William Shakespeare

Early Life

Shakespeare was born in 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon, a small town in the middle of the English countryside. His father, John Shakespeare, was something of a social climber. He had made a good match when he married Mary Arden, the daughter of a well-to-do farmer, and in 1568 he successfully campaigned for the position of High Bailiff of Stratford, the equivalent of a modern Mayor. Although there’s no record of William’s schooling, John almost certainly sent his son to the local public school, where he would have studied Latin literature and rhetoric. Shakespeare’s plays indicate he was familiar with Greek and Latin. The writers Seneca and Ovid may have made a particularly strong impression on William. His breakthrough play, Titus Andronicus , borrows plot points from both writers, and his first published work, the long poem Venus and Adonis , retells an episode from Ovid’s epic Metamorphoses. When Shakespeare began to earn money from these successes, one of his first big expenditures was on a coat of arms for his father, which gave John Shakespeare the right to call himself a “gentleman.”