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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.
SATURNINUS, Son to the late Emperor of Rome, afterwards declared Emperor. BASSIANUS, Brother to Saturninus, in love with Lavinia. TITUS ANDRONICUS, a noble Roman, General against the Goths. MARCUS ANDRONICUS, Tribune of the People, and Brother to Titus.
LUCIUS, Son to Titus Andronicus. QUINTUS, Son to Titus Andronicus. MARTIUS, Son to Titus Andronicus. MUTIUS, Son to Titus Andronicus.
YOUNG LUCIUS, a Boy, Son to Lucius. PUBLIUS, Son to Marcus the Tribune.
AEMILIUS, a noble Roman.
ALARBUS, Son to Tamora. DEMETRIUS, Son to Tamora. CHIRON, Son to Tamora.
AARON, a Moor, beloved by Tamora A Captain, Tribune, Messenger,and Clown--Romans Goths and Romans.
TAMORA, Queen of the Goths LAVINIA, Daughter to Titus Andronicus A NURSE, and a black CHILD.
Kinsmen to Titus, Senators, Tribunes, Officers, Soldiers, and Attendants.
SCENE: Rome, and the Country near it.
SCENE I. Rome. Before the Capitol.
[The Tomb of Andronic appearing; the Tribunes and Senators aloft. Enter, below, SATURNINUS and his Followers on one side, and BASSIANUS and his Followers at the other, with drums and colours.]
SATURNINUS. Noble patricians, patrons of my right, Defend the justice of my cause with arms; And, countrymen, my loving followers, Plead my successive title with your swords: I am his first born son that was the last That wore the imperial diadem of Rome: Then let my father's honours live in me, Nor wrong mine age with this indignity.
BASSIANUS. Romans,--friends, followers, favourers of my right,-- If ever Bassianus, Caesar's son, Were gracious in the eyes of royal Rome, Keep then this passage to the Capitol; And suffer not dishonour to approach The imperial seat, to virtue consecrate, To justice, continence, and nobility: But let desert in pure election shine; And, Romans, fight for freedom in your choice.
[Enter MARCUS ANDRONICUS aloft, with the crown.]
MARCUS. Princes,--that strive by factions and by friends Ambitiously for rule and empery,-- Know that the people of Rome, for whom we stand A special party, have by common voice, In election for the Roman empery Chosen Andronicus, surnamed Pius For many good and great deserts to Rome: A nobler man, a braver warrior, Lives not this day within the city walls.: He by the senate is accited home From weary wars against the barbarous Goths; That with his sons, a terror to our foes, Hath yok'd a nation strong, train'd up in arms. Ten years are spent since first he undertook This cause of Rome, and chastised with arms Our enemies' pride: five times he hath return'd Bleeding to Rome, bearing his valiant sons In coffins from the field; And now at last, laden with honour's spoils, Returns the good Andronicus to Rome, Renowned Titus, flourishing in arms. Let us entreat,--by honour of his name Whom worthily you would have now succeed, And in the Capitol and senate's right, Whom you pretend to honour and adore,-- That you withdraw you and abate your strength; Dismiss your followers, and, as suitors should, Plead your deserts in peace and humbleness.
SATURNINUS. How fair the tribune speaks to calm my thoughts!
BASSIANUS. Marcus Andronicus, so I do affy In thy uprightness and integrity, And so I love and honour thee and thine, Thy noble brother Titus and his sons, And her to whom my thoughts are humbled all, Gracious Lavinia, Rome's rich ornament, That I will here dismiss my loving friends; And to my fortunes and the people's favour Commit my cause in balance to be weigh'd.
[Exeunt the Followers of BASSIANUS.]
SATURNINUS. Friends, that have been thus forward in my right, I thank you all and here dismiss you all; And to the love and favour of my country Commit myself, my person, and the cause.
[Exeunt the Followers of SATURNINUS.]
Rome, be as just and gracious unto me As I am confident and kind to thee.-- Open the gates, tribunes, and let me in.
BASSIANUS. Tribunes, and me, a poor competitor.
[Flourish. Exeunt; SATURNINUS and BASSIANUS go up into the Capitol.]
[Enter a Captain.]
CAPTAIN. Romans, make way. The good Andronicus, Patron of virtue, Rome's best champion, Successful in the battles that he fights, With honour and with fortune is return'd From where he circumscribed with his sword And brought to yoke the enemies of Rome.
[Flourish of trumpets, &c. Enter MARTIUS and MUTIUS; after them two Men bearing a coffin covered with black; then LUCIUS and QUINTUS. After them TITUS ANDRONICUS; and then TAMORA, with ALARBUS, DEMETRIUS, CHIRON, AARON, and other Goths, prisoners; soldiers and People following. The bearers set down the coffin, and TITUS speaks.]
TITUS. Hail, Rome, victorious in thy mourning weeds! Lo, as the bark that hath discharg'd her fraught Returns with precious lading to the bay From whence at first she weigh'd her anchorage, Cometh Andronicus, bound with laurel boughs, To re-salute his country with his tears,-- Tears of true joy for his return to Rome.-- Thou great defender of this Capitol, Stand gracious to the rites that we intend!-- Romans, of five and twenty valiant sons, Half of the number that King Priam had, Behold the poor remains, alive and dead! These that survive let Rome reward with love; These that I bring unto their latest home, With burial amongst their ancestors; Here Goths have given me leave to sheathe my sword. Titus, unkind, and careless of thine own, Why suffer'st thou thy sons, unburied yet, To hover on the dreadful shore of Styx?-- Make way to lay them by their brethren.--
[The tomb is opened.]
There greet in silence, as the dead are wont, And sleep in peace, slain in your country's wars! O sacred receptacle of my joys, Sweet cell of virtue and nobility, How many sons of mine hast thou in store, That thou wilt never render to me more!
LUCIUS. Give us the proudest prisoner of the Goths, That we may hew his limbs, and on a pile Ad manes fratrum sacrifice his flesh Before this earthy prison of their bones; That so the shadows be not unappeas'd, Nor we disturb'd with prodigies on earth.
TITUS. I give him you,--the noblest that survives, The eldest son of this distressed queen.
TAMORA. Stay, Roman brethen!--Gracious conqueror, Victorious Titus, rue the tears I shed, A mother's tears in passion for her son: And if thy sons were ever dear to thee, O, think my son to be as dear to me! Sufficeth not that we are brought to Rome, To beautify thy triumphs and return, Captive to thee and to thy Roman yoke; But must my sons be slaughter'd in the streets For valiant doings in their country's cause? O, if to fight for king and common weal Were piety in thine, it is in these. Andronicus, stain not thy tomb with blood: Wilt thou draw near the nature of the gods? Draw near them, then, in being merciful: Sweet mercy is nobility's true badge: Thrice-noble Titus, spare my first-born son.
TITUS. Patient yourself, madam, and pardon me. These are their brethren, whom your Goths beheld Alive and dead; and for their brethren slain Religiously they ask a sacrifice: To this your son is mark'd; and die he must, To appease their groaning shadows that are gone.
LUCIUS. Away with him! and make a fire straight; And with our swords, upon a pile of wood, Let's hew his limbs till they be clean consum'd.
[Exeunt LUCIUS, QUINTUS, MARTIUS, and MUTIUS with ALARBUS.]
TAMORA. O cruel, irreligious piety!
CHIRON. Was ever Scythia half so barbarous!
DEMETRIUS. Oppose not Scythia to ambitious Rome. Alarbus goes to rest; and we survive To tremble under Titus' threatening look. Then, madam, stand resolv'd; but hope withal The self-same gods that arm'd the Queen of Troy With opportunity of sharp revenge Upon the Thracian tyrant in his tent, May favour Tamora, the queen of Goths,-- When Goths were Goths and Tamora was queen,-- To quit the bloody wrongs upon her foes.
[Re-enter LUCIUS, QUINTUS, MARTIUS,and MUTIUS, with their swords bloody.]
LUCIUS. See, lord and father, how we have perform'd Our Roman rites: Alarbus' limbs are lopp'd, And entrails feed the sacrificing fire, Whose smoke like incense doth perfume the sky. Remaineth naught but to inter our brethren, And with loud 'larums welcome them to Rome.
TITUS. Let it be so, and let Andronicus Make this his latest farewell to their souls.
[Trumpets sounded and the coffin laid in the tomb.]
In peace and honour rest you here, my sons; Rome's readiest champions, repose you here in rest, Secure from worldly chances and mishaps! Here lurks no treason, here no envy swells, Here grow no damned grudges; here are no storms, No noise, but silence and eternal sleep:
In peace and honour rest you here, my sons!
LAVINIA. In peace and honour live Lord Titus long; My noble lord and father, live in fame! Lo, at this tomb my tributary tears I render for my brethren's obsequies; And at thy feet I kneel, with tears of joy Shed on this earth for thy return to Rome; O, bless me here with thy victorious hand, Whose fortunes Rome's best citizens applaud!
TITUS. Kind Rome, that hast thus lovingly reserv'd The cordial of mine age to glad my heart!-- Lavinia, live; outlive thy father's days, And fame's eternal date, for virtue's praise!