Shakespeare is one of the most important figures in the history of English literature, writing 154 sonnets and approximately 39 plays that are still performed today. Where did the Bard grow up?
William Shakespeare grew up in his birthplace of Stratford-Upon-Avon, the son of John Shakespeare and Mary Arden. He remained in Stratford throughout his youth but had relocated to London by 1592, where he worked as a writer and actor.
For more of what we know about Shakespeare’s life, read on.
Despite his status as possibly the single most important figure in English literature, we know surprisingly little definitive information about Shakespeare’s life. His biography has largely been pieced together from records at the time, such as marriage certificates, court records, wills, and his tombstone.
We do know that William Shakespeare was baptized on April 26, 1564, at the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-Upon-Avon, in the Midlands of England. His actual date of birth is unknown, so it is tradition to celebrate his birthday three days before his baptism on St George’s Day, April 23, a national holiday in England.
His parents were John Shakespeare and his wife, Mary Arden. John made a lucrative living in leatherworking and textiles, making gloves, tanning, and selling wool. Mary was the daughter of a successful farmer, Robert Arden, from Wilmcote, a nearby village.
John and Mary had eight children together, four sons, of whom William was the eldest, and four daughters. Of their daughters, only Joan Shakespeare survived childhood.
Shakespeare’s father was a man of influence in Stratford, serving on the town council and being elected as town bailiff, which was essentially mayor. There are records of him being involved in moneylending in 1570 but by 1576 he was in great financial difficulty and had to mortgage the land that Mary had inherited from her father.
Where exactly Shakespeare attended school as a child hasn’t been discovered but there are a number of local schools that he might have attended. At about 7, he would have moved on to the King’s New School in Stratford to learn Latin before leaving school entirely at 14 or 15.
Analysis of his plays displays the kind of knowledge that would have been imparted in these schools, with a number of his being heavily influenced by the Romans, such as Ovid.
There is a record of Shakespeare’s marriage in 1582 when he was 18, to Anne Hathaway (who the modern-day actress was named after), the 26-year-old daughter of a wealthy farmer. They had a daughter, Susanna, in May 1583 and twins, Hamnet and Judith, in February 1585.
After the birth of his twins, there is almost nothing known about Shakespeare for several years, a period commonly called “The Lost Years”. By 1592, he had relocated to London, something we know thanks to Robert Greene, a rival playwright who made reference to Shakespeare in his writing.
Shakespeare worked as a writer and actor in London, dividing his time between plays and poetry. In 1593, an outbreak of plague meant theatres were closed and Shakespeare had to focus on writing poetry in order to make money.
Shakespeare co-founded the Lord Chamberlain’s Men in 1594, a professional acting group of which he was the main playwright. They later changed heir name to The King’s Men and were well known as the acting group most frequently invited to perform at the royal court.
In contrast to John Shakespeare’s financial struggles during William’s youth, William enjoyed a very lucrative career as a writer and performer. There are several records of him buying large properties in Stratford and it’s very possible that he also inherited his father’s estate, as his eldest son.
Shakespeare’s first collection of plays was published in 1623, seven years after his death in 1616. The book of 36 plays cost £1, about $300 in 2020.