Comedy of Errors acted Re-foundation of The Lord Chamberlain's Men - Shakespeare an actor ?

31 (1595)
Rebellion in Ireland until 1603
Version of Richard III published
A Midsummer Night's Dream

32 (1596)
Water closets installed in Richmond Palace
Trigonometric tables published
Tomatoes introduced in England
Romeo and Juliet

33 (1597)
Storms destroy second Armada against England
Bacon's 'Essays'
Beggars to be punished
Libavius's 'Alchymia' on medical chemistry
Henry IV

34 (1598)
French attempt to colonise Nova Scotia
Korea invents iron - clad warships

35 (1599)
Lord Chamberlain's Men at Burbage's Glove Theatre
As You Like It - Much Ado About Nothing - Twelfth Night

36 (1600)
Gilbert publishes on magnetism - introduces the word 'electricity'
Merry Wives of Windsor

John Aubrey in his Brief Lives, records the following snippets about Shakespeare.
Mr William Shakespeare was borne at Stratford upon Avon in the County of Warwick. His father was a Butcher, and I have been told heretofore by some of the neighbours, that when he was a boy he exercised his father's Trade, but when he kill'd a Calfe he would do it in a high style, and make a Speech. There was at this time another Butcher's son in this Towne that was held not at all inferior to him for a naturall witt, his acquaintance and coetanean, byt dyed young.

This William, being inclined naturally to Poetry and acting, came to London, I guesse about 18: and was an Actor at one of the Play-houses, and did acte exceedingly well: now B. Johnson was never a good Actor but an excellent Instructor.

He began early to make essayes at Dramatique Poetry, which at that time was very lowe; and his playes took well.

He was a handsome, well-shap't man: very good company, and of a readie and pleasant smooth Witt.

The humour of the Constable in Midsomernight's Dreame, he happened to take at Grendon, in Bucks (I think it was Midsomer night that he happened to lye there) which is the roade from London to Stratford, and there was living that Constable about 1642, when I first came to Oxon. Ben Johnson and he did gather humours of men dayly where ever they came. One time as he was at the Tavern at Stratford super Avon, one Combes, and old rich Usurer, was to be buryed. He makes there this extemporary Epitaph:

Ten in the Hundred the Devill allowes,
But Combes will have twelve he sweares and vowes:
If anyone askes who lies in this Tombe,
Hoh! quoth the Devill, 'Tis my John o' Combe
He was wont to goe to his native Countrey once a yeare. I thinke I have been told that he left 2 or 300 pounds per annum there and thereabout to a sister.

I have heard Sir William Davenant and Mr Thomas Shadwell (who is counted the best Comoedian we have now) say that he had a most prodigious Witt, and did admire his natural parts beyond all other Dramaticall writers.

His Comoedies will remaine witt as long as the English tongue is understood, for that he handles mores hominum. Now our present writers reflect so much on particular persons and coxcomberies that twenty years hence they will not be understood.

Though, as Ben Johnson sayes of him, that he had little Latine and lesse Greek, he understood Latine pretty well: for he had been in his younger yeares a schoolmaster in the country.

He was wont to say that he never blotted out a line in his life. Sayd Ben Johnson, I wish he had blotted-out a thousand.

My words fly up, my thoughts remain below
Words without thoughts never to heaven go.
-- From Hamlet, Act III, Scene 3

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) is simply the greatest English writer of all times. His plays survive to the current day and exist as standards by which comedy and tragedy both are often judged. He is unquestionably the most famous Elizabethan writer and quite possibly the most well known writer of all time.


Parish records verify that William Shakespeare was baptized on April 26, 1564, and counting backwards the customary three days from this date (according to Anglican tradition, babies are baptized on their third day of life), Shakespeare was likely born on April 23, 1564.

Shakespeare grew up in the market town of Stratford-on-Avon, which served as a local government seat. Shakespeare's mother, Mary Arden, was a daughter of the local gentry who held a great deal of property in and around the town. His father, John Shakespeare, was a glovemaker and farmer, so when Mary chose to marry John, she took a few steps down the social ladder in the area.

Shakespeare attended Stratford Grammar School, which was his right as the child of a burgess. The classic Elizabethan education was taught there at the time, so Shakespeare became versed in the classics at an early age, reading the literature and rhetoric of ancient Greek and Latin and receiving a thorough grounding in the bible. Shakespeare also cultivated a knowledge of history, and his surviving adolescent writings are mostly those of historical accounts, describing events throughout the history of England and the world.

In 1582, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway, a woman eight years his senior, and the pair had three children, Susanna, Hamnet, and Judith. Hamnet, Shakespeare's only son, would die at the age of eleven. However, Shakespeare was very unhappy in this married life, and by 1590 he was spending much of his time traveling to London to participate in the burgeoning theater scene there. He kept his family fed, however, by picking up a wide variety of odd jobs, many of which were later reflected in his plays.

Starting in 1591 and through 1616, Shakespeare began accumulating perhaps the most impressive body of writing ever produced by an English author. His first work, The Comedy of Errors, was sharply criticized upon its release by playwright-critic Robert Greene, who condemned Shakespeare as an impudent "upstart," pronouncing the young writer not worthy of attention. However, Greene's diatribe was soon retracted by his editor because a number of leading literary figures at the time began to speak out in favor of the Bard, who wrote several top comedies in 1591 and 1592.

When the plague struck london from late 1592 to 1594, Shakespeare retreated to Stratford-on-Avon and focused mostly on writing poetry; in this period he wrote most of his poetry, including Venus and Adonis and virtually all of his Sonnets. But when London's air became clean again in 1594, the stage beckoned to Shakespeare and he returned to London.

As the century came to a close, Shakespeare began to write more works based on historical events, plays based on various English monarchs. He was considered a top playwright in London at the turn of the century and began to accumulate some money, investing in real estate outside of London and Stratford-on-Avon. He also spent the off-seasons investing in grain at Stratford.

During the first decade of the century, Shakespeare began writing his tragedies, which were immensely popular and cemented his reputation. He would go into semi-retirement, however, in 1611 with the release of The Tempest, considered to perhaps be the greatest of his comedies. Shakespeare died of unknown causes in April 1616.

Shakespeare's lineage didn't progress very far. Both of his daughters were married, but the children in both of their marriages died early in their youths. Thus, there is no direct lineage to Shakespeare.

The World of Shakespeare

William Shakespeare lived most of his life under the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, whose impact on England was tremendous during her reign from 1558 to 1603. Under the reign of the Great Virgin Queen, England prospered as a commercial entity (largely taking the place of Spain), but England also made an enormous expansion into the New World and put into place the foundations of what would become the British empire.

This was a time shortly after the Renaissance and the Reformation. The Renaissance had caused a cultural reawakening in Europe through a rediscovery of the Greek and Roman classics and a massive creative outburst, while the Reformation had resulted in England becoming a Protestant (Anglican) state after the civil war between Elizabeth (Protestant) and her sister "Bloody" Mary (Catholic).

In essence, it was an age of an awakening England discovering its cultural and imperial might in several different dimensions. The feudalism that had ruled England for so long was being cast aside and England was clearly a nation on the rise. This headiness spread throughout the country through the spread of arts and new inventions, and it wouldn't be long before the Industrial Revolution would take hold and drive England to the top of the world.

The Essentials

Many beginning Shakespearean readers wonder where to begin digging through the wealth of plays that the Bard wrote. It is widely accepted, however, that five of Shakespeare's plays rise above the rest and provide a wonderful foundation for the beginning Shakespeare reader. These five are truly the essentials of Shakespeare.

Hamlet, The Prince of Denmark is probably the best known of William Shakespeare's works, and may well be the most famous English play ever written. This play displays the fully mature Bard's extraordinary talents, but also has developed a reputation as a difficult work to break down. This is because Hamlet is a very complex character within a play that exhibits many intertwined and multilayered themes. It is a play of internal conflict and revenge.

King Lear is a play driven by the mesmerizing central character, who descends into madness as the play bears on mostly due to his internal conflicts about the true intentions of his children. The popularity of this play is likely due to the realistic painting of Lear himself as he breaks down, not knowing who to trust and eventually not even trusting himself.

Macbeth is likely the Bard's darkest play, invoking a touch of the supernatural in Macbeth's bloody rise to power in Scotland and the subsequent demises of both himself and his lady. Macbeth is surely the darkest central character in any of Shakespeare's works, as his machinations result in a great deal of mistrust and, eventually, murder and suicide.

Othello introduces the element of race into Shakespearean tragedy. Iago, a wonderfully evil and manipulative fellow, convinces Othello (who is black) that his wife Desdemona has been unfaithful, leading to a complex web of deceit, jealousy, rage, and murder. This is perhaps the best example of Shakespeare's ability to weave a plot; there is no monolithic character here.

The Tempest is the lone comedy included in the upper echelons of Shakespeare's works. The tale revolves around Prospero and his daughter Miranda who have been exiled to an island that has some mystical powers. Prospero draws upon these to create a mighty tempest with which to produce revenge upon his friends. This play has a great deal of comedic elements but a streak of seriousness runs through the play as well.

These five plays are considered the essentials of Shakespeare, and deservedly so; most literature written in the interim has mostly just followed themes established in these five works of genius.

Cultural Impact

Trying to summarize Shakespeare's cultural impact is much like summarizing Isaac Newton's impact on physics or Donald Knuth's impact on computer science; it's simply so pervasive that it cannot be done.

Shakespeare's literary contributions to the world are incomparable. His writings establish him as the foremost literary talent of his own Elizabethan Age and, even more impressively, as a genius whose creative achievement has never been surpassed in any age.

To this day, many dramas and comedies are loose adaptations of the work of Shakespeare, his works are taught in the schooling of nearly every child in the English speaking world, and his plays are constantly being acted out by countless theatrical troupes. Beyond this, his words are woven throughout English-speaking culture in ways that are as countless as the stars themselves.



All's Well That Ends Well
As You Like It
The Comedy of Errors
Love's Labours Lost
Measure for Measure
The Merry Wives of Windsor
The Merchant of Venice
A Midsummer Night's Dream
Much Ado About Nothing
Pericles, Prince of Tyre
Taming of the Shrew
The Tempest
Troilus and Cressida
Twelfth Night
Two Gentlemen of Verona
Winter's Tale


Henry IV, part 1
Henry IV, part 2
Henry V
Henry VI, part 1
Henry VI, part 2
Henry VI, part 3
Henry VIII
King John
Richard II
Richard III


Antony and Cleopatra
Julius Caesar
King Lear
Romeo and Juliet
Timon of Athens
Titus Andronicus


The Sonnets
A Lover's Complaint
The Rape of Lucrece
Venus and Adonis
Funeral Elegy

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