William Shakespeare was baptized on April 26, 1564, in the English town of Stratford-upon-Avon to John Shakespeare, a glove-maker and merchant, and Mary Arden, the daughter of a wealthy landowner. The date of his birth is not known. There are no records of his schooling, though it is believed that he attended Stratford grammar school and received an education in the classics.
In November 1582, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway, eight years his senior, who was pregnant with their first child, Susanna. Susanna was born on May 26, 1583, and twins called Hamnet (a boy who died aged 11) and Judith were born February 2, 1585.
Nothing is known about when or why Shakespeare left Stratford for London. The first sign of his presence in London came in 1592, in the form of a derogatory reference to an unnamed actor whom scholars have identified as Shakespeare. The reference was made in a pamphlet called Greenes Groatsworth of Wit, attributed to rival playwright, Robert Greene.
In 1593, the first work published under the name William Shakespeare appeared, a long poem called Venus and Adonis. The poem was dedicated to Henry Wriothesley, the young Earl of Southampton, who is believed to have been Shakespeare's patron. Although he also wrote another long narrative poem, The Rape of Lucrece, and 154 sonnets, his main work was writing plays for the theater.
In 1594 Shakespeare became a shareholder and playwright of a successful theater company called the Lord Chamberlain's Men. Shakespeare held a one-tenth interest in the company, and shared the profits. In 1599 the Lord Chamberlain's Men built and occupied the Globe Theater, on the south bank of the river Thames in London.
Shakespeare prospered well enough in London to make investments in real estate in Stratford, including the purchase in 1597 of the second largest house in town.
His career spanned the reigns of Elizabeth I (ruled 1558?603) and James I (ruled 1603-1625), and his work was popular with both monarchs. Indeed, in 1603, James paid Shakespeare's company the compliment of allowing them to take the name "the King's Men.?
Shakespeare wrote thirty-seven plays, including comedies, tragedies, histories, and romances. The dating of the plays is open to argument. No collected edition of his plays was published in his lifetime, but in 1623 John Heminge and Henry Condell, two members of his acting company, published the first collection, now referred to as the First Folio.
Shakespeare retired from the theater around 1612, and returned to live in Stratford. He died on April 23, 1616, and was buried in the chancel of the church at Stratford. He was outlived by his wife but left the majority of his estate to his daughter Susanna.
Since Shakespeare's death, a controversy has grown up around the question of who wrote the plays. Some scholars do not believe that William Shakespeare of Stratford was the true author. They think that the real author borrowed the name as a pseudonym because he wished to remain anonymous. Rival candidates for authorship include Christopher Marlowe and Sir Francis Bacon, but the candidate supported by the most circumstantial evidence is Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.