William Shakespeare was born on April 23, 1564. His father, John Shakespeare, was a glove maker who owned a leather shop. Shakespeare's mother, Mary Arden, was a farmer's daughter related to minor gentry. At age seven, William Shakespeare entered grammar school with other boys of his social class, studying Latin among other things. In 1582, at age 18, he married 26-year-old Anne Hathaway, with whom he had three children, Susanna, Hamnet, and Judith.
There is little known about Shakespeare's life during two major spans of time, commonly referred to as the "lost years": 1578-82 and 1585-92. The first covers the time after Shakespeare left grammar school until his marriage; the second covers the seven years of Shakespeare's life when he was probably perfecting his dramatic skills.
Around 1592, Shakespeare traveled to London to begin a writing career. Most critics conclude that he spent time as both a writer and an actor with Lord Pembroke's Men before 1592. Some time after 1593, a group of seven men, including Shakespeare, started a theater company called Lord Chamberlain's Men; later, after 1603, they became the King's Men under James VI/I. Shakespeare wrote most of the plays for the company, averaging two plays per year. Many of these were produced during his lifetime.
Shakespeare's career spanned the reigns of both Elizabeth I (1558-1603) and James I (1603-25). He died in Stratford-upon-Avon on April 23, 1616, at the age of 52 and was buried in the Church of the Holy Trinity.
Though he is best known as a playwright, Shakespeare also wrote a variety of poems. In 1593, Henry Wriothesley, earl of Southampton, became his patron; Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece were dedicated to Southampton. Shakespeare's Sonnets, written during the late 1590s but published in 1609, were dedicated to a mysterious "W.H." who has never been definitively identified. William Herbert, earl of Pembroke, was another of Shakespeare's patrons; the First Folio (1623) was dedicated to him. This text, edited by John Heminge and Henry Condell, was published seven years after Shakespeare's death and contained 36 plays as well as the famous Droeshout portrait of Shakespeare and various commendatory verses by contemporaries.
In the 18th century, Shakespeare's reputation increased, and he became an iconic figure. Still, some critics conclude from his simple education that his plays were written by someone else—Francis Bacon and the earl of oxford are the two most popular candidates—through support for these theories is minimal.
Shakespeare contributed a great deal to the development of the English language. Many words and phrases from his plays and poems have become a common part of everyday speech. His ideas on subjects such as romantic love, heroism, comedy, and tragedy have shaped the attitudes of millions of people. As well, Shakespeare's portrayal of historical figures and events have influenced the way people think about written history. See also Lover's Complaint, A.
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