On this day, April 23, in 1564 according to tradition, the great English dramatist and poet William Shakespeare is born in Stratford-on-Avon.
It is impossible to be certain the exact day on which he was born, but church records show that he was baptized on April 26, and three days was a customary amount of time to wait before baptizing a newborn. Shakespeare’s date of death is conclusively known, however: it was April 23, 1616. He was 52 years old and had retired to Stratford three years before.
Although few plays have been performed or analyzed as extensively as the 38 plays ascribed to William Shakespeare, there are few surviving details about the playwright’s life. This dearth of biographical information is due primarily to his station in life; he was not a noble, but the son of John Shakespeare, a leather trader and the town bailiff. The events of William Shakespeare’s early life can only be gleaned from official records, such as baptism and marriage records.
He probably attended the grammar school in Stratford, where he would have studied Latin and read classical literature. He did not go to university but at age 18 married Anne Hathaway, who was eight years his senior and pregnant at the time of the marriage. Their first daughter, Susanna, was born six months later, and in 1585 William and Anne had twins, Hamnet and Judith. Hamnet, Shakespeare’s only son, died 11 years later, and Anne Shakespeare outlived her husband, dying in 1623. Nothing is known of the period between the birth of the twins and Shakespeare’s emergence as a playwright in London in the early 1590s, but unfounded stories have him stealing deer, joining a group of traveling players, becoming a schoolteacher, or serving as a soldier in the Low Countries.
Shakespeare died in Stratford-on-Avon on April 23, 1616. Today, nearly 400 years later, his plays are performed and read more often and in more nations than ever before. In a million words written over 20 years, he captured the full range of human emotions and conflicts with a precision that remains sharp today. As his great contemporary the poet and dramatist Ben Jonson said, “He was not of an age, but for all time.”