William Shakespear Biography

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SHAKESPEARE, WILLIAM (1564—1616), English poet, player and playwright, was baptized in the parish church of Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire on the 26th of April. Birth 1564. The exact date of his birth is not known. 18th-century antiquaries, William Oldys and Joseph Greene, gave it as April 23, but without quoting authority for their statements, and the fact that April 23 was the day of Shakespeare’s death in 1616 suggests a possible source of error. In any case his birthday cannot have been later than April 23, since the inscription upon his monument is evidence that on April 23, 1616, he had already begun his fifty-third year. His father, John Shakespeare, was a burgess of the recently constituted corporation of Stratford, and had already filled certain minor municipal offices. From 1561 to 1563 he had been one of the two chamberlains to whom the finance of the town was entrusted. By occupation he was a glover, but he also appears to have dealt from time to time in various kinds of agricultural produce, such as barley, timber and wool. Aubrey (Lives, 1680) spoke of him as a butcher, and it is quite possible that he bred and even killed the calves whose skins he manipulated. He is sometimes described in formal documents as a yeoman, and it is highly probable that he combined a certain amount of farming with the practice of his trade. He was living in Stratford as early as 1552, in which year he was fined for having a dunghill in Henley Street, but he does not appear to have been a native of the town, in whose records the name is not found before his time; and be may reasonably be identified with the John Shakespeare of Snitterfield, who administered the goods of his father, Richard Shakespeare, in 1561. Snitterfield is a village in the immediate neighbourhood of Stratford, and here Richard Shakespeare had been settled as a farmer since 1529. It is possible that John Shakespeare carried on the farm for some time after his father’s death, and that by 1570 he had also acquired a small holding called Ingon in Hampton Lucy, the next village to Snitterfield. But both of these seem to have passed subsequently to his brother Henry, who was buried at Snitterfield in. 1596. There was also at Snitterfield a Thomas Shakespeare and an Anthony Shakespeare, who afterwards moved to Hampton Corley; and these may have been of the same family. A John Shakespeare, -who dwelt at Clifford Chambers, another village close to Stratford, is clearly distinct. Strenuous efforts have been made to trace Shakespeare’s genealogy beyond Richard of Snitterfield, but so far without success. Certain drafts of heraldic exemplifications of the Shakespeare arms speak, in one case of John Shakespeare’s grandfather, in another of his great-grandfather, as having been rewarded with lands and tenements in Warwickshire for service to Henry VII. No such grants, however, have been traced, and even in the 16th-century statements as to” antiquity and service “ in heraldic preambles were looked upon with suspicion.

The name Shakespeare is extremely widespread, and is spelt in an astonishing variety of ways. That of John Shakespeare occurs 166 times in the Council Book of the Stratford corporation, and appears to take 16 different forms. The verdict, not altogether unanimous, of competent palaeographers is to the effect that Shakespeare himself, in the extant examples of his signature, always wrote “Shakspere.” In the printed signatures to the dedications of his poems, on the title-pages of nearly all the contemporary editions of his plays that bear his name, and in many formal documents it appears as Shakespeare.

This may be in part due to the martial derivation which the poet’s literary contemporaries were fond of assigning to his name, and which is acknowledged in the arms that he bore. The forms in use at Stratford, however, such as Shaxpeare, by far the commonest, suggest a short pronunciation of the first syllable, and thus tend to support Dr Henry...
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