"Perfectly Imperfect: The Shakespeare Story"
Few authors today write with such universal understanding that their works will be popular with all types of people, and so successfully that their work survives centuries. These authors posses qualities we can seldom identify in their lifetimes. Yet we do know this -- William Shakespeare was one of them.
William Shakespeare’s parents were John Shakespeare and Mary Arden. John Shakespeare was born in 1529. His father was a small tenant farmer in Snitterfield, near Stratford-upon-Avon. He became a successful glover and trader, and owned civic office in Stratford. He was not born to the nobility, but he did have some authority in the town. In 1596 he was given by the College of Arms the right to a coat of arms and a crest. Doing that advanced his status to that of a country gentleman. He would belong to the upper class of rural society. That was the class just under the knights and the nobility to which the country gentleman could be promoted if he made money in trade or the law and had influence at court. His rise in authority began the year after he was married. He became constable of Stratford, in charge of keeping the town safe. From 1561 to 1565, he was Chamberlain, responsible for the oversight and maintenance of Corporation of Stratford property. In 1564, his name appeared on the list of Capital Burgesses. He was likely a member for a number of years, just without his name on the list. Capital Burgesses were the main English parliament representatives for towns or boroughs. Later on, he was bailiff of the town, and held many important positions throughout his life. William Shakespeare’s mother, Mary Arden, was born to nobility, a wealthy family. She was the youngest daughter of Robert Arden, also a country gentleman, of Wilmcote. He left in his will to Mary the estate of Asbies in Wilmcote and six pounds, thirteen shillings, and sixpence. Within a year of her father’s death, in 1557, Mary married John Shakespeare.
William Shakespeare was the third child, born after Joan and Margaret Shakespeare. Margaret died before William was born, and Joan died sometime before 1569. William was born in 1564. His exact birth date is not known, though it is known that he was baptized on April 26 in the Holy Trinity Church of Stratford. His birthday could have been any of the four or five days before that day. Traditionally, it has been said that he was born on the 23 of April, the same day of his death and St. George’s Day, but this is more because of the coincidence than based on fact. Gilbert Shakespeare was born in 1566, Anne was born in 1571, Richard in 1574, and Edmund in 1580. This made William the eldest.
Little is known about William’s childhood. He was educated for free at the local grammar school, and learned Latin and a little bit of Greek. His plays suggest that he did not enjoy school, and it seems that he did enjoy sports. Many different play companies came to Stratford to perform, and since John Shakespeare was in charge of the theater at some times, it is almost for sure that William saw many plays while he was growing up. This probably gave him the background that he needed for writing plays. His family was well off and he lived easily until he was fifteen. That year, his father began to lose authority and money. William enjoyed the outdoors as a teenager, and was known to go on long walks in the country. He met Anne Hathaway when he was seventeen, probably on one of those walks. She was the daughter of Richard Hathaway and lived at Hewland’s Farm, now known as Anne Hathaway’s Cottage. Anne was also about 8 years older than William, an unheard of thing in the English countryside. Yet they decided to be married soon afterwards, though William was a minor. They received their marriage license on November 27, 1582, soon after Anne’s father died. Curiously, their first child was born only six months later!
Susanna Shakespeare was born in late May of 1583. Twins, a boy and a girl named Hamnet and Judith were born two years later. They were named after a