William Shakespeare lived more than 400 years ago and his life has been a mystery. There are certain moments and incidents that are unclear and have no clear proof of existing till today. He was said to be born on 23rd April, 1564, however no one is certain about his date of birth either.
His life revolved around two locations, Stratford and London. He almost certainly went to one of Stratford’s junior schools where he would have learnt the language with the help of a hornbook. From the age of 7 or so, he would have gone to the King’s New School where the emphasis would have been on Latin, as it was the universal language of Europe in the 1500s. He probably left school at the age of 14 or 15.
Shakespeare’s plays disclosed detailed knowledge of the curriculum taught in such schools which taught their students both spoken and written Latin. Shakespeare’s plays and poetry were influenced by the classical writers studied in school; for instance, some of his ideas for plots and characters came from Ovid’s tales, the plays of Terence and Plautus, and Roman history.
Between 1585 and 1592 are generally referred to as ‘The Lost Years’ as not much is known about Shakespeare. However, we know that he was in London by 1592 where he was singled out by a rival dramatist, Robert Greene. Before the release of his first poem, Shakespeare earned a living as an actor till 1592. But due to a plague breaking out in London in 1593, the theatres were forced to close. This is when Shakespeare turned to writing poetry and in 1593 published his first erotic poem, Venus and Adonis, dedicated to Henry Wriothesley, Third Earl of Southampton, a young courtier and favourite of Queen Elizabeth.
Shakespeare became a founding member, actor, playwright and shareholder of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men in 1594. Richard Burbage was the company’s leading actor, who played roles such as Richard III, Hamlet, Othello and Lear.
Post this Shakespeare started to earn his fortune after his six comedies, five histories as well as the tragedy Romeo and Juliet, took the London theatre world by storm between 1594 and 1598. Soon he became a partner in the new Globe Theatre. Which was a risky but extremely successful investment. Shakespeare exploited The Globe Theatre to the fullest with productions like Henry V, Julius Caesar and Othello.
After Elizabeth I’s death in 1603, King James I of VI of Scotland took the throne. James was the first king to rule over both Scotland and England. It is said to be a coincidence that Shakespeare wrote one of his greatest tragedies, the famous ‘Scottish Play’ Macbeth sometime between 1604 and 1606. King James was greatly impressed by Shakespeare, that he conferred his own royal patronage on him and his partners; making them the ‘King’s Men’, due to which they received twice the pay they used to receive during the reign of Queen Elizabeth.
Henry VI Parts I, II & III, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and Titus Andronicus were Shakespeare’s earliest plays. He also wrote sonnets during this time, however they were not published until 1609. In his artistic lifetime, Shakespeare wrote about 38 plays and over 150 short and long poems, many of which are considered to be the greatest publications ever written in English. His work has been translated into every major language and even 400 years after his death, they continue to be performed around the world and taught in all schools and colleges.
The Two Noble Kinsmen was one of the last plays that Shakespeare worked on. He wrote this play with a frequent collaborator, John Fletcher, around 1613. Sometime after 1611, Shakespeare retired to Stratford and died on 23rd April 1616, which is his presumed birthday. Shakespeare’s work continues to live on through countless schools, colleges, as well as amateur and professional productions performed across the world each year.