William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in English language. He is often called as England’s national poet and the “Bard of Avon”. Shakespeare was born on or about 23 April in 1564. His father, John Shakespeare, was a glover and commodities merchant and his mother, Mary Arden, was from a gentry class. His parents, John and Mary, were married about 1557. Shakespeare grew up in the Tudor market town of Stratford-on-Avon, a lovely village surrounded by extensive, unspoiled woods. He was the eldest son and had several sisters and one brother. By 1568, John had risen through the rank of town government and he held he position of high bailiff, similar to the mayor.
William did his primary schooling in the local grammar school in Stratford where he lived with his parents. At the age of 18, in 27th November 1582, William married Anne Hathaway, a local farmer’s daughter who was eight years his senior. Six months after their marriage, their first daughter Susanna was born and baptized on 26th May 1583. Twins, son Hamnet and daughter Judith, followed almost two years later and were baptized on 2nd February 1585.
William’s life can be divided into three periods, his first 20 years in Stratford, which includes his schooling, early marriage and fatherhood; the next 25 years as an actor and playwright in London; and the last 5 years in retirement back in Stratford where he enjoyed moderate wealth gained from his theatrical successes. The first two periods are referred to as the “dark years” due to lack of information about Shakespeare.
Shakespeare left his school at his 15th age and took some sort of job, since this was the period of his father’s financial difficulty. At some point during the “dark years”, William began his career with a London theatrical company, probably in 1589, for he was already an actor and playwright of some note in 1592. Shakespeare wrote and acted for Pembroke’s Men as well as numerous others, in particular Strange’s Men, which later became the Chamberlain’s Men, with whom William remained for the rest of his career.
In 1592, the Plague closed the theaters for about two years. At this time Shakespeare started writing narrative poetry. The most notable were “Venus and Adonis” and “The Rape of Lucrece”. Both were dedicated to the Earl of Southampton, whom scholars accept as Shakespeare’s friend.
During this same year Shakespeare also started to write sonnets. Again when the theaters reopened in 1594, he returned to play writing and stopped publishing poetry. Shortly before his retirement, his sonnets were published without his consent in the year 1609.
In the year 1596, Shakespeare’s only son, Hamnet died at the age of 11. This was of great loss to Shakespeare. But this did not interrupt Shakespeare’s career. In 1599, in London, he became one of the partners in the new Globe Theater which was built by the Chamberlain’s Men.
When King James of Scotland, cousin of Queen Elizabeth succeeded her after her death in 1603, the Chamberlain’s Men was renamed the King’s Men. Shakespeare’s popularity and productivity continued uninterrupted. He also invested in real estate and , one year after his retirement, he purchased a second theater, the Black friars Gatehouse, in partnership with his actors.
Most of Shakespeare’s plays had never been published in anything except pamphlet form, and were simply extant as acting scripts stored in the Globe. The efforts of two of his company, John Heminges and Henry Condell, preserved Shakespeare’s 36 plays in the First Folio. Pericles which was the thirty seventh play was not included in the First Folio.
William Shakespeare died on April 23, 1616, and was buried two days later in the chancel of the Holy Trinity Church where he was baptized exactly 52 years earlier. The cause of his death was not reported. In1623 the same year when Shakespeare’s widow, Anne Hathaway Shakespeare, died, the first collection of Shakespeare’s works was published. The published collection was known as the First Folio. (The word “folio” refers to a book made up of sheets of paper folded once to form two leaves of equal size, or four pages.)
The First Folio did not include Pericles, Prince of Tyre or The Two Noble Kinsmen. The First Folio contained eighteen plays which had never been previously published. These eighteen plays included: All’s Well That Ends Well; Antony and Cleopatra; As You Like It; The Comedy of Errors; Coriolanus; Cymbeline; Henry VI, Part One; Henry VIII; Julius Caesar; King John; Macbeth; Measure for Measure; The Taming of the Shrew; The Tempest; Timon of Athens; Twelfth Night; Two Gentlemen of Verona; and The Winter’s Tale. The other eighteen plays which were included in the First Folio had been published before. It was published as a quarto edition. (The word “Quarto” refers to a book made up of sheets of paper folded twice to form four leaves of equal size, or eight pages.)
In 1632, the Second collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays was published as the Second Folio. It was a reprint of the First Folio but many changes were made in order to modernize the spellings and correct stage directions and names.
The Third Folio was published in 1663 and it contained corrections to the text of the Second Folio. It also introduced errors that were not found in the previous editions. The Third Folio was again reprinted in the year 1664 and it included within it seven new plays. One of these plays, Pericles, is generally accepted as Shakespeare’s work even though some believe another dramatist may have collaborated.
The Fourth Folio was published in 1685 and it was the last of the Folio editions of the plays. It introduced new errors as well as few modernization of the text.