Shakespeare: England’s Most Famous Playwright

From his tragic love stories and sonnets to his comedies and histories, Shakespeare has inspired audiences and captured imaginations across the globe. But where did England’s most famous playwright gather his inspiration and what were the secrets of his past that propelled him to become the greatest dramatist of all time? Find out more on today's blog...

It is believed from church records that William Shakespeare was born in 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon but, aside from this, intriguingly little is known of his personal history, which has sparked a myriad of conspiracies theories and mysterious stories. In fact, most of the information that historians have to go on is contained within Shakespeare’s own poems and sonnets! However these have only provided a brief sketch of the story of his life.

He was the third child of John Shakespeare and Mary Arden, and it is thought that he received his education at King’s New School in Stratford. However, there are no official records to confirm this and such uncertainty has led some to question the authorship of his work and even whether he ever existed! Putting that theory aside, records show that a William Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway (not that one, this one) in 1582 when he was 18. They went on to have three children but, quite intriguingly, the seven years that follow the births of his children are something of a mystery as there are no records to account for how Shakespeare spent his time. This is often referred to as “the lost years” by scholars interested in Shakespeare’s biography. Nevertheless, it is believed that Shakespeare arrived in London in the 1580s, where he found lowly work in the theaters. By the early 1590s he seemed to be working as an actor and playwright, even having some plays produced, and there are written records suggesting that he was an important member of The Lord Chamberlain’s Men, which was an acting company. This led to him having some of his work sold as popular literature and his resulting success allowed him to buy a large home for his family in Stratford and, with his business partners, he also built a theater on the south bank of the River Thames, which was named “The Globe”. This allowed many of Shakespeare’s more popular plays to be produced, including Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, although his dramatic genius was not fully appreciated until the 19th century – many years after his death.

That said, controversy over Shakespeare’s literacy legacy began to arise around the 1760s, some 150 years after his mysterious death in 1616, when questions arose about the authorship of his plays. Some, including members of the Shakespeare Oxford Society, believed that Edward de Vere, an English aristocrat, may have been the true author since there was little evidence to suggest Shakespeare had received sufficient education to write with such intellectual perceptiveness and poetic power. In fact, the available evidence suggests he was simply successful in real estate, having purchased land that went on to increase in value, earning him quite a salary in rent. However, it must be noted that many playwrights from that time had modest beginnings and sketchy histories since accurate records were rarely kept. In addition, examples exist of authors and critics attributing plays such as The Two Gentlemen of Verona to William Shakespeare.

What cannot be contested is the power of Shakespeare’s works, which have been studied and reinterpreted in performances that have taken a modern twist or explored diverse cultural and political contexts. Whether they were written by Shakespeare, de Vere or another, they have brought significant joy to many!


Love Shakespeare? Discover more about the secrets and mysteries of his life on our “Shakespeare in Love” multi-city tour, which features London, Stratford-upon-Avon and the magical English countryside. Our tours and vacations can be customized to your requirements, meaning you can change the number of nights and pre-arranged tours to create your dream vacation in the UK.

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