What DO we know about William Shakespeare?


What we know about Shakespeare’s life comes from his works and various legal and church documents. Through these we know when and where he was born and baptized, where he lived and grew up, who his business partners were, and the terms of his will.

There is personal information, however, that we cannot know for certain. We don’t know about his daily emotions and interactions with those he loved. We don’t know if his wife minded living in Stratford while William was working in London 100 miles away. What were his favorite foods, for instance?

The reason we don’t know the inner Shakespeare and the threads of his daily life lies partly in the fact that he was middle class. He worked hard to care for his family, as did his father before him. He didn’t keep a diary or written record of his thoughts. He wasn’t part of the noble or royal classes. Those were the people being written and talked about in Tudor England. What we do know, however, lets us paint the picture of Shakespeare that we know and celebrate today!

Shakespeare’s Birth:

Stratford-upon-Avon was a rural market town about 100 miles from London (a three-day trip). Shakespeare was born here into a successful middle-class family with class aspirations. His baptism is recorded in the baptismal register of the Holy Trinity parish church as April 26, 1564. Children in Tudor England were generally baptized three days after birth, so we can fairly confidently set his birth date at April 23. April 23 is the feast day of St. George, the patron saint of England.

Until 1582, England would be using the Julian calendar that had been in place since the time of Julius Caesar. In 1582, the rest of Europe made the change to the new and more accurate Gregorian calendar. England did not change calendars until 1752. So, by the time Shakespeare was 20 years old and celebrating his April 23rd birthday (Julian, or Old Style), it was May 3 (New Style) on much of the continent. This 10 day difference lasted the rest of his life.

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