William Shakespeare’s Early Life

William Shakespeare, widely recognized as the greatest writer in the English language, was born around April 23, 1564. His father was John Shakespeare, and his mother was Mary Arden. John and Mary had two elder daughters who died as infants. William was the eldest of three sons — Gilbert, Richard, and Edmund. He was also the elder brother of two sisters, Anne, who died at seven years of age, and Joan. John was a thriving glove-maker and leatherworker and served in various offices in the town of Stratford. When William Shakespeare was five years old, John became the town bailiff. Later, John fell into financial difficulties, which caused him to mortgage his wife’s inherited property. Eventually, though, John was able to recover from his financial troubles. Mary Arden was the daughter of Robert Arden, a member of the Guild of the Holy Cross. When Robert died, he left Mary a significant amount of money along with his property.

As the son of a prominent figure in Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare would certainly have studied at Stratford’s grammar school. In Shakespeare’s day, all the grammar schools’ instructions focused on Latin and classic literature and would have included writing, memorization, and play-acting Latin plays. At around age 15, Shakespeare stopped his schooling.

Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway in 1582 when he was 18 years old. Anne was then 26 years old and was already pregnant with their first child. Being pregnant before marriage was certainly unwelcome during those times, but it was not necessarily a huge scandal. Anne was the daughter of Richard Hathaway, a farmer who lived in Stratford. Richard lived in a cottage called Hewlands Farm, and this is where Anne grew up. Today, Hewlands Farm is a tourist attraction, and it is called Anne Hathaway’s Cottage. In 1583, Anne gave birth to their first child, Susanna, and in 1555, she gave birth to twins Hamnet and Judith. Hamnet died at the age of 11 due to the plague. A few years after being married, Shakespeare went to London to search for an acting job. 

Shakespeare’s life from 1585 to 1592 is a mystery to scholars, as almost nothing is known about the future playwright during this time. It is not known what pushed Shakespeare to find his fortune in London, but the causes may be traced back to his youth. During his youth, traveling groups of theatrical performers frequently visited Shakespeare’s town, and their performances may have sparked his passion for the theatrical life. Some scholars have theorized that Shakespeare intentionally looked for work in London because of his unhappiness with Anne. However, during those days, London was the only place to go for a person who was looking for an acting job. 

1592 was the year in which Shakespeare was first mentioned in a criticism launched by a rival named Robert Greene. Greene, a dramatist and author accused Shakespeare of plagiarism in a pamphlet titled “Groats-Worth of Wit.” Scholars believe that Green was deeply envious of Shakespeare’s early success. When the bubonic plague broke out in 1593, it claimed thousands of lives in London and caused theaters to close down. 

Shakespeare began to write poems and, in the same year, published a sensuous poem entitled “Venus and Adonis,” dedicating it to the Third Earl of Southampton, Henry Wriothesley. Shakespeare’s earliest plays included Henry VI, parts 1, 2, and 3, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and Titus Andronicus. It was also around this time that Shakespeare wrote his sonnets, but they were only published in 1609. The following year, the nobleman Henry Carey founded a theatrical group called The Lord Chamberlain’s Men. Among the first of its members was Shakespeare, who, apart from being an actor and playwright, was also a shareholder in the theatrical company. When King James I took the throne in 1603, he became a patron of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, and so the acting company was renamed the King’s Men.