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William Shakespeare - a biography


William Shakespeare was born in 1564, in Stratford-upon-Avon, located in the centre of England. The register of Stratford's Holy Trinity Church records Shakespeare's baptism on 26 April. His father, John, trained as a glove-maker and married Mary Arden, the daughter of Robert Arden, a farmer from the nearby village of Wilmcote. John and Mary set up home in Henley Street, Stratford.

      John Shakespeare was a prominent citizen, serving on the town council for many years and becoming Bailiff, or Mayor, in 1568. Besides his craft as a glover, he traded as a wool dealer and was also involved in money-lending.

John and Mary lost two children before William was born. They had five more children, another of whom died young. William almost certainly attended Stratford Junior School before progressing to the Grammar School, which still stands. The Grammar School's curriculum was geared to teaching pupils Latin, both spoken and written.

It is not known what Shakespeare did when he left school, probably at the age of fourteen, as was usual. In November 1582 he married Anne Hathaway, the daughter of Richard Hathaway, a local farmer. Her home, now known as Anne Hathaway's Cottage, still stands in the village of Shottery, a mile from Stratford. At the time of their marriage William was eighteen and Anne was twenty-six. Their first-born child, Susanna, was baptised on 26 May 1583. Two years later twins followed, Hamnet and Judith.

We do not know when or why Shakespeare left Stratford for London, or what he was doing before becoming a professional actor and dramatist in the capital. A plausible early tradition claims Shakespeare was a schoolmaster for some years. When he was growing up, drama was a significant part of Stratford's social life. Not only did local people put on amateur shows, but the town was visited regularly by London-based companies of actors and Shakespeare may have joined one of them. He probably arrived in London around 1586/7.

Shakespeare's reputation was established in London by 1592; in that year another dramatist, Robert Greene, was envious of his success and called him 'an upstart crow'.

Shakespeare's first printed works were two long poems. These were both dedicated to the Earl of Southampton, a young courtier and favourite of Queen Elizabeth I, who had become Shakespeare's patron. Most of the Sonnets were probably written about this time, too, although they were not published until 1609.


In 1594, Shakespeare joined others in forming a new theatre company, under the patronage of the Lord Chamberlain, with Richard Burbage as its leading actor. For almost twenty years Shakespeare was its regular dramatist, producing on average two plays a year. Burbage played roles such as Richard III, Hamlet, Othello and Lear.

Shakespeare died in Stratford, aged fifty-two, on 23 April 1616 (his birthday), and was buried in Holy Trinity Church two days later. Within a short time a monument to him was put up, probably by his family, on the wall close to his grave.

His widow, Anne, died in 1623 and was buried beside him. Shakespeare's family line came to an end with the death of his grand-daughter Elizabeth in 1670.


How “Romeo and Juliet” begins… (this explains Act 1 Scene 1)

Taken from Leon Garfield’s adaptation


In old Verona, where the streets were hot and narrow and the walls were high, where men were as bright as wasps and carried quick swords for their stings, there lived two families – the Capulets and the Montagues – who hated each other worse than death. They had but to pass in the street and they were at each other’s throats like dogs in the sun. Cursing and shouting and bawling, and crashing from civil pillar to post, they filled the good people of Verona with fear and anger to have their city's peace so senselessly disturbed.

They were at it again! In the buzzing heat of a July morning, two lazy no-good servants of the Capulets had spied two strolling men of the Montagues. Looks had been exchanged, then words, and in moments the peaceful market was in uproar as the four idle ruffians set about defending their masters’ honour by smashing up stalls, overturning baskets, wrecking shops and wounding passers-by, in their valiant endeavours to cut each other into pieces.

Benvolio, a sensible young Montague, came upon the scene and tried to put a stop to it; Tybalt, a young Capulet so full of fury that he sweated knives, promptly went for Benvolio; old Montague and old Capulet appeared and tried to draw their doddering swords – that surely would have shaken more like straws in the wind than lightning in the sky. Men shouted, women screamed and rushed to drag wandering infants to safety…and bloody riot threatened to swallow up all the fair city, till the Prince of Verona, with soldiers, came furiously into the square.

“Rebellious subjects, enemies to peace!” he roared; and, by dint of stern anger and sterner threats, restored some semblance of peace. The vile destructive brawling between the Montagues and the Capulets incensed him beyond measure.

“If you ever disturb our streets again,“ he swore, “your lives shall pay the forfeit.” 

From Romeo and Juliet Act 1, Scene 1


In the streets of Verona, Italy, sworn enemies, the Montagues and the Capulets, cross paths…


SAMPSON   My naked weapon is out: quarrel, I will back thee.

GREGORY  How, turn thy back and run?

SAMPSON  Fear me not.

GREGORY  No, marry; I fear thee!

SAMPSON  Let us take the law of our sides; let them begin.

GREGORY I will frown as I pass by, and let them take it as
they list.

SAMPSON Nay, as they dare. I will bite my thumb at them;
which is a disgrace to them, if they bear it.


ABRAHAM  Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?

SAMPSON  I do bite my thumb, sir.

ABRAHAM  Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?

SAMPSON  [Aside to GREGORY] Is the law of our side, if I say


SAMPSON No, sir, I do not bite my thumb at you, sir, but I
bite my thumb, sir.

GREGORY Do you quarrel, sir?

ABRAHAM Quarrel sir! No, sir.

SAMPSON If you do, sir, I am for you: I serve as good a man as you.

ABRAHAM No better.

SAMPSON Well, sir.

GREGORY Say 'better:' here comes one of my master's kinsmen.

SAMPSON Yes, better, sir.

ABRAHAM You lie.

SAMPSON Draw, if you be men. Gregory, remember thy swashing blow.

(They fight)


BENVOLIO  Part, fools! Put up your swords; you know not what you do.

(Beats down their swords)

(Enter TYBALT)

TYBALT  What, art thou drawn among these heartless hinds? Turn thee, Benvolio, look upon thy death.

BENVOLIO  I do but keep the peace: put up thy sword, or manage it to part these men with me.

TYBALT  What, drawn, and talk of peace? I hate the word, as I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee:
have at thee, coward!

(They fight)

(Enter, several of both houses, who join the fray; then enter Citizens, with clubs)

FIRST CITIZEN Clubs, bills, and partisans! Strike! Beat them down! Down with the Capulets! Down with the Montagues!

(Enter CAPULET in his gown, and LADY CAPULET)

CAPULET  What noise is this? Give me my long sword, ho!

LADY CAPULET  A crutch, a crutch! Why call you for a sword?

CAPULET  My sword, I say! Old Montague is come, and flourishes his blade in spite of me.


MONTAGUE  Thou villain Capulet, hold me not, let me go.

LADY MONTAGUE  Thou shalt not stir a foot to seek a foe.

(Enter PRINCE ESCALUS with his train) 


Build Your Kingdom Here

By Rend Collective

Build Your kingdom here
Let the darkness fear
Show Your mighty hand
Heal our streets and land
Set Your church on fire
Win this nation back
Change the atmosphere
Build Your kingdom here
We pray

Come set Your rule and reign
In our hearts again
Increase in us we pray
Unveil why we're made
Come set our hearts ablaze with hope
Like wildfire in our very souls
Holy Spirit come invade us now
We are Your Church
And we need Your power
In us

We seek Your kingdom first
We hunger and we thirst
Refuse to waste our lives
For You're our joy and prize
To see the captive hearts released
The hurt, the sick, the poor at peace
We lay down our lives for Heaven's cause
We are Your church
And we pray revive
This earth