A Little Bit O’ History
Shakespeare’s career can be broken into three parts:
1587-1592 His early period – when he first came to London; performed, began play writing
1593-1603 His middle period – peak of his writing career, wrote comedies and histories, and tragedies
1603-1612 His late period – wrote comedies, histories, and tragedies, his comedies began to be darker and more complex (some categorized as romances),
William Shakespeare was born in April, 1564 to John and Mary Shakespeare. He later attended school somewhere, perhaps at the King’s New School. While there, he would have learned Latin, history, rhetoric, Greek, and arithmetic, among others. Although he did have a decent education, he did not have any education beyond what was basically preperation school, something akin to senior high school, but not college.
Sometime around 1582, William Shakespeare married a woman named Anne Hathaway, a woman considerably older than himself. She was already pregnant before their marriage, so they were married in haste to avoid public scandal. Their marriage was a strange one – William left Anne behind when he went to London, and there is much speculation of Anne’s infidelity. However, in a Time article titled Rethinking Anne Hathaway, William Lee Adams presents a summary of Shakespearean author Germaine Greer’s defense of Anne in her book Shakespeare’s Wife. Regardless of the quality of their relationship, Shakespeare and Hathaway had one girl, then a set of twins – one boy and one girl. The male twin died while very young, but the daughters lived to adulthood.
Shakespeare came to London around 1588 where he wrote his first plays. According to Stephen Greenblatt in The Norton Shakespeare‘s General Introduction, Shakespeare could have joined an acting company in London. We know for sure that he was an actor in Ben Johnson’s play Every Man in His Humor(performed in 1598) and Sejanus (1603). By 1594, Shakespeare had become a member of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, the acting company with which he remained the rest of his life (during King James’ reign, its title changed to The King’s Men).
Although it was common for playwrights to work as freelancers, writing plays for various companies, Shakespeare wrote all his plays for only the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. He averaged about two plays per year. The company first performed in The Theatre until their lease on that building expired. They then formed a joint-stock company and built a new theatre which became known as the Globe, which opened in 1599. After around ten years at the Globe, the company moved on to Blackfriars Theatre. Shakespeare was a major shareholder in both the Globe Theatre and Blackfriars. It is from his shares in the theatre that Shakespeare became wealthy, not off of royalties from his plays, although it if were not for his plays’ successes and popularity, it is doubtful that the acting company and theatre would have done well.
Shakespeare did become quite wealthy, eventually owning the second largest house in Stratford and accompanying lands and purchasing a title for his father. Shakespeare’s career basically ended in 1613, and he died a few years later in 1616.