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Biography of Shakespeare
Since William Shakespeare lived more than 400 years ago, and many records from that time are lost or never existed in the first place, we don't know everything about his life. For example, we know that he was baptized in Stratford-upon-Avon, 100 miles northwest of London, on April 26, 1564. But we don't know his exact birthdate, which must have been a few days earlier.
We do know that Shakespeare's life revolved around two locations: Stratford and London. He grew up, had a family, and bought property in Stratford, but he worked in London, the center of English theater. As an actor, a playwright, and a partner in a leading acting company, he became both prosperous and well-known. Even without knowing everything about his life, fans of Shakespeare have imagined and reimagined him according to their own tastes, just as we see with the 19th-century portrait of Shakespeare wooing his wife at the top of this page.
William Shakespeare was probably born on about April 23, 1564, the date that is traditionally given for his birth. He was John and Mary Shakespeare's oldest surviving child; their first two children, both girls, did not live beyond infancy. Growing up as the big brother of the family, William had three younger brothers, Gilbert, Richard, and Edmund, and two younger sisters: Anne, who died at seven, and Joan.
Their father, John Shakespeare, was a leatherworker who specialized in the soft white leather used for gloves and similar items. A prosperous businessman, he married Mary Arden, of the prominent Arden family. John rose through local offices in Stratford, becoming an alderman and eventually, when William was five, the town bailiff—much like a mayor. Not long after that, however, John Shakespeare stepped back from public life; we don't know why.
Shakespeare, as the son of a leading Stratford citizen, almost certainly attended Stratford's grammar school. Like all such schools, its curriculum consisted of an intense emphasis on the Latin classics, including memorization, writing, and acting classic Latin plays. Shakespeare most likely attended until about age 15.
For several years after Judith and Hamnet's arrival in 1585, nothing is known for certain of Shakespeare's activities: how he earned a living, when he moved from Stratford, or how he got his start in the theater.
Following this gap in the record, the first definite mention of Shakespeare is in 1592 as an established London actor and playwright, mocked by a contemporary as a "Shake-scene." The same writer alludes to one of Shakespeare's earliest history plays, Henry VI, Part 3, which must already have been performed. The next year, in 1593, Shakespeare published a long poem, Venus and Adonis. The first quarto editions of his early plays appeared in 1594. For more than two decades, Shakespeare had multiple roles in the London theater as an actor, playwright, and, in time, a business partner in a major acting company, the Lord Chamberlain's Men (renamed the King's Men in 1603). Over the years, he became steadily more famous in the London theater world; his name, which was not even listed on the first quartos of his plays, became a regular feature—clearly a selling point—on later title pages.
Shakespeare prospered financially from his partnership in the Lord Chamberlain's Men (later the King's Men), as well as from his writing and acting. He invested much of his wealth in real-estate purchases in Stratford and bought the second-largest house in town, New Place, in 1597.
Among the last plays that Shakespeare worked on was The Two Noble Kinsmen, which he wrote with a frequent collaborator, John Fletcher, most likely in 1613. He died on April 23, 1616—the traditional date of his birthday, though his precise birthdate is unknown. We also do not know the cause of his death. His brother-in-law had died a week earlier, which could imply infectious disease, but Shakespeare's health may have had a longer decline.
The memorial bust of Shakespeare at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford is considered one of two authentic likenesses, because it was approved by people who knew him. (The bust in the Folger's Paster Reading Room, shown at left, is a copy of this statue.) The other such likeness is the engraving by Martin Droeshout in the 1623 First Folio edition of Shakespeare's plays, produced seven years after his death by his friends and colleagues from the King's Men.
ANTIOCHUS, king of Antioch. PERICLES, prince of Tyre. HELICANUS, ESCANES, two lords of Tyre. SIMONIDES, kIng of Pentapolis. CLEON, governor of Tarsus. LYSIMACHUS, governor of Mytilene. CERIMON, a lord of Ephesus. THALIARD, a lord of Antioch. PFIILEMON, servant to Cerimon. LEONINE, servant to Dionyza. Marshal. A Pandar. BOULT, his servant. The Daughter of Antiochus. DIONYZA, wife to Cleon. THAISA, daughter to Simonides. MARINA, daughter to Pericles and Thaisa. LYCHORIDA, nurse to Marina. A Bawd. Lords, Knights, Gentlemen, Sailors, Pirates, Fishermen, and Messengers. DIANA. GOWER, as Chorus.
SCENE: Dispersedly in various countries.
[Before the palace of Antioch.]
To sing a song that old was sung, From ashes ancient Gower is come; Assuming man's infirmities, To glad your ear, and please your eyes. It hath been sung at festivals, On ember-eves and holy-ales; And lords and ladies in their lives Have read it for restoratives: The purchase is to make men glorious; Et bonum quo antiquius, eo melius. If you, born in these latter times, When wit's more ripe, accept my rhymes, And that to hear an old man sing May to your wishes pleasure bring, I life would wish, and that I might Waste it for you, like taper-light. This Antioch, then, Antiochus the Great Built up, this city, for his chiefest seat; The fairest in all Syria, I tell you what mine authors say: This king unto him took a fere, Who died and left a female heir, So buxom, so blithe, and full of face, As heaven had lent her all his grace; With whom the father liking took, And her to incest did provoke: Bad child; worse father! to entice his own To evil should be done by none: But custom what they did begin Was with long use account no sin. The beauty of this sinful dame Made many princes thither frame, To seek her as a bed-fellow, In marriage-pleasures play-fellow: Which to prevent he made a law, To keep her still, and men in awe, That whoso ask'd her for his wife, His riddle told not, lost his life: So for her many a wight did die, As yon grim looks do testify. What now ensues, to the judgement your eye I give, my cause who lest can justify.
SCENE I. Antioch. A room in the palace.
[Enter ANTIOCHUS, PRINCE PERICLES, and followers.]
ANTIOCHUS. Young prince of Tyre, you have at large received The danger of the task you undertake.
PERICLES. I have, Antiochus, and, with a soul Embolden'd with the glory of her praise, Think death no hazard in this enterprise.
ANTIOCHUS. Bring in our daughter, clothed like a bride, For the embracements even of Jove himself; At whose conception, till Lucina reign'd, Nature this dowry gave, to glad her presence, The senate-house of planets all did sit, To knit in her their best perfections.
[Music. Enter the Daughter of Antiochus.]
PERICLES See where she comes, apparell'd like the spring, Graces her subjects, and her thoughts the king Of every virtue gives renown to men! Her face the book of praises, where is read Nothing but curious pleasures, as from thence Sorrow were ever razed, and testy wrath Could never be her mild companion. You gods that made me man, and sway in love, That have inflamed desire in my breast To taste the fruit of yon celestal tree, Or die in the adventure, be my helps, As I am son and servant to your will, To compass such a boundless happiness!
ANTIOCHUS. Prince Pericles, --
PERICLES. That would be son to great Antiochus.
ANTIOCHUS. Before thee stands this fair Hesperides, With golden fruit, but dangerous to be touch'd; For death-like dragons here affright thee hard: Her face, like heaven, enticeth thee to view Her countless glory, which desert must gain; And which, without desert, because thine eye Presumes to reach, all thy whole heap must die. Yon sometimes famous princes, like thyself, Drawn by report, adventurous by desire, Tell thee, with speechless tongues and semblance pale, That without covering, save yon field of stars, Here they stand Martyrs, slain in Cupid's wars; And with dead cheeks advise thee to desist For going on death's net, whom none resist.
PERICLES. Antiochus, I thank thee, who hath taught My frail mortality to know itself, And by those fearful objects to prepare This body, like to them, to what I must; For death remember'd should be like a mirror, Who tells us life 's but breath, to trust it error. I'll make my will then, and, as sick men do Who know the world, see heaven, but, feeling woe, Gripe not at earthly joys as erst they did; So I bequeath a happy peace to you And all good men, as every prince should do; My riches to the earth from whence they came; But my unspotted fire of love to you.
[To the daughter of Antiochus.]
Thus ready for the way of life or death, I wait the sharpest blow, Antiochus.
ANTIOCHUS. Scorning advice, read the conclusion, then: Which read and not expounded, 'tis decreed, As these before thee thou thyself shalt bleed.
DAUGHTER. Of all say'd yet, mayst thou prove prosperous! Of all say'd yet, I wish thee happiness!
PERICLES Like a bold champion, I assume THe lists, Nor ask advice of any other thought But faithfulness and courage.
[He reads the riddle.]
I am no viper, yet I feed On mother's flesh which did me breed. I sought a husband, in which labour I found that kindness in a father: He's father, son, and husband mild; I mother, wife, and yet his child. How they may be, and yet in two, As you will live, resolve it you. Sharp physic is the last: but, O you powers That give heaven countless eyes to view men's acts, Why cloud they not their sights perpetually, If this be true, which makes me pale to read it? Fair glass of light, I loved you, and could still,
[Takes hold of the hand of the Princess.]
Were not this glorious casket stored with ill: But I must tell you, now my thoughts revolt; For he's no man on whom perfections wait That, knowing sin within, will touch the gate, You are a fair viol, and your sense the strings; Who, finger'd to make man his lawful music, Would draw heaven down, and all the gods to hearken; But being play'd upon before your time, Hell only danceth at so harsh a chime. Good sooth, I care not for you.
ANTIOCHUS. Prince Pericles, touch not, upon thy life, For that's an article within our law, As dangerous as the rest. Tour time's expired: Either expound now, or receive your sentence.
PERICLES. Great king, Few love to hear the sins they love to act; 'Twould braid yourself too near for me to tell it. Who has a book of all that monarchs do, He's more secure to keep it shut than shown: For vice repeated is like the wandering wind, Blows dust in others' eyes, to spread itself; And yet the end of all is bought thus dear, The breath is gone, and the sore eyes see clear To stop the air would hurt them. The blind mole casts Copp'd hills towards heaven, to tell the earth is throng'd By man's oppression; and the poor worm doth die for't. Kind are earth's gods; in vice their law's their will; And if Jove stray, who dares say Jove doth ill? It is enough you know; and it is fit, What being more known grows worse, to smother it. All love the womb that their first bred, Then give my tongue like leave to love my head.