William Shakespeare's School Life: Early Life and Education

Shakespeare (illustration)
CSA Images/Printstock Collection/Getty Images

What was William Shakespeare's school life like? What school did he attend and was he top of the class?

Unfortunately, there is very little evidence remaining, so historians have pulled together multiple sources to give a sense of what his school life would have been like.

Shakespeare's School Life Facts:

  • William Shakespeare attended King Edward VI Grammar School in Stratford-upon-Avon
  • He started there when he was seven.
  • Little is known about his young life at the school but it is possible to ascertain what life would have been like for him by looking at what school life was like in those days.

Grammar School

Grammar schools were all over the country at that time and were attended by boys of similar backgrounds to Shakespeare’s. There was a national curriculum set out by the Monarchy. Girls were not permitted to attend school so we will never know the potential of Shakespeare’s sister Anne for example. She would have stayed home and helped Mary, his mother with the household chores.

It is believed that William Shakespeare would have probably attended school with his younger brother Gilbert who was two years his junior. But his younger brother Richard would have missed out on a grammar school education because the Shakespeare’s were experiencing financial problems at the time and they could not afford to send him. So the educational and future successes of Shakespeare depended on his parents affording to send him to get an education. Many others were not so fortunate. Shakespeare himself missed out on a full education as we shall later discover.

The School Day

The school day was long and monotonous. Children attended school from Monday until Saturday from 6 or 7 in the morning until 5 or 6 at night with a two-hour break for dinner. On his day off, Shakespeare would have been expected to attend church, it being a Sunday so there was very little free time ... especially as the church service would go on for hours at a time!

Holidays only took place on religious days but these would not exceed one day.


PE was not on the curriculum at all. Shakespeare would have been expected to learn long passages of Latin prose and poetry. Latin was the language used in most respected professions including the law, medicine and in the clergy. Latin was, therefore, the mainstay of the curriculum. Students would have been versed in grammar, rhetoric, logic, astronomy, and arithmetic. Music was also part of the curriculum. Students would have been regularly tested and physical punishments would have been given out to those who did not do well.

Financial Troubles

John Shakespeare was having financial problems by the time Shakespeare was a teenager and Shakespeare and his brother were forced to leave school as their father could no longer pay for it. Shakespeare was fourteen at the time.

The Spark for a Career

At the end of the term, the school would put on Classical plays in which the boys would perform and it is entirely possible that this is where Shakespeare honed his acting skills and his knowledge of plays and classical stories. Many of his plays and poems are based on classical texts including Troilus and Cressida and The Rape of Lucrece.

In Elizabethan times children were seen as miniature adults and were trained to take on an adult’s place and occupation. Girls would have been put to work at home mending clothes, cleaning and cooking, boys would have been introduced to their father’s profession or worked as farm hands. Shakespeare may have been employed as such by the Hathaway’s, this may have been how he met Anne Hathaway.  We lose track of him after he leaves school at fourteen and the next thing we know is that he is married to Anne Hathaway. Children were married off early. This is reflected in "Romeo and Juliet." Juliet is 14 and Romeo is a similar age.

Shakespeare’s school is still a grammar school today and is attended by boys who have passed their 11+ exams. They accept the very top percentage of boys who have done well in their exams.