Meet William Shakespeare: Personal life

William Shakespeare has been repeatedly hailed as one of the greatest writers of all times. The contributions he made to English language, literature, and culture have survived for over four centuries and are now evident not just in England, but around the world. But just how much do we know about this historical figure and about how he became one of the most influential writers that ever existed?

William Shakespeare: his birthplace and family history

Despite being one of the most renowned figures in history, there seem to be certain aspects of Shakespeare's life that are not well known. One of these aspects is his date of birth. The only record that has survived to our days in this respect is a baptismal register held at the Holy Trinity church in Stratford-upon-Avon. In this document it is stated that William Shakespeare was christened on 26th April 1564. Although this does not give any indication as to his date of birth, many believe that he was born on 23rd April of that year at the family house in Stratford's Henley Street. His full name (as per the baptismal record) was Guilielmus Johannes Shakespeare.

Shakespeare was the third child of John Shakespeare, who was a leather artisan from nearby Snitterfield, and Mary Arden, who came from a wealthy family. Shakespeare had seven other siblings, but his two older sisters died at a young age as they became ill with the plague. Just before he was born, his father began to expand his business and became a well-know money lender. As a result, his reputation gained him a position in Stratford's town council, where he was appointed an elderman. His position meant that Shakespeare could receive free education at the local grammar school, which he attended until he was 14.

Married life and Shakespeare's move to London

When he was 18 years old, Shakespeare announced he was to marry 26-year old Anne Hathaway, the daughter of a farmer from nearby Shottery. The couple married in November 1582, and had three children between 1583 and 1585, although one of them died from the Bubonic plague. It is unclear how or where the family lived between 1585 and 1592, although at some point during that period Shakespeare moved to London, while his wife Anne stayed in Stratford. Although there is some disagreement as to the couple's feelings towards each other, many believe that the marriage was a happy one, and that he even wrote his sonnet 145 for his wife, using clever puns and plays on words to refer to her.

Some believe that Shakespeare's beginnings as a playwright were not motivated so much by vocation, but rather because of lack of choice. At that time, the law forbade married men from taking up formal apprenticeships and from attending university. No such limitations applied to acting companies, which might have been the reason why he entered the profession, first as an actor and later as a writer. His reputation grew until he became one of the owners of the renowned Lord Chamberlain's Men playing company in 1594. The company became a favourite of the monarchy, to the point that in 1603 King James I changed its name to The King's Men. They continued to play until 1613, when the theatre in which they performed burned down.

Shakespeare lived in Bishopsgate, and in 1599 he moved again to the then up-and-coming area of Southwark, where a new theatre (The Globe) was being built. He also owned a property in Blackfriars. Some historians affirm that he visited his family in Stratford every year, where he bought one of the most expensive houses. In any case, after he put an end to his London career in 1613, he returned to Stratford where he lived with his wife at the property known as New Place. Shakespeare lived there until the time of his death, and afterwards the property passed on to his eldest daughter, Susanna. The house was demolished in 1759, although today its gardens remain open to the public as part of a museum.

Shakespeare's last years

Although he left London around 1613, Shakespeare made frequent visits to the city to take care of family affairs and business. During that time, he continued to write, but only in collaboration with fellow playwright John Fletcher. Shakespeare passed away on 23rd April 1616, when he was 52. The exact cause of his death remains unknown. Some records point at typhus or a serious fever, while others mention a brain haemorrhage. During his lifetime, he wrote thirteen plays, thirteen comedies, one hundred and fifty-four sonnets, six tragedies, and four tragicomedies.

Shakespeare was buried in the same church in which he was christened, in Stratford, where seven years later his wife Anne would also be buried. The last surviving relative of the great English playwright was his granddaughter Elizabeth Hall, who was later known as Lady Barnard and who died in 1670.