Although generally considered the greatest dramatist of all time, William Shakespeare’s life remains shrouded in mystery. Born in 1564 in the town of Stratford-on-Avon to a middle-class family, he is presumed to have received a grammar school education. However, by the time he was thirteen or fourteen, his family had become impoverished and he was forced to drop out of school in order to work full-time in his father’s tannery. At the age of eighteen, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway, a woman eight years his senior and already pregnant with their first child.
Within three years, she bore him two more children–twins. Apparently, the marriage was not a happy one, and it is believed that shortly after the birth of the twins, he deserted his family and disappeared. There are no more records of Shakespeare’s existence until 1592 when he suddenly appears in London, already successful enough to excite the wrath of the university man Robert Greene who calls him an upstart crow. By 1594, he had joined the Lord Chamberlain’s company which included the great tragic actor Richard Burbage and the accomplished comedian Will Kempe.
Between 1594 and the time of his death, there are little more than fifty references to Shakespeare. Twenty seven of these references involve lawsuits or business matters. Occasionally, he is mentioned as an actor in a play. And there are three references to his owning a share in the profits of the Globe and Blackfriars Theatres. After 1613, William Shakespeare wrote no more. According to several sources, he retired to a large house in Stratford-on-Avon and planted mulberry trees.
Legend has it that he contracted a fever after a night of heavy drinking with Ben Jonson. He died on April 23, 1616. Only about half of Shakespeare’s plays had been published at the time of his death, and if not for two of his colleagues, John Heminge and Henry Condell, we would have only half of the Shakespearean Canon. Fortunately, the two actors gathered together all of The Bard’s manuscripts shortly after his death and printed them in the First Folio edition.