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SHAKESPEARE, WILLIAM

 

Shakespeare the man

 

LIFE

 

Although the amount of factual knowledge available about Shakespeare is

surprisingly large for one of his station in life, many find it a little

disappointing, for it is mostly gleaned from documents of an official

character. Dates of baptisms, marriages, deaths, and burials; wills,

conveyances, legal processes, and payments by the court--these are the

dusty details. There are, however, a fair number of contemporary

allusions to him as a writer, and these add a reasonable amount of flesh

and blood to the biographical skeleton.

 

Early life in Stratford.

 

The parish register of Holy Trinity Church, HYPERLINK

"/shakespeare/micro/568/83.html" Stratford-upon-Avon , Warwickshire,

shows that he was baptized there on April 26, 1564; his birthday is

traditionally celebrated on April 23. His father, John Shakespeare, was

a burgess of the borough, who in 1565 was chosen an alderman and in 1568

bailiff (the position corresponding to mayor, before the grant of a

further charter to Stratford in 1664). He was engaged in various kinds

of trade and appears to have suffered some fluctuations in prosperity.

His wife, Mary Arden, of Wilmcote, Warwickshire, came from an ancient

family and was the heiress to some land. (Given the somewhat rigid

social distinctions of the 16th century, this marriage must have been a

step up the social scale for John Shakespeare.)

 

Stratford enjoyed a grammar school of good quality, and the education

there was free, the schoolmaster's salary being paid by the borough. No

lists of the pupils who were at the school in the 16th century have

survived, but it would be absurd to suppose the bailiff of the town did

not send his son there. The boy's education would consist mostly of

Latin studies--learning to read, write, and speak the language fairly

well and studying some of the classical historians, moralists, and

poets. Shakespeare did not go on to the university, and indeed it is

unlikely that the tedious round of logic, rhetoric, and other studies

then followed there would have interested him.

 

Instead, at the age of 18 he married. Where and exactly when are not

known, but the episcopal registry at Worcester preserves a bond dated

November 28, 1582, and executed by two yeomen of Stratford, named

Sandells and Richardson, as a security to the bishop for the issue of a

license for the marriage of William Shakespeare and "Anne Hathaway of

Stratford," upon the consent of her friends and upon once asking of the

banns. (Anne died in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare. There is good

evidence to associate her with a family of Hathaways who inhabited a

beautiful farmhouse, now much visited, two miles from Stratford.) The

next date of interest is found in the records of the Stratford church,

where a daughter, named Susanna, born to William Shakespeare, was

baptized on May 26, 1583. On February 2, 1585, twins were baptized,

Hamnet and Judith. (The boy Hamnet, Shakespeare's only son, died 11

years later.)

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