shakespeare By Kyle Mueller

From mid-1592 to 1594, London authorities frequently closed the theaters because of repeated outbreaks of plague. Without the income provided by acting and playwriting, Shakespeare turned to poetry. In 1593, Venus and Adonis became the first of Shakespeare’s works to be published. The publisher was Richard Field, a native of Stratford who may have known Shakespeare in childhood. As was customary at the time, Shakespeare dedicated his volume to a noble patron, in this case Henry Wriothesley, the Earl of Southampton. Venus and Adonis proved to be extremely popular and was reprinted at least 15 times in Shakespeare’s lifetime.

In 1594, Field printed Shakespeare’s The Rape of Lucrece. The book’s dedication to Southampton suggests a closer acquaintance between the writer and the aristocrat. The volume was not as popular as Venus and Adonis, but it still sold well. Seven editions had been published by 1632. Despite the commercial success of these early publications, Shakespeare made no effort to make a career of poetry. When the theaters reopened, he returned to acting and playwriting.

During Shakespeare’s time, the English cared little about keeping biographical information unrelated to affairs of the church or state. In addition, playwriting was not a highly regarded occupation, and so people saw little point in recording the lives of mere dramatists. However, a number of records exist that deal with Shakespeare’s life. They include church registers and accounts of business dealings. Although these records are few and incomplete by modern standards, they provide much information. By relating these records to various aspects of English history and society, scholars have constructed a believable and largely comprehensive account of Shakespeare’s life. However, gaps remain. Perhaps the most frustrating gap is the general absence of personal papers that might provide access to the playwright’s thoughts and feelings. As a result, biographers almost always examine the plays and poems for autobiographical clues.

Throughout the 1590’s, Shakespeare’s reputation continued to grow. From 1594 to 1608, he was fully involved in the London theater world. In addition to his duties as a sharer and actor in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, he wrote an average of almost two plays a year for his company. During much of this period, Shakespeare ranked as London’s most popular playwright, based on the number of times his plays were performed and published. But his reputation was largely that of a popular playwright, not of a writer of unequaled genius.

Scholars have referred to the period between 1585 and 1592, when Shakespeare was called an “upstart” by a London writer, as the “lost years.” Scholars have proposed a number of theories about his activities during that time. But what is certain is that some time before 1592 Shakespeare arrived in London and began to work in the theater.


On Nov. 27, 1582, Shakespeare received a license to marry Anne Hathaway, the daughter of a local farmer. The two families knew each other, but the details of the relationship between William and Anne have been a source of speculation. At the age of 18, William was young to marry, while Anne at 26 was of normal marrying age. The marriage appears to have been hurried, and the birth of their first child, Susanna, in May 1583 came only six months after marriage. Some scholars have suggested that William may have been forced to marry Anne because she was pregnant. However, birth and marriage records indicate that many women in England at that time were already pregnant before they married, and so Shakespeare’s marriage was not unusual. Early in 1585, Anne gave birth to twins, Judith and Hamnet. The record of baptism marks the start of an important gap in the documentary evidence of Shakespeare’s life.


William Shakespeare was born in the small market town of Stratford-upon-Avon in 1564, the third of eight children. The register of Holy Trinity, the parish church in Stratford, records his baptism on April 26. According to the custom at that time, infants were baptized about three days after their birth. Therefore, the generally accepted date for Shakespeare’s birth is April 23.


After arriving in London, Shakespeare began an association with one of the city’s repertory theater companies. These companies consisted of a permanent cast of actors who presented a variety of plays week after week. The companies had aristocratic patrons, and the players were technically servants of the nobles who sponsored them. But the companies were commercial operations that depended on selling tickets to the general public for their income.


Shakespeare’s parents belonged to what today would be called the middle class. John Shakespeare, William’s father, was a glove maker who owned a shop in the town of Stratford-upon-Avon. Stratford is about 75 miles (120 kilometers) northwest of London in the county of Warwickshire. John Shakespeare was a respected man in the town and held several important positions in the local government.

William Shakespeare’s mother was born Mary Arden. She was the daughter of a farmer but related to a family of considerable social standing in the county. John Shakespeare married Mary Arden about 1557. The Ardens were Roman Catholics. Mary may also have been a Catholic, but the Shakespeares publicly belonged to the Church of England, the state church.


By 1592, Shakespeare apparently attracted the hostile attention of a jealous rival. Robert Greene was a university-trained writer who was among the first to attempt to make a career of writing for the stage and the commercial press. Greene’s Groats-Worth of Wit Bought with a Million of Repentance, a pamphlet published after Greene’s death in 1592, contains a harsh reference to Shakespeare. The English playwright Henry Chettle prepared the pamphlet for publication and may have been the true author. A passage in the pamphlet addressed to playwrights says:

… an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tiger’s heart wrapped in a Player’s hide, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you: and being an absolute Johannes fac totum [Jack of all trades], is in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country.


Lander, Jesse M. "Shakespeare, William." World Book Advanced. World Book, 2016. Web. 17 Nov. 2016. Shakespeare wrote at least 38 plays, two major narrative poems, a sequence of sonnets, and several short poems. His works have been translated into a remarkable number of languages, and his plays are performed throughout the world. His plays have been a vital part of the theater in the Western world since they were written about 400 years ago. Through the years, most serious actors and actresses have considered the major roles of Shakespeare to be the supreme test of their art.


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