Shakespeare, WILLIAM (l564-1616), was born at Stratford-on-Avon in April (probably on April 23 Old Style), 1564. His father, John Shakespeare, a fel1monger and glover, who in 1568 became high-bailiff of Stratford, had married in 1557 Mary Arden, daughter of a well-to-do farmer. William Shakespeare was probably educated at the Stratford free school, where he would have learnt some Latin and possibly the rudiments of Greek. When he was about fourteen years old his father fell into pecuniary troubles. There is a tradition that the boy became a butcher's apprentice; it has been conjectured that he was also for a time in an attorney's office, the legal allusions in his writings being unusually numerous and accurate. At the age of 18 and a half he was married to Anne Hathaway, daughter of a yeoman of Shottery in the parish of Stratford; she was eight years older than her husband. A daughter, named Susanna, was baptised on May 26, 1583. His other children were twins, Hamnet and Judith (baptised February 2, 1585); Hamnet died in his twelfth year; Susanna a and Judith survived their father.
The tradition that Shakespeare quitted Stratford in consequence of trouble which followed a deer-stealing expedition on the grounds of Sir Thomas Lucy, of Charlcote, is probably based on fact. The date is perhaps 1586 or 1587. It is said that his first employment in London was that of holding horses at the theatre door; but the statement cannot be proved. We lose sight of him until 1592, when he is referred to in a hostile spirit, as an actor and playwright, by Robert Greene, the dramatist, in the pamphlet G1eene's Groatsworth of Wit. Chettle, the editor of Greene's deathbed pamphlet, apologises for the attack, and speaks of Shakespeare's "grace of writing" and "uprightness of dealing." As an actor Shakespeare never became eminent; he is said to have played the ghost in his own Hamlet, Old Adam in As You Like It, and Old Knowell in Jonson's Every Man in his Humour. In 1593 appeared his narrative poem Venus and Adonis, dedicated as the "first heir of his invention" to the Earl of Southampton, his friend and patron. It was followed in 1594 by The Rape of Lucrece. Both poems were highly popular; the earlier is remarkable for its pictures of country life; the latter for its sympathy with Roman character; the Venus is a study of feminine passion and boyish coldness; the Lucrece represents wifely chastity and fidelity opposed by the treason and violence of an evil man.
Shakespeare's first work as a dramatic writer (about 1589-90) was probably that of rebandling and fitting to the stage pieces by earlier dramatists. Titus Andronicus may have been retouched by him, and it is believed that he made additions (as Act ii. sc. 4) to the First Part of Henrry VI. In the Second and Third Parts of Henry VI. he revised the work of Greene and perhaps Marlowe, possibly with Marlowe's assistance. King Richard III. shows the influence of Marlow, though his hand is not present in the work. In the prose passages of the early comedies he was influenced by Lyly. Love's Labour Lost satirises contemporary affectations of manners and diction. The farcical Comedy of Errors illustrates the influence of Plautus on English comedy. The Two Gentlemen of Verona, partly derived from a Spanish source, is a play in the romantic manner. This early group of comedies reaches its highest point in A Midsummer Night's Dream, where exquisite lyrical writing, broad hnmour, and chivalric sentiment are delightfully brought together. King Richard II. (about 1594), though not unaffected by Marlowe's Edward II., shows how Shakespeare in historical drama was delivering himself from discipleship to Marlowe. King John (about 1595), to some extent founded on an older play, stands as regards style midway between Shakespeare's early histories and those of his maturer years - the two parts of King Henry IV. (1597-98) and King Henry V. (1599), in which there is a great development of comic power. In like manner the Merchant of Venice represents the mid-period between the earliest comedies and those which were produced in the closing years of the 16th century. Shakespeare's earliest independent tragedy is the lyrical tragedy of youth and love and death, Romeo and Juliet. Its chief source is Arthur Brooke's narrative poem Romeus and Juliet (1562), itself derived from an Italian tale by Bandello. Thus alike in comedy, history, and tragedy Shakespeare was advancing with swift and unfaltering steps. He had learnt all that his dramatic predecessors could teach him, and had formed a style of his own.
Meanwhile, his worldly fortunes prospered. He acted witb his company - the Lord Chamberlain's - on several occasions before Queen Elizabeth. In 1597 he purchased "New Place," a large house in Stratford, and he seems to have exerted himself to restore his father's fallen fortunes. In 1598 he assisted in negotiating a loan for the Stratford Corporation. He became a sharebolder in the Globe Theatre, erected in 1599 on the Southwark side of the river near London Bridge. In 1602 he enlarged his New Place property, and bought 107 acres of land near Stratford. Three years later he purchased for £440 the unexpired term of a moiety of the Stratford and neighbouring tithes. But as he advanced in life sorrows came to Shakespeare. His son Hamnet died in 1596; his father in 1601; in 1607 he lost his brother Edmund, an actor; in the following year his mother died. The Sonnets published in 1609, but probably written several years previously, tell of an idealising friendship for some unknown youth of high station, and of an extravagant passion for some unknown lady, highly accomplished but not beautiful in person, upon whom Shakespeare squandered his heart. She would seem to have ensnared Shakespeare's young friend, with the result that the friendship, though afterwards restored, was broken for a time. The Sonnets are dedicated by the bookseller to "Mr. W. H." as their "only begetter." Many conjectures have been hazarded as to the identity of Shakespeare's friend; perhaps the least unfortunate is that which suggests that he was William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke. An attempt has been made to identify the lady of the Sonnets with Mary Fitton, a maid of honour to the queen. Some critics argue that "Mr. W. H." was Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton; others regard the veiled story of these poems as wholly fanciful; others as an allegory; but it can hardly be doubted that a basis of fact supports what is ideal or imaginative.
Shukespeare's brightest comedies lie about the year 1600. The Merry Wives of Windsor is said to have been hastily written at the request of Queen Elizabeth, who desired to see Falstaff in love. The Taming of the Shrew, somewhat boisterous in its mirth, is founded on an older play. In Much Ado about Nothing, founded on a story by Bandello, the mirth is refined, and some matter almost tragic is connected with the humour of the piece. As You Like It, based on a novel by Lodge (itself derived from the old poem of Gamelyn), and Twelfth Night brings the development of Elizabeth comedy to its highest point. The gaiety declines in the comedies which immediately succeed; All's Well that Ends Well is serious in the presentation of its strong-willed and clear-sighted heroine; Measure for Measure is dark, and would be painful but for the nobility of the character of Isabella; Troilus and Cressida, the date of which is disputed, is a comedy of disillusion, almost cynical in its satire of spurious heroism and the deceptions of passion. At this point Shakespeare turned from comedy to tragedy. Julius Caesar (1601) and Hamlet (1602) may be described as tragedies rather of reflection than of passion. In the former Shakespeare follows Plutarch; the latter is perhaps based upon an older play. Each represents, in the persons of Brutus and Hamlet, the inefficiency of a thinker and student for dealing with the tragic material of actual life. Tragedies of passion follow. In Othello (about 1604) the fatal breach is between husband and wife; in King Lear (1605) it is between father and child. Macbeth (about 1606), the tragedy of guilty ambition, represents the treason of a subject to the king. In Antony and Cleopatra (1607) and Coriolanus (1608) the poet again handles Roman history; the one is the tragedy of Roman manhood yielding to the seductions of sensual pleasure; the other is that of Roman pride overthrown by its own excess. The heroine of one play exhibits the voluptuous genius of the East; the heroine of the other is the lofty matron of Rome. This group of plays closes with Timon of Athens (about 1607-8), which exhibits the ruin of manhood, cansed by pessimistic despair following on an over-lax benevolence.
The last group of Shakespeare's plays are romantic, and, though showing a deep knowledge of human ills, are radiantly serene in temper. They tell of the knitting again of broken human ties, of the gentleness and wisdom of old age, the joy of unstained youth, the blessedness of the forgiveness of injuries, and the loveliness of meadow and mountain and sea. Probably only a part of Pericles (part of Act iii. and all of iv. and v.) comes from Shakespeare's hand. Cymbeline combines a fragment of old British legend with matter from Italian romance. The Tempest is like a great mage's legacy of wisdom. In The Winter's Tale Shakespeare dramatised a novel by his early contemporary Greene. It is now disputed whether any portion of King Henry VIII. belongs to Shakespeare; part of the play is undoubtedly by Fletcher. The authorship of The Two Noble Kinsmen is also uncertain; but possibly in it, as in Henry VIII., Fletcher co-operated with Shakespeare.
We do not know that Shakespeare appeared as an actor after 1603 or 1604. In 1607 his daughter Susanna married a Stratford physician named Hall. The shares in the Globe Theatre were sold, but Shakespeare, while retiring to his native place, retained a connection with London, having bought in 1613 a house near Blackfriars Theatre. In February, 1616, his daughter Judith married Thomas Quiney, a Stratford vintner. A month later the great poet was seriously ill, and attached his signature to a draft copy of his will. He died April 23, 1616, and his body was laid in the chancel of the parish church, His widow lived until 1623. The only indisputably genuine portraits of Shakespeare are the rudely-executed bust in the church at Stratford and the rude engraving by Droeshout in the first collected text of his plays (l623). The form "Shakspere" has autograph authority; "Shakespeare" is the form which appears on title-pages of books for the publication of which the poet is responsible.