William Shakespeare was born at Stratford upon Avon in April, 1564. He was the third child and eldest son of John Shakespeare and Mary Arden. His father was one of the most prosperous men of Stratford and his mother was of gentle birth. Little is known of Shakespeare's early life. In December, 1582, he married Ann Hathaway. Their first child Susanna was baptized on May 6, 1583, and twins, Hamnet and Judith, were baptized on February 22, 1585.
From 1592 onwards the records are much more full. March 1592 is the first reference to Shakespeare. The Lord Strange's players produced a new play at the Rose Theatre called Harry the Sixth, which was very successful, and was probably the first part of Henry VI. Robert Greene, the best known of the professional writers, wrote a letter to three fellow writers in which he warned them against the ingratitude of players in general, and in particular against an 'upstart crow.' This is the first reference to Shakespeare, and the whole passage suggests that Shakespeare had become suddenly famous as a playwright. In April, 1593, Shakespeare published his poem Venus and Adonis and a year later his second poem, The Rape of Lucrece, was also published.
There was little playing in 1593, for the theatres were shut during a severe outbreak of the plague; but in the autumn of 1594, when the plague ceased, the playing companies were reorganized, and Shakespeare became a sharer in the Lord Chamberlain's company. He had already written the three parts of Henry VI, Richard III, Titus Andronicus, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Love's Labour's Lost, The Comedy of Errors, and The Taming of the Shrew. Soon afterwards he wrote the first of his greater plays—Romeo and Juliet—and he followed this success in the next three years with A Midsummer Night's Dream, Richard II, and The Merchant of Venice. The two parts of Henry VI were written in 1597-8.
The company left the Theatre in 1597 owing to disputes over a renewal of the ground lease. The players settled the matter by demolishing the old Theatre and re-erecting a new playhouse named the Globe. The expenses of the new building were shared by the chief members of the Company, including Shakespeare, who was now a man of some means. In 1596 he had bought a large house in the centre of Stratford, and through his father purchased a coat-of-arms from the Heralds, which was the official recognition that he and his family were gentlefolk.
By the summer of 1598 Shakespeare was recognized as the greatest of English dramatists. Shortly before the Globe was opened, Shakespeare had completed the cycle of plays dealing with the whole story of the Wars of the Roses with Henry V. It was followed by As You Like it, and Julius Caesar, the first of the more mature tragedies. In the next three years he wrote Troilus and Cressida, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Hamlet, and Twelfth Night.
On March 24, 1603, Queen Elizabeth died. In the early years of King James's reign Shakespeare wrote the more sombre comedies, All's Well that Ends Well, and Measure for Measure, which were followed by Othello, Macbeth, and King Lear. Then he returned to Roman themes with Antony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus.
After 1607, Shakespeare seems to have retired from the stage: his name no longer occurs in the various lists of players. Henceforward he lived for the most part at Stratford, where he was regarded as one of the most important citizens. He still wrote a few plays, and he tried his hand at the new form of tragi-comedy—a play with tragic incidents but a happy ending. He wrote four of these—Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale, and The Tempest. For the last four years of his life he lived in retirement. His son Hamnet had died in 1596: his two daughters were now married. Shakespeare died at Stratford upon Avon on April 23, 1616, and was buried in the chancel of the church, before the high altar. Shortly afterwards, a memorial, which you can still see today, including a portrait bust was set up on the North wall.