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The Biography of the Bard, William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare is nothing less of a great mystery. Plaguing the minds of scholars all around. He is the man best known for his plays, poems and sonnets. He was one of the most famous men of his time and yet we have little to no record at all about him. With not even enough evidence to prove sufficiently at all that he was the master craftsman of his own words. And so after all of the scrambled puzzles and our minimum to basic facts we are left with the simple everlasting question of "Just Who Was William Shakespeare?"
William Shakespeare is recorded to have been baptised on April 26th 1564 "William son of John Shakspere" by his parish in the Register for Stratford and even though no true record of his birth has ever been found in the days he lived in it was common practise to be christened just 3 days after your birthing. And so it has gone down in history as a large assumption that for Shakespeare that is what had happened. It is now assumed that the modern day tourist attraction and the owned home of John Shakspere in Henley Street, in Stratford-upon-Avon, was the birthplace of one of England's most famous of writers and his seven other siblings. It now stands proud and strong as a miniature museum owned now by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.
He had seven siblings two of which had died previous to his birth. His mum, Mary Shakespeare (Nee' Arden), was the daughter of a well off land owner, though they were still of a lower set of aristocratic society. And was the second cousin to William Arden the father of Edward Arden, a man who was arrested and later put to death for conspiring with Mary Queen of Scots to kill and over throw Queen Elizabeth I. Shakespeare's mum's name should seem familiar to some as it was given by her family to a nearby forest (Forest of Arden) which was later used in her son's famous play 'As You Like It'. Nothing much else of her was ever recorded besides her burial in 1608, September 9th.
His father was a well-to-do recognised glove maker who held a large number of public offices over a twenty year period (from: borough ale taster, to alderman, to high bailiff, etc). When William was 13 in 1577 his father suffered at a great financial loss carrying on to the year of 1596 where his situation improved to his death in 1601. In 1569 it is documented that he applied for a coat of arms but had to wait 20 years before he was to be successfully granted them - apparently his son's future success was of great help to him in this dilemma.
At the age of 18 in 1582 Shakespeare married his wife, Ann Hathaway, 8 years his elder, who at the time was 3 months pregnant with their eldest daughter Susanna. They went on to have 3 children, two girls, Susanna, the eldest, and Judith twin to her brother Hamnet for whom would go on to have one of our world's most famous of play's named after him: Hamlet. Unfortunately for all the family he did not live long and left our world soon at the tender age of 11.
The daughters lived longer more prosperous lives and even married carrying on the lineage of Shakespeare through their children. Susanna had a loving marriage although Judith's husband was sentenced to a public penance for having a child out of wedlock with another woman known as Margaret Wheeler. It then changed to a payment of five shillings and a private penance instead. None of William's children were known to be educated or even literate, the same as his parents.
Besides the mentioning of his father being removed from the Board of Aldermen, from the point of 1585 - Judith and Hamnet's christening - the road of Shakespeare is silent. Up until four years later when he and his parents are named in a legal action over a disagreement of land in Wilmcote with a neighbour (either his own or his parents it is unclear) known to be John Lambert. Between then and two years later he, assumedly, writes parts 1,2 and 3 of a Henry VI, although a very popular notion for many scholars it has been left ultimately unproven and so un-factual and useless mostly to his timeline besides to fill in the blanks.
By this time it is assumed by everyone that he has already left his family (possibly the same year as his twins were baptised) for the zest of theatre life. It is unknown why he left but rumour has it that he was to be prosecuted for poaching a deer on another's land. In the year of 1592, on September the 3rd, Shakespeare receives his first literacy mention - just not a favourable one:
There is an upstart crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tygers heart wrapt in a Players hide supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you; and, being an absolute Johannes Factotum, is in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country.
This quoted insult was written in a pamphlet on the deathbed of and by fellow dramatist and author of "Groatsworth of Wit" Robert Greene. Three months later a mutual friend of theirs publicly apologises in a preface, hinting also of Shakespeare's newfound friendships with important people of the time. Men such as the young Henry Wriothesley, the 3rd earl of Southampton (rumoured to be the secret son of Queen Elizabeth I and Edward De Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, who has a lot more of a connection to Shakespeare than his possible 'bastard' son ... this you will discover later on). His first first published poems were released the next year titled "Venus and Adonis" and "The Rape of Lucrece" dedicated solely to his good friend Henry Wriothesley. Henry VI Part One was produced March 3rd of 1592, same year of his public insult and as his father being fined for missing church, by Strange's Men at the Rose Theatre!
This is the beginning of Shakespeare's infamous career. Simple choices that would go on to change lives for centuries to come. Shaping his future as he went on to proudly and boastfully complete 154 sonnets, 40 plays, and five long narrative poems. His number of plays include two lost plays recorded as Cardenio and Love's Labour's Won, although scholars are assuming that he has eighteen more plays lost to us.
He is so infamous now that he has become known as one of the most highly quoted authors of our time in the English language besides authors of the Bible. Two of his plays, "Much Ado About Nothing" and "Hamlet", have even been translated in Klingon. Even in his time he was a riot of entertainment making enough money to build a theatre called by all as The Globe Theatre. Which later burnt down and was rebuilt.
And yet there is no proof that he actually wrote anything, there was no proof even if he was that literate to be able to. Especially since we have no mention at any point in history of him ever attending any school, let alone The Stratford Grammar School which was nearest to him. Besides the fact he has been named the author and that his plays had his name on them we have no proof, but we also have no proof against him. Not one solitary play, sonnet, poem or letter has ever been found in his hand. Six scratchy, unkempt signatures are all to be found of - all spelt differently, proving he could write but had no clear idea at all about spelling or elegance in a time that a signature of grandeur was of high fashion. Yet on the other side of this literacy debate we know also that he was an actor who performed in front two monarchs: Good Queen Bess and her successor King James I, so he must have been good at what he did, and to be good he would have needed to be able to read to learn his lines.
The most widely accepted choice to who could have actually written his works is Edward De Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford (possibly the reason as to how and why Shakespeare knew his possible bastard son). Approximately one third of Shakespeare's plays have been set in Italy and never is it documented of him travelling anywhere outside of England. The plays would have had to have been written by a well travelled man of great power and education, such as Edward De Vere.
Some may argue that if Edward was the real author why would he have needed Shakespeare! The times of and around the Elizabethan Era were very dangerous for opinion, especially for those in high Court positions. They wished to keep their lives. If Edward had wanted to convey his thoughts he would have needed a bottom man to take this stance for him but would have still needed to still be in utter control of everything written. Shakespeare was perfect. An actor from an averagely unimportant and unnoticeable of backgrounds who would possess no qualms for taking another man's work to pass as his own as long as he got paid to do nothing but take in every glory. Which he was, as away from his family in Stratford he had a mistress, explaining to us his uncaring selfish demeanour and attitude towards others, such as his family. Not only this but in most of the literature written the amount of structural knowledge of the upper class was obsessive and extent, as if written by someone who could have known that life well.
It was also in his late 40's that he retired back to his home town and family which would have exactly coincided with the death of Edward De Vere. In fact the year The Earl of Oxford died William would have just been 48 years old. So if he really was the true author if his works and not Edward then why without any recorded reason did he suddenly retire around the time of the Earl's death? Coincidence?!
Those who agree, like myself, that it was in fact Edward De Vere and not Shakespeare who wrote everything are known as Oxfordians, those on the side of The Bard are called Stratfordians.
And then moving in to his will! In this he mentioned no scripture, book or shred of literature of any kind for anyone, not even a simple mention or word of any. What he did crudely state however was his leaving of his second best bed ("I gyve unto my wief my second best bed with the furniture") for his wife of many years and so to much speculation it is wondered who received his 'best bed' ... a mistress perhaps? The furniture was just the bedclothes to go with the bed. Other than that and a few gifts to others all his money and possessions were distributed between his two daughters, most going to his eldest Susanna.
He also had asked for a curse to be placed on his tomb to deter any unwanted grave robbers or people who may, for whatever reason, wish to remove his body from his grave in The Holy Trinity Church at Stratford-upon-Avon. This wish was fulfilled and to this day his grace has been left untouched and unscathed in any which way by human interaction. The curse reads:
Good friend for Jesus’ sake forbear,
To dig the dust enclosed here:
Blest be the man that spares these stones,
And curst be he that moves my bones.
... Seven years later most his plays and works were published.