William Shakespeare Biography

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (1564–1616), English poet, player and playwright, was baptized in the parish church of Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire on the 26th of April 1564. The exact date of his birth is not known.

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William Shakespeare, date and artist unknown

Birth and parentage

Two 18th-century antiquaries, William Oldys and Joseph Greene, gave it as April 23, but without quoting authority for their statements, and the fact that April 23 was the day of Shakespeare’s death in 1616 suggests a possible source of error. In any case his birthday cannot have been later than April 23, since the inscription upon his monument is evidence that on April 23, 1616, he had already begun his fifty-third year.

His father, John Shakespeare, was a burgess of the recently constituted corporation of Stratford, and had already filled certain minor municipal offices. From 1561 to 1563 he had been one of the two chamberlains to whom the finance of the town was entrusted. By occupation he was a glover, but he also appears to have dealt from time to time in various kinds of agricultural produce, such as barley, timber and wool. Aubrey (Lives, 1680) spoke of him as a butcher, and it is quite possible that he bred and even killed the calves whose skins he manipulated.

He is sometimes described in formal documents as a yeoman, and it is highly probable that he combined a certain amount of farming with the practice of his trade. He was living in Stratford as early as 1552, in which year he was fined for having a dunghill in Henley Street, but he does not appear to have been a native of the town, in whose records the name is not found before his time; and he may reasonably be identified with the John Shakespeare of Snitterfield, who administered the goods of his father, Richard Shakespeare, in 1561.

Snitterfield is a village in the immediate neighbourhood of Stratford, and here Richard Shakespeare had been settled as a farmer since 1529. It is possible that John Shakespeare carried on the farm for some time after his father’s death, and that by 1570 he had also acquired a small holding called Ingon in Hampton Lucy, the next village to Snitterfield. But both of these seem to have passed subsequently to his brother Henry, who was buried at Snitterfield in 1596. There was also at Snitterfield a Thomas Shakespeare and an Anthony Shakespeare, who afterwards moved to Hampton Corley; and these may have been of the same family. A John Shakespeare, who dwelt at Clifford Chambers, another village close to Stratford, is clearly distinct.

Strenuous efforts have been made to trace Shakespeare’s genealogy beyond Richard of Snitterfield, but so far without success. Certain drafts of heraldic exemplifications of the Shakespeare arms speak, in one case of John Shakespeare’s grandfather, in another of his great-grandfather, as having been rewarded with lands and tenements in Warwickshire for service to Henry VII. No such grants, however, have been traced, and even in the 16th-century statements as to “antiquity and service” in heraldic preambles were looked upon with suspicion.

Conjectural attempts have been made on the one hand to connect the ancestors of this Richard Shakespeare with a family of the same name who held land by military tenure at Baddesley Clinton in the 14th and 15th centuries, and on the other to identify him with the poet’s grandfather, Richard Shakespeare of Snitterfield. But Shakespeares are to be traced at Wroxall nearly as far back as at Baddesley Clinton, and there is no reason to suppose that Richard the bailiff, who was certainly still a tenant of Wroxall in 1556, had also since 1529 been farming land ten miles off at Snitterfield.

With the breaking of this link, the hope of giving Shakespeare anything more than a grandfather on the father’s side must be laid aside for the present. On the mother’s side he was connected with a family of some distinction. Part at least of Richard Shakespeare’s land at Snitterfield was held from Robert Arden of Wilmcote in the adjoining parish of Aston Cantlow, a cadet of the Ardens of Parkhall, who counted amongst the leading gentry of Warwickshire. Robert Arden married his second wife, Agnes Hill, formerly Webbe, in 1548, and had then no less than eight daughters by his first wife. To the youngest of these, Mary Arden, he left in 1556 a freehold in Aston Cantlow consisting of a farm of about fifty or sixty acres in extent, known as Asbies. At some date later than November 1556, and probably before the end of 1557, Mary Arden became the wife of John Shakespeare.

In October 1556 John Shakespeare had bought two freehold houses, one in Greenhill Street, the other in Henley Street. The latter, known as the wool shop, was the easternmost of the two tenements now combined in the so-called Shakespeare’s birthplace. The western tenement, the birthplace proper, was probably already in John Shakespeare’s hands, as he seems to have been living in Henley Street in 1552. It has sometimes been thought to have been one of two houses which formed a later purchase in 1575, but there is no evidence that these were in Henley Street at all.

William Shakespeare was not the first child. A Joan was baptized in 1558 and a Margaret in 1562. The latter was buried in 1563 and the former must also have died young, although her burial is not recorded, as a second Joan was baptized in 1569. A Gilbert was baptized in 1566, an Anne in 1571, a Richard in 1574 and an Edmund in 1580. Anne died in 1579; Edmund, who like his brother became an actor, in 1607; Richard in 1613. Tradition has it that one of Shakespeare’s brothers used to visit London in the 17th century as quite an old man. If so, this can only have been Gilbert.

During the years that followed his marriage, John Shakespeare became prominent in Stratford life. In 1565 he was chosen as an alderman, and in 1568 he held the chief municipal office, that of high bailiff. This carried with it the dignity of justice of the peace. John Shakespeare seems to have assumed arms, and thenceforward was always entered in corporation documents as “Mr” Shakespeare, whereby he may be distinguished from another John Shakespeare, a “corviser” or shoemaker, who dwelt in Stratford about 1584–1592. In 1571 as an ex-bailiff he began another year of office as chief alderman.


One may think, therefore, of Shakespeare in his boyhood as the son of one of the leading citizens of a not unimportant provincial market-town, with a vigorous life of its own, which in spite of the dunghills was probably not much unlike the life of a similar town to-day, and with constant reminders of its past in the shape of the stately buildings formerly belonging to its college and its gild, both of which had been suppressed at the Reformation. Stratford stands on the Avon, in the midst of an agricultural country, throughout which in those days enclosed orchards and meadows alternated with open fields for tillage, and not far from the wilder and wooded district known as the Forest of Arden.

The middle ages had left it an heritage in the shape of a free grammar-school, and here it is natural to suppose that William Shakespeare obtained a sound enough education, with a working knowledge of “Mantuan” and Ovid in the original, even though to such a thorough scholar as Ben Jonson it might seem no more than “small Latin and less Greek.” In 1577, when Shakespeare was about thirteen, his father’s fortunes began to take a turn for the worse.

He became irregular in his contributions to town levies, and had to give a mortgage on his wife’s property of Asbies as security for a loan from her brother-in-law, Edmund Lambert. Money was raised to pay this off, partly by the sale of a small interest in land at Snitterfield which had come to Mary Shakespeare from her sisters, partly perhaps by that of the Greenhill Street house and other property in Stratford outside Henley Street, none of which seems to have ever come into William Shakespeare’s hands. Lambert, however, refused to surrender the mortgage on the plea of older debts, and an attempt to recover Asbies by litigation proved ineffectual.

John Shakespeare’s difficulties increased. An action for debt was sustained against him in the local court, but no personal property could be found on which to distrain. He had long ceased to attend the meetings of the corporation, and as a consequence he was removed in 1586 from the list of aldermen. In this state of domestic affairs it is not likely that Shakespeare’s school life was unduly prolonged. The chances are that he was apprenticed to some local trade. Aubrey says that he killed calves for his father, and “would do it in a high style, and make a speech.”


Whatever his circumstances, they did not deter him at the early age of eighteen from the adventure of marriage. Rowe recorded the name of Shakespeare’s wife as Hathaway, and Joseph Greene succeeded in tracing her to a family of that name dwelling in Shottery, one of the hamlets of Stratford. Her monument gives her first name as Anne, and her age as sixty-seven in 1623. She must, therefore, have been about eight years older than Shakespeare. Various small trains of evidence point to her identification with the daughter Agnes mentioned in the will of a Richard Hathaway of Shottery, who died in 1581, being then in possession of the farm-house now known as “Anne Hathaway’s Cottage.”

Agnes was legally a distinct name from Anne, but there can be no doubt that ordinary custom treated them as identical. The principal record of the marriage is a bond dated on November 28, 1582, and executed by Fulk Sandells and John Richardson, two yeomen of Stratford who also figure in Richard Hathaway’s will, as a security to the bishop for the issue of a licence for the marriage of William Shakespeare and “Anne Hathwey of Stratford,” upon the consent of her friends, with one asking of the banns.

Shakespeare’s first child, Susanna, was baptized on the 26th of May 1583, and was followed on the 2nd of February 1585 by twins, Hamnet and Judith.

Obscure years, 1884–1892

In or after 1584 Shakespeare’s career in Stratford seems to have come to a tempestuous close. An 18th-century story of a drinking-bout in a neighbouring village is of no obscure importance, except as indicating a local impression years, that a distinguished citizen had had a wildish youth. But there is a tradition which comes from a double source and which there is no reason to reject in substance, to the effect that Shakespeare got into trouble through poaching on the estates of a considerable Warwickshire magnate, Sir Thomas Lucy, and found it necessary to leave Stratford in order to escape the results of his misdemeanour.

It is added that he afterwards took his revenge on Lucy by satirizing him as the Justice Shallow, with the dozen white louses in his old coat, of The Merry Wives of Windsor. From this event until he emerges as an actor and rising playwright in 1592 his history is a blank, and it is impossible to say what experience may not have helped to fill it. Much might indeed be done in eight years of crowded Elizabethan life. Conjecture has not been idle, and has assigned him in turns during this or some other period to the occupations of a scrivener, an apothecary, a dyer, a printer, a soldier, and the like.

The suggestion that he saw military service rests largely on a confusion with another William Shakespeare of Rowington. Aubrey had heard that “he had been in his younger years a schoolmaster in the country.” The mention in Henry IV. of certain obscure yeomen families, Visor of Woncote and Perkes of Stinchcombe Hill, near Dursley in Gloucestershire, has been thought to suggest a sojourn in that district, where indeed Shakespeares were to be found from an early date. Ultimately, of course, he drifted to London and the theatre, where, according to the stage tradition, he found employment in a menial capacity, perhaps even as a holder of horses at the doors, before he was admitted into a company as an actor and so found his way to his true vocation as a writer of plays.

Malone thought that he might have left Stratford with one of the travelling companies of players which from time to time visited the town. Later biographers have fixed upon Leicester’s men, who were at Stratford in 1587, and have held that Shakespeare remained to the end in the same company, passing with it on Leicester’s death in 1588 under the patronage of Ferdinando, Lord Strange and afterwards earl of Derby, and on Derby’s death in 1594 under that of the lord chamberlain, Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon. This theory perhaps hardly takes sufficient account of the shifting combinations and recombinations of actors, especially during the disastrous plague years of 1592 to 1594. The continuity of Strange’s company with Leicester’s is very disputable, and while the names of many members of Strange’s company in and about 1593 are on record, Shakespeare’s is not amongst them. It is at least possible, as will be seen later, that he had about this time relations with the earl of Pembroke’s men, or with the earl of Sussex’s men, or with both of these organizations.

Playwright and poet

What is clear is that by the summer of 1592, when he was twenty-eight, he had begun to emerge as a playwright, and had evoked the jealousy of one at least of the group of scholar poets who in recent years had claimed a monopoly of the stage. This was Robert Greene, who, in an invective on behalf of the play-makers against the play-actors which forms part of his Groats-worth of Wit, speaks of “an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tygers heart wrapt in a Players hide, supposes he is as well able to bumbast out a blanke verse as the best of you: and being an absolute Johannes fac totum, is in his owne conceit the onely Shake-scene in a countrie.”

The play upon Shakespeare’s name and the parody of a line from Henry VI. make the reference unmistakable. The London theatres were closed, first through riots and then through plague, from June 1392 to April 1594, with the exception of about a month at each Christmas during that period; and the companies were dissolved or driven to the provinces. Even if Shakespeare had been connected with Strange’s men during their London seasons of 1592 and 1593, it does not seem that he travelled with them. Other activities may have been sufficient to occupy the interval.

The most important of these was probably an attempt to win a reputation in the world of non-dramatic poetry. Venus and Adonis was published about April 1393, and Lucrece about May 1594. The poems were printed by Richard Field, in whom Shakespeare would have found an old Stratford acquaintance; and each has a dedication to Henry Wriothesley, earl of Southampton, a brilliant and accomplished favourite of the court, still in his nonage.

The mention of Southampton leads naturally to the most difficult problem which a biographer has to handle, that of the Sonnets. But this will be more conveniently taken up at a later point, and it is only necessary here to put on record the probability that the earliest of the sonnets belong to the period now under discussion. There is a surmise, which is not in itself other than plausible, and which has certainly been supported with a good deal of ingenious argument, that Shakespeare’s enforced leisure enabled him to make of 1593 a Wanderjahr, and in particular that the traces of a visit to northern Italy may clearly be seen in the local colouring of Lucrece as compared with Venus and Adonis, and in that of the group of plays which may be dated in or about 1594 and 1595 as compared with those that preceded.

It must, however, be borne in mind that, while Shakespeare may perfectly well, at this or at some earlier time, have voyaged to Italy, and possibly Denmark and even Germany as well, there is no direct evidence to rely upon, and that inference from internal evidence is a dangerous guide when a writer of so assimilative a temperament as that of Shakespeare is concerned.

Connection with the Chamberlain’s company of actors

From the reopening of the theatres in the summer of 1594 onwards Shakespeare’s status is in many ways clearer. He had certainly become a leading member of the Chamberlain’s company by the following winter, when his name appears for the first and only time in the treasurer of the chamber’s accounts as one of the recipients of payment for their performances at court; and there is every reason to suppose that he continued to act with and write for the same associates to the close of his career.

The history of the company may be briefly told. At the death of the lord chamberlain on the 22nd of July 1596, it passed under the protection of his successor, George, 2nd Lord Hunsdon, and once more became “the Lord Chamberlain’s men” when he was appointed to that office on the 17th of March 1597. James I. on his accession took this company under his patronage as grooms of the chamber, and during the remainder of Shakespeare’s connexion with the stage they were “the King’s men.”

The records of performances at court show that they were by far the most favoured of the companies, their nearest rivals being the company known during the reign of Elizabeth as “the Admiral’s,” and afterwards as “Prince Henry’s men.” From the summer of 1594 to March 1603 they appear to have played almost continuously in London, as the only provincial performances by them which are upon record were during the autumn of 1597, when the London theatres were for a short time closed owing to the interference of some of the players in politics.

They travelled again during 1603 when the plague was in London, and during at any rate portions of the summers or autumns of most years thereafter. In 1594 they were playing at Newington Butts, and probably also at the Rose on Bankside, and at the Cross Keys in the city. It is natural to suppose that in later years they used the Theatre in Shoreditch, since this was the property of James Burbage, the father of their principal actor, Richard Burbage. The Theatre was pulled down in 1598, and, after a short interval during which the company may have played at the Curtain, also in Shoreditch, Richard Burbage and his brother Cuthbert rehoused them in the Globe on Bankside, built in part out of the materials of the Theatre.

Here the profits of the enterprise were divided between the members of the company as such and the owners of the building as “housekeepers,” and shares in the “house” were held in joint tenancy by Shakespeare and some of his leading “fellows.” About 1608 another playhouse became available for the company in the “private” or winter house of the Black Friars. This was also the property of the Burbages, but had previously been leased to a company of boy players. A somewhat similar arrangement as to profits was made.

Shakespeare is reported by Aubrey to have been a good actor, but Adam in As You Like It, and the Ghost in Hamlet indicate the type of part which he played. As a dramatist, however, he was the mainstay of the company for at least some fifteen years, during which Ben Jonson, Dekker, Beaumont and Fletcher, and Tourneur also contributed to their repertory.

On average he must have written for them about two plays a year, although his rapidity of production seems to have been greatest during the opening years of the period. There was also no doubt a good deal of rewriting of his own earlier work, and also perhaps, at the beginning, of that of others. Occasionally he may have entered into collaboration, as, for example, at the end of his career, with Fletcher.

Stratford affairs

In a worldly sense he clearly flourished, and about 1596, if not earlier, he was able to resume relations as a moneyed man with Stratford-on-Avon. There is no evidence to show whether he had visited the town in the interval, or whether he had brought his wife and family to London. His son Hamnet died and was buried at Stratford in 1596.

During the last ten years John Shakespeare’s affairs had remained unprosperous. He incurred fresh debt, partly through becoming surety for his brother Henry; and in 1592 his name was included in a list of recusants dwelling at or near Stratford-on-Avon, with a note by the commissioners that in his case the cause was believed to be the fear of process for debt. There is no reason to doubt this explanation, or to seek a religious motive in Shakespeare’s abstinence from church.

William Shakespeare’s purse must have made a considerable difference. The prosecutions for debt ceased, and in 1597 a fresh action was brought in Chancery for the recovery of Asbies from the Lamberts. Like the last, it seems to have been without result. Another step was taken to secure the dignity of the family by an application in the course of 1596 to the heralds for the confirmation of a coat of arms said to have been granted to John Shakespeare while he was bailiff of Stratford. The grant was duly made.

In 1597 Shakespeare made an important purchase for £60 of the house and gardens of New Place in Chapel Street. This was one of the largest houses in Stratford, and its acquisition an obvious triumph for the ex-poacher. Presumably John Shakespeare ended his days in peace. A visitor to his shop remembered him as “a merry-cheekt old man” always ready to crack a jest with his son. He died in 1601, and his wife in 1608, and the Henley Street houses passed to Shakespeare.

Aubrey records that William paid annual visits to Stratford, and there is evidence that he kept in touch with the life of the place. The correspondence of his neighbours, the Quineys, in 1598 contains an application to him for a loan to Richard Quiney upon a visit to London, and a discussion of possible investments for him in the neighbourhood of Stratford.

In 1602 he took, at a rent of 2s. 6d. a year, a copyhold cottage in Chapel Lane, perhaps for the use of his gardener. In the same year he invested £320 in the purchase of an estate consisting of 107 acres in the open fields of Old Stratford, together with a farm-house, garden and orchard, 20 acres of pasture and common rights; and in 1605 he spent another £440 in the outstanding term of a lease of certain great tithes in Stratford parish, which brought in an income of about £60 a year.

Meanwhile London remained his headquarters. Here Malone thought that he had evidence, now lost, of his residence in Southwark as early as 1596, and as late as 1608. 


He appears to have been on cordial terms with his fellows of the stage. One of them, Augustine Phillips, left him a small legacy in 1605, and in his own will he paid a similar compliment to Richard Burbage, and to John Heminge and Henry Condell, who afterwards edited his plays. His relations with Ben Jonson, whom he is said by Rowe to have introduced to the world as a playwright, have been much canvassed. Jests are preserved which, even if apocryphal, indicate considerable friendship between the two.

This is not inconsistent with occasional passages of arms. The anonymous author of The Return from Parnassus (2nd part; 1602), for example, makes Kempe, the actor, allude to a “purge” which Shakespeare gave Jonson, in return for his attack on some of his rivals in The Poetaster. It has been conjectured that this purge was the description of Ajax and his humours in Troilus and Cressida.

Jonson, on the other hand, who was criticism incarnate, did not spare Shakespeare either in his prologues or in his private conversation. He told Drummond of Hawthornden that “Shakspeer wanted arte.” But the verses which he contributed to the First Folio are generous enough to make all amends, and in his Discoveries (pub. 1641; written c. 1624 and later), while regretting Shakespeare’s excessive facility and the fact that he often “fell into those things, could not escape laughter,” he declares him to have been “honest and of an open and free nature,” and says that, for his own part, “I lov’d the man and do honour his memory (on this side idolatry) as much as any.”

According to the memoranda-book (1661–1663) of the Rev. John Ward (who became vicar of Stratford in 1662), Jonson and Michael Drayton, himself a Warwickshire poet, had been drinking with Shakespeare when he caught the fever of which he died; and Thomas Fuller (1608–1661), whose Worthies was published in 1662, gives an imaginative description of the wit combats, of which many took place between the two mighty contemporaries.

Contemporary reputation

Of Shakespeare’s literary reputation during his lifetime there is ample evidence. He is probably neither the “Willy” of Spenser’s Tears of the Muses, nor the “Action” of his Colin Clout’s Come Home Again. But from the time of the publication of Venus and Adonis and Lucrece honorific allusions to his work both as poet and dramatist, and often to himself by name, come thick and fast from writers of every kind and degree.

Perhaps the most interesting of these from the biographical point of view are those contained in the Palladis Tamia, a kind of literary handbook published by Francis Meres in 1598; for Meres not only extols him as “the most excellent in both kinds [i.e. comedy and tragedy] for the stage,” and one of “the most passionate among us to bewaile and bemoane the perplexities of Love,” but also takes the trouble to give a list of twelve plays already written, which serves as a starting-point for all modern attempts at a chronological arrangement of his work.

It is moreover from Meres that we first hear of “his sugred Sonnets among his private friends.” Two of these sonnets were printed in 1599 in a volume of miscellaneous verse called The Passionate Pilgrim. This was ascribed upon the title-page to Shakespeare, but probably, so far as most of its contents were concerned, without justification. The bulk of Shakespeare’s sonnets remained unpublished until 1609.

Last years

About 1610 Shakespeare seems to have left London, and entered upon the definite occupation of his house at New Place, Stratford. Here he lived the life of a retired gentleman, on friendly if satirical terms with the richest of his neighbours, the Combes, and interested in local affairs, such as a bill for the improvement of the highways in 1611, or a proposed enclosure of the open fields at Welcombe in 1614, which might affect his income or his comfort.

He had his garden with its mulberry-tree, and his farm in the immediate neighbourhood. His brothers Gilbert and Richard were still alive; the latter died in 1613. His sister Joan had married William Hart, a hatter, and in 1616 was dwelling in one of his houses in Henley Street.

Of his daughters, the eldest, Susanna, had married in 1607 John Hall (d. 1635), a physician of some reputation. They dwelt in Stratford, and had one child, Elizabeth, afterwards Lady Barnard (1608–1670). The younger, Judith, married Thomas Quiney, a vintner, also of Stratford, two months before her father’s death.

At Stratford the last few of the plays may have been written, but it is reasonable to suppose that Shakespeare’s connexion with the King’s company ended when the Globe was burnt down during a performance of Henry VIII. on the 29th of June 1613. Certainly his retirement did not imply an absolute break with London life.

In 1613 he devised an impresa, or emblem, to be painted by Richard Burbage, and worn in the tilt on Accession day by the earl of Rutland, who had been one of the old circle of Southampton and Essex. In the same year he purchased for £140 a freehold house in the Blackfriars, near the Wardrobe. This was conveyed to trustees, apparently in order to bar the right which his widow would otherwise have had to dower. In 1615 this purchase involved Shakespeare in a lawsuit for the surrender of the title-deeds.

Richard Davies, a Gloucestershire clergyman of the end of the 17th century, reports that the poet “died a papist,” and the statement deserves more attention than it has received from biographers. There is indeed little to corroborate it; for an alleged “spiritual testament” of John Shakespeare is of suspected origin, and Davies’s own words suggest a late conversion rather than an hereditary faith. On the other hand, there is little to refute it beyond an entry in the accounts of Stratford corporation for drink given in 1614 to “a preacher at the Newe Place.”


Shakespeare made his will on the 25th of March 1616, apparently in some haste, as the executed deed is a draft with many erasures and interlineations. There were legacies to his daughter Judith Quiney and his sister Joan Hart, and remembrances to friends both in Warwickshire and in London; but the real estate was left to his sister Susanna Hall under a strict entail which points to a desire on the part of the testator to found a family.

Shakespeare’s wife, for whom other provision must have been made, is only mentioned in an interlineation, by which the “second best bed with the furniture” was bequeathed to her. Much nonsense has been written about this, but it seems quite natural. The best bed was an important chattel, which would go with the house.

The estate was after all not a large one. Aubrey’s estimate of its annual value as £200 or £300 a year sounds reasonable enough, and John Ward’s statement that Shakespeare spent £1000 a year must surely be an exaggeration. The sum-total of his known investments amounts to £960.

Mr Sidney Lee calculates that his theatrical income must have reached £600 a year; but it may be doubted whether this also is not a considerable overestimate. It must be remembered that the purchasing value of money in the 17th century is generally regarded as having been about eight times its present value [as of 1911]. Shakespeare’s interest in the “houses” of the Globe and Blackfriars probably ended with his death.

End of Life

A month after his will was signed, on the 23rd of April 1616, Shakespeare died, and as a tithe-owner was buried in the chancel of the parish church. Some doggerel upon the stone that covers the grave has been assigned by local tradition to his own pen. A more elaborate monument, with a bust by the sculptor Gerard Johnson, was in due course set up on the chancel wall.

Anne Shakespeare followed her husband on the 6th of August 1623. The family was never founded. Shakespeare’s grand-daughter, Elizabeth Hall, made two childless marriages, the first with Thomas Nash of Stratford, the second with John, afterwards Sir John, Barnard of Abington Manor, Northants. His daughter Judith Quiney had three sons, all of whom had died unmarried by 1639.

There were, therefore, no direct descendants of Shakespeare in existence after Lady Barnard’s death in 1670. Those of his sister, Joan Hart, could however still be traced in 1864. On Lady Barnard’s death the Henley Street houses passed to the Harts, in whose family they remained until 1806. They were then sold, and in 1846 were bought for the public.

They are now held with Anne Hathaway’s Cottage at Shottery as the Birthplace Trust. Lady Barnard had disposed of the Blackfriars house. The rest of the property was sold under the terms of her will, and New Place passed, first to the Cloptons who rebuilt it, and then to the Rev. Francis Gastrell, who pulled it down in 1759. The site now forms a public recreation-ground, and hard by is a memorial building with a theatre in which performances of Shakespeare’s plays are given annually in April. Both the Memorial and the Birthplace contain museums, in which books, documents and portraits of Shakespearian interest, together with relics of greater or less authenticity, are stored.

No letter or other writing in Shakespeare’s hand can be proved to exist, with the exception of three signatures upon his will, one upon a deposition (May 11, 1612) in a lawsuit with which he was remotely concerned, and two upon deeds (March 10 and 11, 1613) in connexion with the purchase of his Blackfriars house. A copy of Florio’s translation of Montaigne (1603) in the British Museum, a copy of the Aldine edition of Ovid’s Metamorphoses (1502) in the Bodleian, and a copy of the 1612 edition of Sir Thomas North’s translation of Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romaines in the Greenock Library, have all been put forward with some plausibility as bearing his autograph name or initials, and, in the third case, a marginal note by him.

A passage in the manuscript of the play of Sir Thomas More has been ascribed to him (vide infra), and, if the play is his, might be in his handwriting. Aubrey records that he was “a handsome, well-shap’t man,” and the lameness attributed to him by some writers has its origin only in a too literal interpretation of certain references to spiritual disabilities in the Sonnets.


A collection of Mr William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories and Tragedies was printed at the press of William and Isaac Jaggard, and issued by a group of booksellers in 1623. This volume is known as the First Folio. It has dedications to the earls of Pembroke and Montgomery, and to “the great Variety of Readers,” both of which are signed by two of Shakespeare’s “fellows” at the Globe, John Heminge and Henry Condell, and commendatory verses by Ben Jonson, Hugh Holland, Leonard Digges and an unidentified I. M. The Droeshout engraving forms part of the title-page. The contents include, with the exception of Pericles, all of the thirty-seven plays now ordinarily printed in editions of Shakespeare’s works. Of these eighteen were here published for the first time. The other eighteen had already appeared in one or more separate editions, known as the Quartos.

(E. K. C.)

From the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica. Adapted by EIL editor.


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