|Droeshout portrait of William Shakespeare. By Martin Droeshout; 1623.|
William Shakespeare’s origins are obscure but the little evidence that we have suggests that he was christened in Stratford-on-Avon, April 26, 1564. Tradition holds that Shakespeare was born on April 23rd. The eldest of six children, Shakespeare came from the merchant class. His father was a tradesman who was elected Bailiff, or Mayor, of Stratford in 1568, his mother was from a small landowning family. His father’s position afforded the young Shakespeare the possibility of a formal education in the town school. By 1582, Shakespeare had married Ann Hathaway, and by 1585 fathered three children. Shakespeare’s family having fallen upon hard times, he was forced to seek employment outside of Stratford.
While it is quite possible that Shakespeare saw medieval pageants and traveling players as a boy in Stratford, only in the years after he left his hometown did he immerse himself in the theater, becoming both an actor and a playwright. By 1592 he was established in London, and by 1594 had joined the prominent company the Chamberlain’s Men (which in 1603 changed its name to the King’s Men), linked in most people’s minds to the Globe Theatre built on the banks of the Thames in 1599. Shakespeare was a joint owner of the Globe and as such shared in its profits and losses. One of his great strengths as a writer came from his ability to gain both popular and critical praise. He wrote his plays considering every aspect of them through the eyes of an actor, a playwright, a businessman, a tradesman’s son, and possibly an ex-soldier, evaluating their success or failure utilizing all the facets of his professional life as well. By 1611 Shakespeare had become prosperous enough to retire to Stratford. He died in 1616 on the date of his birth, April 23. He was buried in the same Stratford church where he had been christened.