400 Years of Shakespeare

by Jessica Reppert

English playwright, poet, and actor, William Shakespeare was born on April 23, 1564, in the Warwiskshire town of Stratford to Mary Arden, daughter of a landowner, and John Shakespeare, a glove maker and trader of farm produce. John held several of Stratford’s government positions, even serving as Mayor in 1569 (Gale Biography).

Shakespeare studied at the Stratford grammar school. In his early years, he studied Latin, later progressing to “the study of logic, rhetoric, composition, oration, versification, and the monuments of Roman literature,” (Gale Biography). It is believed that Shakespeare left school at age 13 to help his father. When Shakespeare turned 18, he married Ann Hathaway, a “Stratford girl,” (Gale Biography). Together they would have three children.

The Comedy of Errors (1590) is the first play on record for Shakespeare. Next came The Two Gentlemen of Verona (1591), followed by Love’s Labour’s Lost (1593). These three plays are considered Shakespeare’s “first comedies,” and were followed closely by his duo Henry VI (1592) and Richard III (1594).

Shakespeare turned to poetry and narrative when the theaters closed for most of 1593-1594 because of the plague (Gale Biography). Most of his poetry, however, was not published until 1609, including his 154 sonnets.

By 1594, Shakespeare became a writer for Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a leading company of actors, and was also a regular actor in the company (Gale Biography). During his time with this company, he wrote many of his most well-known plays, including:

  • The Taming of the Shrew (1594)
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1595)
  • The Merchant of Venice (1596)
  • Romeo and Juliet (1596)
  • Much Ado about Nothing (1598)
  • The Merry Wives of Windsor (1599)
  • Julius Caesar (1599)
  • Hamlet (1601)
  • All’s Well That Ends Well (1602)
  • Othello (1604)
  • King Lear (1605)
  • Macbeth (1606)
  • The Tempest (1611)

NOTE: This is not a complete list of Shakespeare’s work for Lord Chamberlain’s Men.

After The Tempest, Shakespeare retired to Stratford, returning to London for a short time to attempt two more plays without avail. On April 23, 1616, Shakespeare died at age 52, forever leaving an impact on the literary world.

For more details/information about William Shakespeare, his life, and his work, check out his Gale Biography in Context.

You can also check out Films on Demand for some performances and studies regarding Shakespeare.

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