William Shakespeare, whose birthday is celebrated on April 23, began his career as an actor, writer, and part-owner of a theater company called The Lord Chamberlain’s Men, later known as the King’s Men. Today, he is considered one of the most famous playwrights in the world. His surviving works consist of 38 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, and several shorter poems. His plays have been translated into over 50 languages and have been performed in theaters across the globe. Today, we celebrate and remember all of his legendary work and accomplishments.
The Bard of Avon, The Sweet Swan of Avon, The National Poet of England
April 23, 1564
April 23, 1616 (age 52)
William Shakespeare was a writer, actor, and theater owner. He was born in 1564, in Stratford-upon -Avon in Warwickshire, United Kingdom. His father, John Shakespeare, ran his own business as a glove maker and wool dealer and also held a public position as a bailiff. John married Shakespeare’s mother, Mary Arden, in 1557, and together they had seven children, William being the oldest surviving child after the deaths of his two older siblings. William started his education at seven at a grammar school called The King’s New School, which was just a five-minute walk from his home on Henley Street, where he was taught a curriculum centered on Latin. When Shakespeare’s father lost his government job, he went into business with his father, producing and selling gloves.
According to parish records, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway, a 26-year-old woman whose father was a wealthy farmer, on November 27, 1582, when he was 18 years old, in Canterbury Province, Worcester. When they married, Anne was three months pregnant, and their first daughter, Susanna, was born on May 26, 1583. On February 2, 1585, The couple gave birth to twins, Hamnet and Judith. Hamnet died at the age of 11 from unknown causes and was buried on August 11, 1596. The seven years following the birth of Hamnet and Judith were described as Shakespeare’s “lost days” as there were no records of him. This period is rife with speculation and one popular theory holds that Shakespeare fled Stratford to avoid being prosecuted as a poacher. This theory could explain why he left his wife and children and reappeared in London, 90 miles away.
Shakespeare may have toured with an acting troupe, possibly in Italy, according to other theories. This latter theory is supported by the fact that 14 of Shakespeare’s plays have Italian settings, and a 16th-century guest book in Rome signed by pilgrims includes three cryptic signatures that some attribute to Shakespeare. Shakespeare may also have encountered John Florio, an Italian cultural ambassador in England who served as a tutor to Shakespeare’s patron, Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton. Shakespeare’s reputation as a country boy faded during this period, and he re-emerged as a playwright and businessman, implying that he learned his profession as a writer in London at some point.
Although there is no exact date for the start of Shakespeare’s writing, contemporary allusions and performance records reveal that some of his plays were on the London stage by 1592. According to court documents, Shakespeare was living somewhere in Bishopsgate, London, by the early 1590s. Among his works at the time were “Two Gentlemen of Verona,” “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Richard II,” and “The Merchant of Venice.” He appears to have been interested in composing poems, as he penned his two long poems, ‘Venus and Adonis’ and ‘The Rape of Lucrece,’ and also began writing sonnets.
As an actor, producer, theater owner, and, of course, a very popular playwright, Shakespeare spent the majority of his career in London with this group of performers. Following Queen Elizabeth’s death in 1603, the new King James I granted the organization a royal patent and renamed it the King’s Men. Between 1599 and 1604 he wrote plays such as “Henry IV Parts 1 and 2,” “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” and “Much Ado About Nothing.” Shakespeare received letters and visits from many of his theatrical, artistic, and literary acquaintances at Stratford-upon-Avon. He continued to work with younger authors on “Henry VIII,” “Two Noble Kinsmen,” and the lost play “Cardenio,” which he co-wrote with his friend John Webster.
We don’t know the precise date of his death, but a record of his burial two days later at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-Upon-Avon suggests he died on April 23, 1616, on his 52nd birthday. Shakespeare was buried in Stratford’s Holy Trinity Church on April 25, 1616.
The only known surviving copy of Shakespeare's first printed works, “Venus” and “Adonis,” is published.
In his work, "Palladis Tamia," Francis Meres produces one of the earliest printed evaluations of Shakespeare's plays and poetry.
A group of editors and publishers led by John Bodenham begin excerpting English plays in printed literary anthologies, elevating them to a more respectable reputation.
Seven years after his death, the first collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays is a celebrated volume known as the "First Folio," so-called because of the large-format size of the book.
Why We Love William Shakespeare
His stories have timeless themes
The characters developed by Shakespeare remained relevant four centuries after his death. His works are timeless.
Shakespeare paired literary and theatrical skills
He reworked each plot to create multiple points of interest and to offer the audience as many sides of a story as feasible. A Shakespeare play's design strength ensures that it can withstand translation, trimming, and wide interpretation without losing its main drama.
His unique writing style is unique
His writings, whether poems, short stories, or novels, are engaging and have taught us various things. He dared to take on controversial subjects or stand up to the powers that be, with his free hand, open mind, and heart.
5 Surprising Facts
Shakespeare’s will was very strange
In his will, he writes, "I give unto my wife my second finest bed, with the furniture" —the term ‘furniture’ refers to bed linen in this instance.
Shakespeare's plays have been translated into Klingon
“The Star Trek” science fiction series has its own language, Klingon — in this fantasy language, you can read "Hamlet" and "Much Ado About Nothing."
Shakespeare never published any of his plays
Fortunately, his friends John Heminges and Henry Condell saved the world of theater by publishing his works posthumously.
One of Shakespeare's plays was never performed
There’s evidence that he composed and performed a play named "Cardenio" in England, but there is no known manuscript of the play.
Moons have been named after Shakespeare's characters
Oberon, Ariel, and Juliet are among the moons orbiting Uranus, and they are all named after characters from Shakespeare's plays.
William Shakespeare FAQs
What is Shakespeare’s most famous quote
“To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer…” “Hamlet,” Act III, Scene I
Did Shakespeare wear an earring?
One of the most iconic portrayals of Shakespeare shows him with a full beard, receding hairline, loosened shirt-ties, and a glittering gold hoop dropping from his left ear.
What is Shakespeare’s longest play?
The longest Shakespearean play is “Hamlet,” with more than 30,000 words.
William Shakespeare’s birthday dates