William Shakespeare Biography


Court records show that in 1601-02, Shakespeare began rooming in the household of Christopher Mountjoy in London. Subsequent disputes over a wedding settlement and agreement between Mountjoy and his son-in-law, Stephen Belott, led to a series of legal actions, and in 1612, the court scribe recorded Shakespeare's deposition of testimony relating to the case.

In July 1605, Shakespeare paid 440 pounds for the lease of a large portion of the tithes, or taxes, on certain real estate in and near Stratford. This was an arrangement whereby Shakespeare purchased half the annual tithes on certain agricultural products from parcels of land in and near Stratford. In addition to receiving approximately 10 percent income on his investment, he almost doubled his capital. This was possibly the most important and successful investment of his lifetime, and it paid a steady income for many years.

Shakespeare is next mentioned when John Combe, a resident of Stratford, died on July 12, 1614 and bequeathed 5 pounds to his friend. Such records are important, not for their economic significance but because they prove the existence of a William Shakespeare in Stratford and in London during this period.

On March 25, 1616, William Shakespeare revised his last will and testament. He died on April 23 of the same year. His body lies within the chancel and before the altar of the collegiate church of the Holy Trinity in Stratford. A rather wry inscription is carved upon his tombstone:

Good Friend, for Jesus' sake, forbear
To dig the dust enclosed here;
Blest be the man that spares these stones,
And curst be he who moves my bones.

The last direct descendant of William Shakespeare was his granddaughter, Elizabeth Hall, who died in 1670.

Career Highlights

The evidence establishing William Shakespeare as the foremost playwright of his day is also positive and persuasive. For example, Robert Greene's Groatsworth of Wit, in which he attacked Shakespeare, a mere actor, for presuming to write plays in competition with Greene and his fellow playwrights, was entered in the Stationers' Register on September 20, 1592.

Shakespeare was the resident writer for the Lord Chamberlain's Men, who were based at the playhouse called the Theatre in Shoreditch, in London. In 1594, Shakespeare acted before Queen Elizabeth, and records suggest that Shakespeare played the role of the Ghost in Hamlet and William in As You Like It. In 1594 and 1595, his name appeared as one of the shareholders of the Lord Chamberlain's Company. Francis Meres, in his Palladis Tamia (1598), called Shakespeare "mellifluous and hony-tongued" and compared his comedies and tragedies with those of Plautus and Seneca (respected classical playwrights) in excellence.

Shakespeare's association with Richard Burbage's acting company is equally definite. His name appears as one of the owners of the Globe Theatre in 1599. On May 19, 1603, he and his fellow actors received a patent from James I designating them as the King's Men and making them Grooms of the Chamber. Late in 1608 or early in 1609, Shakespeare and his colleagues purchased the Blackfriars Theatre and began using it as their winter location when weather made production at the Globe inconvenient.

One of the most impressive of all proofs of Shakespeare's authorship of his plays is the First Folio of 1623, with the dedicatory verse that appeared in it. John Heminge and Henry Condell, members of Shakespeare's own company, stated that they collected and issued the plays as a memorial to their fellow actor. Many contemporary poets contributed eulogies to Shakespeare; one of the best known of these poems is by Ben Jonson, a fellow actor and, later, a friendly rival. Jonson also criticized Shakespeare's dramatic work in Timber: or, Discoveries (1641).

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