William Shakespeare Biography: The Epic Saga of William Shakespeare Life

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) was an English poet, playwright, and actor who is widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and one of the world’s preeminent dramatists. His works, including collaborations, consist of approximately 39 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, and a few other verses. His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright.

Early Life

William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England in April 1564. His exact date of birth is unknown, but his baptism was recorded on April 26, 1564. He was the third child and first son of John Shakespeare, a leather merchant and alderman, and Mary Arden, the daughter of a local landowning farmer. Shakespeare had two older sisters named Joan and Judith, and three younger brothers named Gilbert, Richard, and Edmund.

Shakespeare likely attended the local grammar school, where he would have studied Latin grammar and classics. He did not go to university, as far as historical records show. By 1582 at age 18, he married Anne Hathaway, who was eight years older than him. Their first daughter Susanna was born six months later in May 1583. The couple later had twins Hamnet and Judith in February 1585.

What was Shakespeare’s childhood like?

Very little is known about Shakespeare’s childhood and upbringing. As the son of a successful tradesman, he likely enjoyed a comfortable childhood without serious want or privation. Stratford-upon-Avon was a bustling market town, so he would have been exposed to travelling actors and performances from a young age.

He probably attended the local grammar school, where he studied Latin grammar and literature. Beyond that, his childhood years remain mostly a mystery. His early works show little influence from Stratford schoolmasters, so most scholars believe he received a solid education but was not singularly exceptional as a student.

Marriage and Family

As mentioned, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway when he was 18. She was 26 and pregnant with their first child at the time. Their marriage arrangements remain unclear – there were rumors in later years that Shakespeare was forced to marry Anne after getting her pregnant out of wedlock, but there is no evidence to substantiate this. The couple ended up staying married until Shakespeare’s death and raising three children in Stratford-upon-Avon.

After the birth of the twins, there is a period of seven years wherein Shakespeare disappears from any historical records. This period, from 1585 to 1592, is traditionally labeled the “Lost Years”. Most scholars believe he began a career in London during this time, gaining experience as a playwright and actor. But there are no records of his activities during this period.

Why did Shakespeare leave his family to work in London?

There is no definitive historical evidence explaining why Shakespeare chose to leave Stratford and begin working in London in the early 1590s after the birth of his children. However, several plausible explanations have been proposed:

  1. He may have gotten in trouble with local law enforcement, perhaps for poaching animals from country estates, and left town to avoid prosecution.
  2. He might have faced family pressures and mouth to feed and instinctively headed towards London as a place rife with economic, social, and creative opportunity
  3. He likely felt an irrepressible creative drive and thirst for adventure that could not be quenched in sleepy Stratford, thus setting his sights on cosmopolitan London.
  4. Its possible he temporarily fled the growing plague in his home country in the later 1580s, landing in London and realizing it was rife with theatrical energy and in need of talent.

In any case, the lure of the thriving theater scene in London must have strongly appealed to young Shakespeare. He soon commenced a successful career that saw him balance work and family commitments.

Shakespeare’s Lost Years and Early Career

As mentioned, the earliest period of Shakespeare’s career in London is known as the Lost Years due to lack of historical records. But it is believed he began working as an actor and playwright in London theaters in the early 1590s.

By 1592, he was an established enough actor and playwright that another London playwright Robert Green denounced him as an “upstart Crow” in a pamphlet. His earliest plays may have included the three parts of Henry VI and King John. Over the next several years, he continued writing plays and seeing them produced successfully in London theaters.

During this formative stage of his career, Shakespeare had to balance professional ambitions with his family commitments back in Stratford-upon-Avon. Historical records show he would stay in London for most of the year focused on his theatrical work and then regularly return back home to Stratford.

Shakespeare became well-known enough as a public figure that a sarcastic description of him was included in the famous grouse’s list pamphlet in September 1592. This mentioned he had a reputation both as an “author and actor”.

In 1593-94, theaters in London shut down due to plague outbreaks. But Shakespeare continued writing during this period. One notable piece was his erotic narrative poem “Venus and Adonis” which proved very popular when first published. Unlike his theatrical works to date, this established Shakespeare’s reputation among aristocratic patrons and royal circles.

What jobs did Shakespeare have before he was a renowned playwright?

The details surrounding Shakespeare’s path before becoming an established London playwright are sparse, but here are a few possibilities regarding early jobs or occupations:

School teacher – While no records confirm this, some think he may have worked as a country schoolmaster for a period shortly after his marriage to Anne Hathaway.

Tutor – There is a hypothesis that upon arriving in London in the 1580s, he took piecemeal work tutoring children of nobility before breaking into theater.

Actor – He was listed as an actor on some early London play lists, so he’s believed to have done some amateur acting in his early career before growing into a playwright.

Horse handler – According to one rather far-flung theory, he landed a job helping transport horses to and around London which exposed him organically to the city’s vibrant theater district and offerings.

Soldier – Some scholars think he enlisted for a period as a soldier which gave him direct experience of battle and soldiery reflected in plays like Henry V and the three parts of Henry VI.

In the end there are no definitive records about his path, but these provide informed speculation regarding his early endeavors.

The Chamberlain’s Men

By 1594, theaters had reopened and Shakespeare reunited with his theater company called the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. For this company composed of talented actors, he continued writing extremely successful plays that thrilled Elizabethan audiences and drew even more attention.

The Lord Chamberlain’s Men grew into London’s leading theater company, known for their excellent productions of Shakespeare’s latest hits. Between 1594 and 1599, Shakespeare composed both comedies and tragedies including The Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet, and Julius Caesar.

In 1599, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men took over ownership of London’s Globe theater. This allowed Shakespeare and his fellow actors to profit from their productions in a dedicated venue. As both in-house dramatist and shareholder, Shakespeare became financially successful and seemingly preferred to focus on writing instead of acting.

Over the first decade of the 1600s, now the leading dramatist for London’s top theater company, Shakespeare produced his great tragedies Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, and King Lear. Audiences were spellbound by these complex works interrogating morality, the human psyche, politics, and more. Having passed his 40th birthday, the maturation of his talents was on full display

What made Shakespeare so successful with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men?

Several factors came together that made Shakespeare tremendously successful writing for the Lord Chamberlain’s Men theatrical company:

  • Phenomenal output – He composed plays rapidly, reliably providing the company with a stream of bold new material to produce and capitalize on.
  • Range and ambition – His plays combined popular appeal and commercial sensibility with structural complexity and thematic depth. This allowed the Lord Chamberlain’s Men to draw both common audiences and sophisticated nobles or patrons.
  • Willingness to experiment – Unlike some overly cautious or formulaic writers, Shakespeare mixed genres and took narrative risks that challenged audiences in provocative ways. This kept things creatively fresh even across multiple viewings.
  • Textured characters – Whether kings, courtiers, captains, or peasants his signature protagonists and antagonists leapt off stage and imprinted themselves on viewers. They possessed rare psychological realism and human richness.
  • Linguistic mastery – His verse, prose, and dialogue all bore an effortless poetic excellence that marked dramatic writing of the highest tier. This established the Lord Chamberlain’s Men as an elite theatrical entity simply via the language employed.

Later Works

In 1608, the King’s Men (formerly the Lord Chamberlain’s Men) opened the Blackfriars indoor theater, allowing Shakespeare and his company to stage plays year-round rather than strictly in summer as the Globe allowed.

Between 1608 and 1613, Shakespeare produced his late romantic tragicomedies Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale, and The Tempest which feature bittersweet endings after loss and reconciliation. He also collaborated with other playwrights including John Fletcher, Philip Massinger, and George Wilkins during this period.

What did Shakespeare do after retiring from the theater in 1613?

Around 1613, at approximately age 49, Shakespeare retired from the theater scene and returned to live full-time in Stratford-upon-Avon. Scholars call the final years between 1613 and his death in 1616 his “lost years” or “retirement period” since less is known about his activities. During this phase, he possibly:

  • Focused on business affairs and local real estate matters – records show he purchased the Blackfriars Gatehouse and invested in agricultural land near Stratford
  • Spent time with his wife Anne Hathaway, family, and grandchildren at their New Place estate
  • Wrote poetry for his own amusement, though none survives that can definitively be attributed to these years
  • Worked with local schoolmasters and up-and-coming poets who sought his mentorship and tutelage
  • Travelled periodically to London to visit old theater colleagues or keep tabs on productions of his works
  • Quietly participated in Stratford town governance and social/religious events befitting his standing

Overall it seems he enjoyed a peaceful semi-retirement secured by wise investments and the fruits of his incredible career. His days likely involved reading, writing, reflection, family, and community according to the limited records remaining.


In early 1616, at the age 52, Shakespeare’s health took a downward turn as he possibly suffered from an unidentified illness. Precise records of his final days and the cause of his relatively sudden death do not survive.

William Shakespeare ultimately died in Stratford-upon-Avon on April 23, 1616. He was buried at Holy Trinity Church where he had been baptized and remained a lifelong parishioner. The church houses Shakespeare’s original gravestone and imposing monument featuring a bust displaying his likeness for visitors today.

As outlined here, Shakespeare rose from modest beginnings in Stratford to conquer London theater and become England’s most celebrated dramatist. His innovative plays transformed English into an exceptionally adaptable literary instrument and enlarged theater from simple entertainment into enduring art with boundless insight on the human condition.

Centuries later he remains atop the literary pantheon with his works performed and studied around the globe everyday. Not just a peerless English writer, he sits deservedly as an epoch-making genius who shaped modern language, thought, and the contours of narrative itself for all who channel innate human experiences into creative expression.


William Shakespeare lived a remarkable life full of mystery and enduring creative legacy. Born in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1564, he grew up in a bustling Elizabethan market town which likely instilled his poetic appreciation of richly diverse humanity.

After marriage in his late teens, the so-called Lost Years ensued where he apparently commenced theater involvement in London as an actor and budding playwright. By the early 1590s fellow scribes begrudgingly acknowledged his talent as he gained writing and acting experience among London troupes.

His big breakthrough came through dedicated work for the Chamberlain’s Men (later King’s Men), an elite company of actors bound for superstardom largely based on Shakespeare’s staggeringly inventive output.

Though forced indoor by plague for periods, this theater dynasty ruled the early 17th century London scene with Shakespeare contributing iconic plays still deemed pinnacles of English literature. These included supple comedies, political forays, meta-theatrical experiments, haunting tragedies, and bittersweet late romances.

Around 1613 with ample wealth and reputation assurance, Shakespeare retreated to family and quieter Stratford life having transformed English theater forevermore through his signature richness of language, psychological depth, and philosophical intensity.

His health faded by 1616, but his cultural impact persists centuries later with innumerable staged reincarnations, ceaseless scholarly digging for biographic clues, and timeless utility for understanding human motivations.

Why is Shakespeare still famous centuries after his death?

Shakespeare remains globally revered centuries after his death for an astounding combination of reasons:

  • Universal themes and characters: His plays grapple with timelessly resonant emotional/psychological themes like love, betrayal, mortality, power, ethics and feature endlessly layered personalities wrestling with such complexities.
  • Poetic mastery and linguistic innovation: Shakespeare expanded the possibilities of English into a limitlessly flexible literary tool. From intricate soliloquies to vulgar comic banter, the dynamism of his expression has scarcely been matched.
  • Structural and philosophical sophistication: Beneath his renowned verse and intriguing casts of icons lies immense structural ingenuity paired with philosophical depth that rewards extensive analysis.
  • Constant reinvention and adaptation: Directors keep staging radical re-workings, whether minimalist, temporally shifted, gender-bent or expressionistically designed, proving the adaptability of his works across eras.
  • Cultural symbolism: Over time Shakespeare has become an almost mythological figure symbolizing England’s towering cultural contributions. As such his fame is partially fueled by accumulating layers of societal mythmaking only increasing through the epochs.

In short his writing showcased a literary virtuosity combined with profound emotional/intellectual resonance that has forevermarked the pinnacles of creative possibility.


Why are Shakespeare’s early years referred to as the “Lost Years”?

The Lost Years refers to the period between 1585 (when Shakespeare left Stratford after the birth of his twins) and 1592 when there are no historical records about his activities, whereabouts or occupation. These missing years in his biography led scholars to coin it his Lost Years. Common belief based on later evidence posits he commenced theater work during this period.

How many plays and poems did Shakespeare write?

The current consensus is that Shakespeare wrote approximately 39 plays, though the precise canon remains debated. His plays divide broadly into comedies, tragedies, histories and late romances/tragicomedies. He also penned two narrative poems (Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece), the Sonnets cycle of 154 linked poems, plus a few attributed shorter verses.

Was Shakespeare famous during his lifetime?

Among London theater-goers and patrons, Shakespeare was extremely popular and renowned by the early 1600s. But his contemporary fame stemmed chiefly from his plays being performed rather than publication. Elizabethan England didn’t view stage scripts as “literature” so he wasn’t yet seen as an immortal author.

Why don’t we know more details about Shakespeare’s life?

Frustrating Shakespeare scholars and biographers alike, we lack copious personal details about his private life largely because he lived centuries prior to pervasive record-keeping. As a middle-class tradesman’s son and actor/writer, he wasn’t deemed important enough at the time to warrant careful documentation of his daily activities.

Did Shakespeare really write the works attributed to him?

A fringe theory for a time suggested other candidates may have authored Shakespeare’s plays. But contemporary experts comprehensively reject such claims – extensive analysis of textual style, content, and contextual knowledge conclusively establishes him as the rightful author of works that bear his name.