"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts.”
During his lifetime, he published 38 plays,154 sonnets, and several poems. His writing has been translated into every single language in the world, making him one of the only writers who I universally popular with everyone.
William Shakespeare was the greatest writer of all time. He has had the biggest impact on literature for all of human history. Some historians believe that he may have even written the first English translation of the King James Bible.
During his lifetime, he published 38 plays,154 sonnets, and several poems. His writing has been translated into every single language in the world, making him one of the only writers who Is universally popular with everyone. So,
how did his life experience shape him into someone so profound, that his words have lasted for hundreds of years?
About William Shakespeare
Life in Stratford-upon-Avon Most historians believes that William Shakespeare was born on April 23, 1564, in England. His father, John Shakespeare, was the son of successful farmers, and a glove-maker. John was very popular in town and made a lot of friends.
One year, he was given the hilarious position of Stratford’s “official ale taster”, and in 1568, he was appointed as the High Bailiff, which is like a modern-day mayor. Aside from his glove business, John also had a side hustle trading wool, which was actually illegal to do without a proper license. During this time, John bought several properties in Stratford and was moving up in both financial and social status. However, this upward mobility would come to a halt when John was finally caught for illegally trading wool. He was forced to go to court and pay substantial fines.
William Shakespeare only attended primary school until age 13, because his father could no longer pay for the tuition after his legal scandal. No one is sure what young William did between the ages of 13 to 18, but he most likely worked with his father to help keep the family business afloat. According to the records kept by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, William was just 18 years old when he got a 26-year-old woman named Anne Hathaway pregnant.
In Elizabethan England, the age of consent was 21. So William had to get Anne’s father’s permission for the two of them to get married. This would have been very shameful in the eyes of Elizabethan society. Normally, parents helped to arrange marriages with their young daughters and eligible suitors. Women never had a choice in who they married, and this courtship process often started in their teenage years. Girls could get married as young as 12 if their parents gave consent, but the majority began searching for their daughter’s husband sat at age 14 to 15.
With young men, however, most parents allowed their sons to choose their own wife after the age of consent at 21. By age 26, women were considered to be an “old maid”, because they would have gone through over 10 years of courtship and no proposals of marriage. If a woman went too long without finding a husband, she was considered to have something seriously wrong with her and would be labeled as a “witch”.
Anne Hathaway was already 26 and had failed to find a husband. Many historians speculate that Anne must have seduced the young and naive William Shakespeare, knowing that it would force them to get married. This held young Shakespeare back from pursuing his dream for years. Back then, if a young man was a father, he was no longer eligible to become an apprentice in a skilled trade.
So getting a woman pregnant as a teenager would essentially sentence a man to a life of poverty, and he would be doomed to work in the lowest-paying jobs for the rest of his life. They were married in November of 1582. Six months later, Anne gave birth to their daughter, Susanna. As a teenage parent, Shakespeare did not have the money to care for a child, so he and Anne had to live with William’s parents.
He had 5 younger siblings who were just 2to 13 years old when his daughter Susanna was born. There are no records that give us any insight into how William felt about Anne, but the lack of evidence speaks volumes, as well. Most writers can’t help but gush with words of admiration about the people they love. Considering that he would later create some of the most romantic stories of all time, we know that he must have fallen in love at some point in his life. But most historians believe that his inspiration came from affairs he had later in life.
William and Anne went on to have twins- a boy and a girl named Hamnet and Judith. Between the years that his twins were born in 1585, leading up to the point where he moved to London to become a writer in 1592have been called “the lost years”. Back then, it was totally normal for people not to keep records of their own lives, especially when he was just your average laborer. But this period of time has become legendary among Shakespeare nerds, who like to imagine what sort of life would have to lead him to ultimately decide to move to London to become an actor. Since there are no records, everything that has been written about the lost years is basically fan fiction.
The only real clue is a poem from his play As You Like It, which has been called “The seven ages of man.” This has people speculating that he may have become a soldier or a legal clerk. However, this was written in a work of fiction, so it really may have nothing to do with his personal life. For now, much of his young life will simply remain a mystery. Self-Made Success During the Elizabethan Era, there was an economic expansion in England. With more money comes more time for leisure,so citizens were indulging in the arts more than ever before. Records of William Shakespeare living in London as an actor began when he was 28 years old. His wife, Anne, and his children remain living in his father’s home in Stratford-upon-Avon, and he would send money to support them.
Before he wrote plays, he had been publishing poetry and sonnets with the help of wealthy patrons. At the time, becoming an actor was not the dream career that it is today. In fact, actors were considered to be untrustworthy vagabonds who came from the lowest class of society. In this way, his struggles in his earlier life may have been a blessing in disguise, because if he had a better job, he may have never stooped so low as to run away and join the theater.
He began working for an acting company called Lord Chamberlain’s Men. For years, Shakespeare mainly worked as an actor, and would only occasionally submit a script of a play or a sonnet for the company to perform. After performing some of his plays, co-workers realized that Shakespeare’s scripts were the most popular, by far, and they drew the biggest crowds. It made the most financial sense for the troupe to continue performing Shakespeare’s work above anyone else’s.
The troupe would rent the stage from the owner of The Globe Theater. At the time, there were several popular theaters in London called The Rose, The Hope, and The Swan. So they were far from being the only company that was trying to capture an audience’s attention. The performances at The Globe became so popular, the entire city would come to see Shakespeare’s work. The theater was set up to incorporate special effects into their performances like trap doors and overhead rigging. At one point, performances at The Globe were so popular, even members of the royal family would come to see them on a regular basis. When King James I came into power, he decided to sponsor Lord Chamberlain’s Men, so they changed the company name to “The King’sMen”.
At the beginning of his playwriting career, Shakespeare wrote biographies about the lives of King Henry VI and Richard III. Shakespeare’s plays were considered to be historically accurate for a long time. However, after discovering the remains of Richard III, scientists realized that while Shakespeare’s exaggerated his physical appearance, so it is likely that he exaggerated his personality, too.
By the time he was 32 years old, he came out with his first play that was a complete work of fiction, called “The Comedy of Errors.” That same year, in 1596, William’s father John Shakespeare was able to secure a family coat of arms, which was a sign that their family was now accepted into the upper echelons of society. In 1597, William Shakespeare was 33 years old, and his writing career was finally successful enough so that he could afford to buy his own house for his wife and children in Stratford-upon-Avon. He called the house “New Place”.
At the time, it would have taken two to three days of travel on horseback to get to London, so he always kept an apartment in the city. The stereotype that actors were vagabonds wasn’t too far from the truth. At the very least, you could say that they were incredibly crafty. In 1597, the owner of The Globe Theater, GilesAllen, wanted to tear it down so that he could sell the land. He abruptly ended the lease with the LordChamberlain’s Men.
This would have ruined their careers since most other theaters in London were full of their competitors. But someone came up with a genius solution. They offered to give Giles Allen free labor to dismantle the theater themselves, in exchange for the “putting the materials to better use”.
Allen planned to just burn the wood, anyway, so he didn’t see the problem with that. The theater troupe all got together in the middle of the night to carefully tear down the theater, and they went to a property across the Thames river. Then, they used all of these free materials to rebuild the Globe Theater exactly as it had been, only now, it was across the river. They had the exact same performance space without having to pay their rent. This stunt became the talk of the town, and only made their company even more popular, but the landlord was furious. Giles Allen tried to take them to court to sue them for the value of the theater.
After reading the contract he signed, the judge found The Lord Chamberlain’s Men not guilty of any crime, and they had every right to do whatever they wanted with the materials. For the rest of his life, William Shakespeare’sreputation would continue to grow, and he was nothing short of a celebrity. Now just before we get into the rest of Shakespeare's life, let me tell you a bit about Brilliant. Brilliant is a science learning platform that allows you to learn through "active learning". Which, summed up is basically the opposite of that feeling of reading a complex paragraph about some principle, and just having absolutely no clue what on earth it was going on about... Even on the 10th read through... And it's not just the basics (although they cover that), it goes all the way through to things like complex statistics.
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Love & FamilyNow that William Shakespeare was living on his own and succeeding in his career, he was able to enjoy the freedoms of being a bachelor. There is some speculation that he may have actually been bisexual. After all, plays during the Elizabethan Era were always performed with an all-male cast. Men with fair features would cross-dress to play the female roles, and they would often kiss on stage.
This was one of the many reasons why actors were considered to be so low-class, as well. So for a man to choose to leave his wife and kids to run away to the theater, it’s not so hard to imagine that his sexuality may have had something to do with it. One of the biggest pieces of evidence is his sonnet, “Fair Youth”, which holds the famous line; “Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?” It is very romantic, but few people realize that it was actually a love poem written about a young man.
He kept that poem hidden for years until it was recovered after his death. It was later edited to remove all of the male pronouns. But there was one line where he describes the fair youth as having “a woman’s face”. The most popular theory as to the identity of the “fair youth” is one of his first patrons, Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton.
He began to financially support Shakespeare’swork at the beginning of his writing career, and they remained loyal friends long after he became a famous playwright. Looking at the portrait of a young Henry Wriothesley, he truly does look androgynous, and he seems to be the most likely candidate. For the historians who feel threatened by the idea that Shakespeare was not straight, they try to claim that they were just really good friends.
Because it’s totally normal for dudes to write love poems about each other, right? Yet another poem may have revealed details of one of Shakespeare’s lovers. This time, in a sonnet called “The DarkLady”, he describes a woman with black hair and eyes, with brown skin. Historians have tried to figure out who this woman was. There are several theories, including one that he was writing about a famous London sex worker nicknamed “Black Luce”.
We do not know how much time he spent in Stratford-upon-Avon with his family, but considering how busy he was working in London, most speculate that he only saw them on holidays. When William Shakespeare was in his 40’s, his son Hamnet died at just 11 years old. At the time, the bubonic plague was killing people across England, and one-third of the children died by the age of 10. Hamnet had been his only son, so his death affected him very deeply. Most people speculate that the death of his son is what inspired him to write his play “Hamlet”.
Did He Work Alone? For years, some historians have speculated that William Shakespeare may not have worked alone, because they have a hard time believing that someone who stopped his education by age 13 could not possibly grow up to be the greatest writer of all time. We do know that a fellow playwright named Thomas Middleton either collaborated or edited Shakespeare’s work.
It’s perfectly normal for writers to collaborate on projects together, and he probably got plenty of feedback from his co-workers in the acting troupe. However, most modern-day readers will never even see just how impressive his writing truly was, and a trained eye can see the progression in his style.
The way we pronounce words in the Englishlanguage has dramatically changed. In his original scripts, there are even more rhyming and clever puns hidden in the dialogue that a modern-day reader would never pick up on. And yet, it’s still incredible, even if we miss half of the jokes. At the very beginning of this video, we mentioned that he may have had a hand in collaborating with The King James Bible. In 1610, King James set out to translate the bible from Latin to English, but for those who have studied theology, you already know that the translation is not exact. William Shakespeare was one of the most respected writers in England at the time, and King James would have surely gone to see his plays. So it would only make sense that he may have been at least one of the collaborators on writing the Bible.
William Shakespeare was 46 years have been old at the time, and the project began soon after his birth. Historians with way too much time on their hands figured out that in Psalm 46 if you count out 46 words from the beginning of the verse, you’ll find the word “shake”, and then if you count 46 words backward from the end, you’ll find the word “spear”. Most believe that this is enough evidence to prove that he really did write the book, and this was the only way he could slip his authorship into the text. Even though we see his hidden signature, we still do not know if he wrote the entirety of the King James Bible by himself, or if there were other collaborators. However, you can take a quotation quiz online called “Bible or Shakespeare?” and you’ll quickly realize that the writing styles between Shakespeare's plays and the Bible are so similar, even fans have trouble knowing the difference.
There is a common saying that Shakespeare was so profound, every single story that has been written since then cannot help but be influenced by him or the Bible...And, since he wrote both, it’s all just him. The End of A Life. Beginning of A LegacyIn 1613, The Globe Theater burned to the ground during a performance of “Henry VIII”. They were shooting off cannons to create a realistic effect of a battle, but they accidentally set fire to the theater. After the fire, he stopped writing, because there was nowhere for his plays to be performed. The troupe began to rebuild the theater almost immediately, but for William Shakespeare, this situation was so traumatic, he needed a break from writing.
He moved back to live with Anne Hathaway in Stratford-up-Avon and died just 3 years later. In 2018, a movie called All is True speculated what life must have been like for him during his short retirement. Historians have noted that in these last three years, William Shakespeare’s handwriting was very shaky from hand tremors. This could have indicated that he contracted syphilis from one of his lovers, and was now in the later stages of the disease. Some believe that he was also suffering from mercury poisoning, and this may explain some of his more dark and tragic work. In 1616, William Shakespeare was just 52 years old, and on the verge of death.
He wrote his last will and testament, which is where we find the only time he had ever written about his wife; “Item I give unto my wife is the second-best bed, and the furniture.” Many husbands made the wives executors of their will and wrote some romantic words about how they trusted them with their estates. But, nope. That’s all he had to say. After he died, the men who worked together with William Shakespeare in The King’s Men gathered together his scripts to preserve them for future generations.
This is known as the “First Folio”. Later, the poetry that was attributed to him was added to the “Second Folio”, and whatever they could find was considered his “complete works”. But, of course, there is always a chance that he had written other pieces that the world never knew about. Even though these plays were kept by a ragtag group of actors, his words resonated with people so much, that it became a worldwide phenomenon. So, what makes Shakespeare’s writing so good? How has it lasted for hundreds of years, and people are still reading and becoming inspired by it? The answer is that Shakespeare took the time to study human beings.
No matter who we are, all people share common emotions and life experiences. In fiction, characters often get placed in scenarios where it’s easy to find solutions. The knight slays the dragon. The princess is rescued by a prince. Most legendary stories and fairy tales are black-and-white. But Shakespeare’s characters are truly complex, just like real people. In real life, we are sometimes put in a situation that is so difficult, there is no absolute “right thing” to do.
We simply have to follow our intuition and make a choice, and deal with negative consequences either way. By tapping into the human condition, his tragedies were heart-wrenching, and his romances were epic. But through it all, he tries to insert comedy to help people laugh at even the hardest things in life. His characters have helped people to have more empathy for the plight of others, instead of casting judgment far too quickly. And every new generation of aspiring writers since then has tried to accomplish the same.
We do not have any journals to help us figure out what went through William Shakespeare’s mind at the end of his life when he was struggling with a terminal illness. But we do have some very powerful insights into his mind from one of his last plays called The Tempest.
He probably knew that he would die soon. So, within the text of this play, he just may have tried to tell the world some of the most valuable advice he learned throughout his lifetime. The main character is a man named Prospero who was trapped on an island with his daughter. He becomes a sorcerer, and he communes with spirits who give him control over the weather. At certain points in the story, Prospero seems to be on the brink of madness as he uses his power to go after his revenge.
But throughout the course of the play, he learns how to forgive his enemies, not judge people based on their appearances, and embrace love as being one of the most powerful things in the world. In the end, Prospero asks the audience for forgiveness for the terrible things he had done, too, and it was met with thunderous applause. With this in mind, we’ll leave you with some of the last lines William Shakespeare wrote in The Tempest;
“Our revels now are ended. These our actors, As I foretold you, were all spirits and Are melted into air. We are such stuff As dreams are made on, and our little life Is rounded with a sleep.”