Although little is known for certain about Shakespeare there are many important
writers of his era of whom we know far less. Of the playwright Kyd, for example,
despite his evident great popularity during his life, nothing whatsoever is known,
and we are lucky even to know his name. Few of Shakespeare's personal papers survive,
and there are no diaries or letters to his friends which might give us an insight
into his private life; and if, for instance, biographers look to the Sonnets to
provide some clue, all that emerges in the end is further mystery. The apocryphal
stories that appeared, inevitably, in the years following his death would not, even
if they were true, add a great deal. But of his public life — his work with the
King's Men, his business transactions — we do have adequate documentation. What
follows is drawn from official documents and from those few reliable comments by
his contemporaries that survive.
- Born in Stratford-upon-Avon, in April. The 23rd, three days before his baptism,
and the date on which he died, is conveniently taken as his birth-day.
- Educated, almost certainly at the King's New School at Stratford-upon-Avon.
Acquired the "small Latin" and "less Greek" that Ben Jonson credits him with
in his dedicatory poem in the First Folio, 1623. 1582 Married Anne Hathaway.
- Three children — Susanna, and the twins Hamnet and Judith — born. (Hamnet
died when only eleven years old).
- Beginning of his career as actor and playwright.
- Shakespeare already a force to be reckoned with in the theatre: Robert Greene,
pamphleteer and playwright of an older generation, warns against ". ..an upstart
crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tiger's heart wrapped in
a player's 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."
- Plague closes London theatres. Shakespeare dedicates his poems Venus
and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece to Henry Wriothesley,
Earl of Southampton, probably also the young man referred to in the Sonnets.
- First extant reference to Shakespeare as a member of the troup called the
Lord Chamberlain's Men, to which Kempe the celebrated comedian and Burbage the
tragedian also belonged. (While it seems clear that Shakespeare was not a leading
actor John Aubrey, the diarist, reports that "he did act exceedingly well".
He is said by John Davies in an epigram in his Scourge of Folly
(pub. 1610) to have favoured "kingly parts"; and it is certain that he played
Adam in As You Like It and the Ghost in Hamlet, which
Rowe in his 1709 edition says was his finest role. It is also on record that
he acted in the plays of Ben Jonson).
- Shakespeare and the Lord Chamberlain's Men resident at The Theatre, their
playhouse near Bishopsgate, performing for the public and sometimes before Elizabeth
- The Lord Chamberlain's Men tear down The Theatre, and use the timber to
construct The Globe, in Southwark. Shakespeare now in receipt of ten per cent
of the company's profits under a special contract: hence not only actor and
principal playwright but also business director of the company.
- Timely revival of Richard II at The Globe, commissioned by
some of Essex's followers on the day preceding the launch of his rebellion,
(8 February), gives a rare suggestion of the political life of Shakespeare and
his colleagues. (The rebellion of Bolingbroke against Richard II in the play
was clearly open to an allegorical reading in which Bolingbroke became Essex
and Richard, Elizabeth I).
- Death of Queen Elizabeth and accession by King James I. By Royal Patent
the Lord Chamberlain's Men become the King's Men.
- 26 December — first recorded performance of Measure for Measure.
before the King. 1611 Around the date of The Winter's Tale and
The Tempest Shakespeare retires to Stratford to his family. His
interests in the company have brought him considerable wealth, by now invested
in land and property.
- 23 April, Shakespeare dies aged fifty-two, — according to the Vicar of Holy
Trinity from drinking too hard with Drayton and Ben Jonson, and thereby contracting
a fever. Buried at Stratford, where his monument is.
- Anne Shakespeare dies. John Heminges and Hemy Condell, two of the King's
Men, and Shakespeare's colleagues for twenty years, publish all his plays (apart
from Pericles) in the First Folio. The First Folio constitutes
the sole surviving text of no less than eighteen of the plays, the other eighteen
existing also in earlier Quarto editions. The poems were published in Shakespeare's
lifetime, but he had gone to his grave not knowing whether his great plays would
". ..for I loved the man, and do honour his memory (on this side idolatry)
as much as any. He was indeed honest, and of an open, and free nature; had
an excellent phantasy, brave notions, and gentle expressions. .."
Ben Jonson on "Our Fellow Countryman Shakespeare", 1626-37, from Timber:
or Discoveries; made upon Men and Matter (1641)
|1588-93 The Comedy of Errors
|1588-94 Love's Labour's Lost
|1590-91 Henry VI Part 2
|1590-91 Henry VI Part 3
|1591-92 Henry VI Part 1
|1592-93 Richard III
|1592-94 Titus Andronicus
|1593-94 The Taming of the Shrew
|1593-95 The Two Gentlemen of Verona
|1594-96 Romeo and Juliet
|1595 Richard II
|1594-96 A Midsummer Night's Dream
|1596-97 King John
|1596-97 The Merchant of Venice
|1597 Henry IV Part 1
|1597-98 Henry IV Part 2
|1597-1601 The Merry Wives of Windsor
|1598-99 Henry V
|1598-1600 Much Ado
|1599 Julius Caesar
|1599-1600 As You Like It
|1599-1600 Twelfth Night
|1601-02 Troilus and Cressida
|1602-04 All's Well That Ends Well
|1604 Measure for Measure
|1605-06 King Lear
|1606-07 Antony and Cleopatra
|1605-08 Timon of Athens
|1610-11 The Winter's Tale
|1611 The Tempest
|1612-13 Henry VIII
|1592 Venus and Adonis
|1593-94 The Rape of Lucrece
Chronology by Sylvan Barnet, General Editor, The Signet
|1600-01 The Phoenix and the Turtle
Shakespeare in Print
Shakespeare seems never to have supervised the publication of any of the thirty-seven
plays in which he had a hand, of which eighteen came out in his lifetime in Quarto
editions (a Quarto is a volume of sheets folded twice, forming four leaves and eight
pages per sheet.) The Quartos are described by his posthumous Folio editors as "...diverse
stolen and surreptitious copies, maimed and deformed by the frauds and stealths
of injurious impostors that exposed them," and indeed these texts have never been
The First Folio (a volume of sheets folded once, each sheet thereby making two
leaves and four pages) contains thirty-six plays, whose texts are based both on
published and unpublished copies. The Folio is considered the authoritative text,
although the editing becomes rather slapdash towards the end of the volume. Editing
Shakespeare is not always easy: sometimes two Quartos of a play exist, as well as
the Folio, with no clear relationship between any of them. Modern editions of Shakespeare
are based primarily on the Folio texts. The Director of the Riverside production
has used the Signet Classic edition of
Measure for Measure
as being the most useful of the current pocket editions. It provides clear analysis
of the text and a wealth of useful background to the play and its critical history.