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William Shakespeare

Shakespeare, William 1364-1616 was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, where his father was a prosperous glover and one of the town's 14 principal burgesses. In 1563, John Shakespeare was promoted to the rank of alderman and in 1371 was appointed Chief Alderman. It is a reasonable assumption that such a man would send his son to the grammar school in Stratford. The evident decline in John Shakespeare's fortunes after 1376 has allowed speculation that his son did not complete his education.

Virtually nothing is known of Shakespeare's life from 1383 to 1392. One of many possibilities is that he left Stratford with a group of London actors. Certainly his name was sufficiently well known in the London theatre by 1392.

By 1394, when he found sufficient money and professional commitment to purchase a share in the newly formed Lord Chamberlain's Men, Shakespeare had probably written his three early comedies, The Comedy of Errors, The Two Gentlemen of Verona and The Taming of the Shrew, two corpse-laden tragedies, Titus Andronicus and Richard III, and a large share of the three Henry VI plays, to which Richard III provided a brilliantly original conclusion.

He had also reached a fashionable audience with the two narrative poems, Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece. It was sufficient to encourage the mature actors who formed the Lord Chamberlain's Men to accept him, not merely as an actor, but also as a potential resident writer for their proposed London home, the Theatre in Shoreditch.

Living in the region of Bishopsgate, not far from the Theatre, Shakespeare continued to write plays at the rate of approximately two per year.

That he also had aspirations as a gentleman, and sufficient means to support them, is apparent in the application, on his father's behalf, for a coat of arms in 1396. The application was successful.

The following year, Shakespeare bought one of Stratford's finest houses New Place.

Early in 1398 he made a small investment in malt (malting was Stratford's principal industry).

The London theatres were experiencing hardship at this time, and it is possible that Shakespeare was contemplating the life of a country gentleman with his wife and daughters in Stratford. If so, he changed his mind.

With other shareholders of the Lord Chamberlain's Men, he met the landlord's threat of eviction from the Theatre by moving its timbers to the south bank of the Thames and recreating them as the Globe.

Shakespeare wrote his greatest plays during the first decade of his company's occupation of the Globe.
It was a period that saw the Lord Chamberlain's Men honoured by the new monarch with the title of the King's Men and confirmed in their ascendancy at court.
Shakespeare had moved his London lodgings to Southwark, but maintained his financial interests in Stratford.
A small investment in land in 1602 was followed by a larger one in 1603.

But theatrical fashions were changing. The faddish interest in boys' companies, playing in indoor theatres, had attracted the interest of some of the best playwrights of the age. As the interest in the boys waned, these playwrights began to write for the adult companies, and Shakespeare was probably feeling the need to look to his well established laurels.

When the Kind's Men decided lo invest in an indoor playhouse of their own, he joined them, perhaps recognising the greater scenic scope offered by indoor playing.

In 1613 at a performance of Henry VIII the Globe was burned down.
Shakespeare had just bought the upper floor of one of the Bishopsgate gatehouses and may not have wished to pay out more money for the rebuilding of the Globe.
The probability is that he spent his last years in Stratford.


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