William Shakespeare (1564-1616) was born to John Shakespeare and mother Mary Arden
some time in late April 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon, England. There is no record of his birth, but
his baptism was recorded by the church, thus his birthday is assumed to be the 23 of April.
His father was a prominent and prosperous alderman in the town of Stratford-upon-Avon, and
was later granted a coat of arms by the College of Heralds. All that is known of Shakespeare's
youth is that he presumably attended the Stratford Grammar School, and did not proceed to
Oxford or Cambridge. The next record we have of him is his marriage to Anne Hathaway in 1582.
The next year she bore a daughter for him, Susanna, followed by the twins Judith and Hamnet
two years later.
Seven years later Shakespeare was recognized as an actor, poet, and
playwright, when a rival playwright, Robert Greene, referred to him as "an upstart crow" in "A
Groatsworth of Wit." A few years later he joined up with one of the most successful acting
troupes in London: "The Lord Chamberlain's Men." When, in 1599, the troupe lost the lease of
the theatre where they performed (appropriately called "The Theatre"), they were wealthy
enough to build their own theatre across the Thames, south of London, which they called
"The Globe." The new theatre opened in July of 1599, built from the timbers of "The Theatre",
with the motto "Totus mundus agit histrionem" (A whole world of players). When James I came to
the throne (1603) the troupe was designated by the new king as the "King's Men" (or "King's
Company"). The Letters Patent of the company specifically charged Shakespeare and eight
others "freely to use and exercise the art and faculty of playing Comedies, Tragedies,
Histories, Interludes, Morals, Pastorals, stage plays ... as well for recreation of our
loving subjects as for our solace and pleasure."
Shakespeare entertained the King
and the people for another ten years until June 19, 1613, when a canon fired from the roof
of the theatre for a gala performance of Henry VIII set fire to the thatch roof and burned
the theatre to the ground. The audience ignored the smoke from the roof at first, being to
absorbed in the play, until the flames caught the walls and the fabric of the curtains.
Amazingly there were no casualties, and the next spring the company had the theatre "new
builded in a far fairer manner than before." Although Shakespeare invested in the rebuilding,
he retired from the stage to the Great House of New Place in Statford that he had purchased
in 1597, and some considerable land holdings ,where he continued to write until his death
in 1616 on the day of his 52nd birthday.