William Shakespeare was a renowned English poet, playwright, and actor born in 1564 in Stratford upon Avon. His birthday is most commonly celebrated on 23rd April, which is also believed to be the date he died in 1616. His father, John Shakespeare, was a burgess of the town and seems to have followed the occupations of a butcher, a glover, and a farmer. Shakespeare attended the grammar school of the town, though Ben Jonson, himself a competent scholar, affirmed that Shakespeare knew “small Latin and less Greek.” In 1584, Shakespeare left his native town. Why he did so is not known. The most popular explanation, which appeared after his death, is that he was convicted of poaching on the estate of a local magnate, Sir Thomas Lucy and that he fled to escape the consequences. Then, until 1592, when he appears as a rising actor, Shakespeare disappears from view.
Altogether Shakespeare’s works include 37 plays, 2 narrative poems, 154 sonnets, and a variety of other poems. No original manuscripts of Shakespeare’s plays are known to exist today. His plays are wonderfully and poetically written, often in blank verse. Venus and Adonis (1593) and The Rape of Lucrece (1594) are the only works that Shakespeare seems to have shepherded through the printing process. Both owe a good deal to Ovid, the Classical poet whose writings Shakespeare encountered repeatedly in school. These two poems are the only works for which he wrote dedicatory prefaces. Shakespeare may also have written at least some of his sonnets to Southampton, beginning in these same years (1593–94) and continuing through the decade and later. As a narrative, the sonnet sequence tells of strong attachment, of jealousy, of grief at separation, of joy at being together and sharing beautiful experiences.
In the second half of the 1590s, Shakespeare brought to perfection the genre of romantic comedy that he had helped to invent. A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1595), one of the most successful of all his plays, displays the kind of multiple plotting he had practiced in The Taming of the Shrew and other earlier comedies. The Merchant of Venice (1596) uses a double plot structure to contrast a tale of romantic wooing with one that comes close to tragedy.
Concurrent with his writing of these fine romantic comedies, Shakespeare also brought to completion, his project of writing 15th-century English history. After having finished in 1589–94 the tetralogy about Henry VI, Edward IV, and Richard III, bringing the story down to 1485, and then circa 1594–96 a play about John that deals with a chronological period that sets it quite apart from his other history plays, Shakespeare turned to the late 14th and early 15th centuries and to the chronicle of Richard II, Henry IV, and Henry’s legendary son Henry V. Thus, in his plays of the 1590s, the young Shakespeare concentrated a remarkable extent on romantic comedies and English history plays. The two genres are nicely complementary: the one deals with courtship and marriage, while the other examines the career of a young man growing up to be a worthy king.
On April 23, 1616, William Shakespeare died in his hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon at the age of fifty-two. In truth, the exact date of Shakespeare’s death is not known but assumed from a record of his burial two days later, 25 April 1616, at Holy Trinity Church. Stratford upon Avon, where his grave remains. While no one knows what Shakespeare died of exactly, he was sick before his death. A month before his death, he signed a will leaving almost everything to his daughter Susanna.