William Shakespeare, was born at Stratford-on-Avon, Warwickshire, England, in April, 1564. The precise day of his birth is unknown, but since the baptismal register of the church in Stratford shows April 26 to have been the date of his baptism, it is probable that his birthday was only a few days earlier, it being customary in those old times to baptize infants as early after birth as was practicable. (Died April 23, 1616)
Of Shakespeare's ancestors very little is certainly known. The name itself indicates their military profession. It is supposed to be derived from the fact that ancient spearmen brandished the lance before hurling it on the enemy. Hence old Ben Jonson wrote: •
"Look how the father's faceWhether this conjecture concerning the founders of his family be well-founded or fanciful is uncertain; but of his father it is certain he was no soldier. The scant annals and traditions of Stratford afford such glimpses of his social position and fortune as to make it certain that he was a respectable citizen, who, during the boyhood of his illustrious son, possessed a moderate estate and was highly esteemed by his fellow townsmen, albeit his education had been so neglected that he could not write his own name.
Lives in his issue; even so, the race
Of Shakespeare's mind and manners brightly shines
In his well torn and true-filed lines;
In each of which he seems to shake a lance,
As brandished at the eyes of Ignorance."
His business was that of a glover, to which he seems to have joined the cultivation of his lands. In official circles he figured as constable, juror, alderman, bailiff, and magistrate. By marriage be was allied to a family socially superior to his own. His wife, Mary Arden, was the youngest of seven daughters, and her marriage portion and her subsequent inheritance at her father's death contributed considerably to the solid comfort of the home in which our poet spent his boyhood.
|This was long thought to be the only portrait of William Shakespeare that had any claim to have been painted from life. The portrait is known as the 'Chandos portrait' after a previous owner, James Brydges, 1st Duke of Chandos. It was the first portrait to be acquired by the National Portrait Gallery in 1856. The portrait is oil on canvas, feigned oval, 21 3/4 in. x 17 1/4 in. (552 mm x 438 mm), Given by Francis Egerton, 1st Earl of Ellesmere, 1856, on display in Room 4 at the National Portrait Gallery, London, England, United Kingdom.|
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William was the third of eight children born to John and Mary Shakespeare. Nothing is known of his child life. De Quincy says: "There can be little doubt that William Shakespeare, from his birth up to his tenth or perhaps his eleventh year, lived in careless plenty, and saw nothing in his father's house but that style of liberal housekeeping which has ever distinguished the upper yeomanry and the rural gentry of England." Possibly his father's expenditures were on a scale too liberal for his income, inasmuch as his affairs became inextricably embarrassed in 1575. His subsequent long-continued difficulties with his creditors, of which the sensitive and observant William must have been painfully aware, probably furnished more or less of the materials out of which, in after years, the poet drew inspiration when writing his Timon of Athens. One can scarcely doubt that his father's harsh creditors were in his mind when he composed these lines:
"His familiars to his buried fortunes Slink all away; left their false vows with him,
Like empty purses picked: and his poor self, A dedicated beggar to the air,
"With his disease of all-shunned poverty, "Walked, like contempt, alone."
There was a free grammar school in Stratford. Shakespeare's parents, notwithstanding their own illiteracy, must have felt desirous of giving their hopeful boy an advantage the lack of which in their own lives must have been more or less a source of mortification, at least on occasions. Hence, in the absence of positive proof, it is inferred that they sent him to this school. This inference is supported by the evidence furnished in his works that his early education had not been wholly neglected, that he had acquired at least a smattering of the classics. Nevertheless, there is no positive proof that he was one of its pupils; nor, if he was, how long he enjoyed its instruction.
TEXT CREDIT: Bibliographic information. Title: William Shakespeare, Issue 23 of Home college series. Author: Daniel Wise, Publisher: Phillips & Hunt, 1884. Original from: Harvard University. Digitized: Feb 8, 2006. Length: 16 pages. Subjects: Drama / Shakespeare / Literary Criticism / Shakespeare