William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare

Biography of William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare was an English poet, playwright, and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet, and the "Bard of Avon".

William Shakespeare was born on April 23, 1564, in Stratford-on-Avon. The son of John Shakespeare and Mary Arden, he was probably educated at the King Edward VI Grammar School in Stratford, where he learned Latin and a little Greek and read the Roman dramatists. At eighteen, he married Anne Hathaway, a woman seven or eight years his senior. Together they raised two daughters: Susanna, who was born in 1583, and Judith (whose twin brother died in boyhood), born in 1585.

Little is known about Shakespeare’s activities between 1585 and 1592. Robert Greene’s A Groatsworth of Wit alludes to him as an actor and playwright. Shakespeare may have taught at school during this period, but it seems more probable that shortly after 1585 he went to London to begin his apprenticeship as an actor. Due to the plague, the London theaters were often closed between June 1592 and April 1594. During that period, Shakespeare probably had some income from his patron, Henry Wriothesley, earl of Southampton, to whom he dedicated his first two poems, Venus and Adonis (1593) and The Rape of Lucrece (1594). The former was a long narrative poem depicting the rejection of Venus by Adonis, his death, and the consequent disappearance of beauty from the world. Despite conservative objections to the poem’s glorification of sensuality, it was immensely popular and was reprinted six times during the nine years following its publication.

In 1594, Shakespeare joined the Lord Chamberlain’s company of actors, the most popular of the companies acting at Court. In 1599 Shakespeare joined a group of Chamberlain’s Men that would form a syndicate to build and operate a new playhouse: the Globe, which became the most famous theater of its time. With his share of the income from the Globe, Shakespeare was able to purchase New Place, his home in Stratford.

While Shakespeare was regarded as the foremost dramatist of his time, evidence indicates that both he and his contemporaries looked to poetry, not playwriting, for enduring fame. Shakespeare’s sonnets were composed between 1593 and 1601, though not published until 1609. That edition, The Sonnets of Shakespeare, consists of 154 sonnets, all written in the form of three quatrains and a couplet that is now recognized as Shakespearean. The sonnets fall into two groups: sonnets 1-126, addressed to a beloved friend, a handsome and noble young man, and sonnets 127-152, to a malignant but fascinating “Dark Lady," who the poet loves in spite of himself. Nearly all of Shakespeare’s sonnets examine the inevitable decay of time, and the immortalization of beauty and love in poetry.

In his poems and plays, Shakespeare invented thousands of words, often combining or contorting Latin, French, and native roots. His impressive expansion of the English language, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, includes such words as: arch-villain, birthplace, bloodsucking, courtship, dewdrop, downstairs, fanged, heartsore, hunchbacked, leapfrog, misquote, pageantry, radiance, schoolboy, stillborn, watchdog, and zany.

Shakespeare wrote more than thirty plays. These are usually divided into four categories: histories, comedies, tragedies, and romances. His earliest plays were primarily comedies and histories such as Henry VI and The Comedy of Errors, but in 1596, Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet, his second tragedy, and over the next dozen years he would return to the form, writing the plays for which he is now best known: Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra. In his final years, Shakespeare turned to the romantic with Cymbeline, A Winter’s Tale, and The Tempest.

Only eighteen of Shakespeare’s plays were published separately in quarto editions during his lifetime; a complete collection of his works did not appear until the publication of the First Folio in 1623, several years after his death. Nonetheless, his contemporaries recognized Shakespeare’s achievements. Francis Meres cited “honey-tongued” Shakespeare for his plays and poems in 1598, and the Chamberlain’s Men rose to become the leading dramatic company in London, installed as members of the royal household in 1603.

Sometime after 1612, Shakespeare retired from the stage and returned to his home in Stratford. He drew up his will in January of 1616, which included his famous bequest to his wife of his “second best bed.” He died on April 23, 1616, and was buried two days later at Stratford Church.

Plays by William Shakespeare

Poems by William Shakespeare

  1. My Butterfly
  2. Sonnet 1: From fairest creatures we desire increase
  3. Sonnet 104: To me, fair friend, you never can be old
  4. Sonnet 106: When in the chronicle of wasted time
  5. Sonnet 107: Not mine own fears, nor the prophetic soul
  6. Sonnet 109: O! never say that I was false of heart
  7. Sonnet 110: Alas, 'tis true I have gone here and there
  8. Sonnet 111: O, for my sake do you with Fortune chide,
  9. Sonnet 116: Let me not to the marriage of true minds
  10. Sonnet 12: When I do count the clock that tells the time
  11. Sonnet 121: 'Tis better to be vile than vile esteemed
  12. Sonnet 123: No, Time, thou shalt not boast that I do change
  13. Sonnet 125: Were’t aught to me I bore the canopy
  14. Sonnet 126: O thou, my lovely boy, who in thy pow’r
  15. Sonnet 129: Th'expense of spirit in a waste of shame
  16. Sonnet 130: My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun
  17. Sonnet 133: Beshrew that heart that makes my heart to groan
  18. Sonnet 134: So now I have confessed that he is thine
  19. Sonnet 135: Whoever hath her wish, thou hast thy Will
  20. Sonnet 138: When my love swears that she is made of truth
  21. Sonnet 139: O, call not me to justify the wrong
  22. Sonnet 141: In faith, I do not love thee with mine eyes
  23. Sonnet 142: Love is my sin, and thy dear virtue hate
  24. Sonnet 144: Two loves I have of comfort and despair
  25. Sonnet 146: Poor soul, the centre of my sinful earth,
  26. Sonnet 147: My love is as a fever, longing still
  27. Sonnet 15: When I consider everything that grows
  28. Sonnet 18: Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
  29. Sonnet 19: Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion's paws
  30. Sonnet 2: When forty winters shall besiege thy brow
  31. Sonnet 20: A woman’s face with nature’s own hand painted
  32. Sonnet 25: Let those who are in favour with their stars
  33. Sonnet 29: When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes
  34. Sonnet 3: Look in thy glass and tell the face thou viewest
  35. Sonnet 30: When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
  36. Sonnet 32: If thou survive my well-contented day
  37. Sonnet 33: Full many a glorious morning have I seen
  38. Sonnet 34: Why didst thou promise such a beauteous day
  39. Sonnet 35: No more be grieved at that which thou hast done
  40. Sonnet 40: Take all my loves, my love, yea, take them all
  41. Sonnet 53: What is your substance, whereof are you made
  42. Sonnet 55: Not marble nor the gilded monuments
  43. Sonnet 57: Being your slave, what should I do but tend
  44. Sonnet 60: Like as the waves make towards the pebbl'd shore
  45. Sonnet 64: When I have seen by Time's fell hand defac'd
  46. Sonnet 65: Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea
  47. Sonnet 66: Tir'd with all these, for restful death I cry
  48. Sonnet 71: No longer mourn for me when I am dead
  49. Sonnet 73: That time of year thou mayst in me behold
  50. Sonnet 76: Why is my verse so barren of new pride
  51. Sonnet 87: Farewell! thou art too dear for my possessing
  52. Sonnet 94: They that have power to hurt and will do none
  53. Sonnet 97: How like a winter hath my absence been
  54. Sonnet 98: From you have I been absent in the spring