Ask anyone who Shakespeare was, and he or she will immediately rattle off at least three different plays that were required readings in English, not to mention a few blockbuster movies bearing his name. Many revere the works of Shakespeare as paramount in the world of literature, dedicating entire books, classes and festivals to the study and celebration of his work. Although the ancient language is a common stumbling block for even the most seasoned readers, his varied tales of love, hate, fear, betrayal, laughter, defeat and victory are just as fitting today as they were four hundred years ago. He is amazingly timeless. Yet, while we might know what Shakespeare is, will we ever really know who Shakespeare was? Ah, there’s the rub!
Much about the Bard is a mystery to even the most scholarly enthusiasts. The hard facts that are actually known about him could fill one neatly handwritten page, but what is speculated and complete legend could fill volumes of books. So, what is fact and what is fiction? According to the little documentation that chronicles his life, Shakespeare was not even a true ‘Shakespeare’ at all; he was born in April 1596 and entered in the baptismal record as “Gulielmus filius Johannis Shakspere.” Even his actual date of birth is somewhat of a mystery. While we do know that he was baptized on April 26th, 1564, there is no existing record of his birth date. We can assume that he was born on April 23rd judging by the customary three-day period that most families waited before baptizing their children, but this is only speculation.
Since the records of the Stratford grammar school have not survived, we cannot prove that Shakespeare attended school. In all actuality, we have no evidence that he was even literate. His father had no educational training, so it is quite possible that he also lacked in schooling, but that’s only guesswork. The next piece of hard information that we come across in our search is a register entry showing a Wm. Shaxpere being granted a license to marry Anne Whateley on November 27, 1582. The very next day this same register records a marriage bond issued to William Shagspere and Anne Hathwey. Six months later Anne gave birth to their first child, daughter Susanna Shakspere, and then in February 1585 she gave birth to twins, Hamnet and Judith.
It is presumed that Shakespeare made it to London around 1595 to begin his career in the theatre, but the exact date is not known for sure. Just as mysterious is his reason why he left his wife and children alone in Stratford. Sadly, Hamnet died in August of 1596, and from that point forward we have no more information regarding his family until 1616, the year of his death. There are enough legal documents and theatre records, though, to know that Shakespeare goes on to possess a generous amount of real estate, hold shares in an acting company that built the Globe Theatre, and become a principal player in the acting group The Kings Men (A...