A Timeline of William Shakespeare's Life

Major Life Events That Shaped The Bard's Literary Career

This timeline of the legendary William Shakespeare reveals that his plays and sonnets cannot be separated. Although he was undoubtedly a genius, he was also a product of his time. Follow along and piece together both the historical and personal events that shaped the world's most influential dramatist and poet.

 

1564: Shakespeare Born

London 2012 - UK Landmarks - Stratford Upon Avon
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The life of William Shakespeare begins in April 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon, England when he was born into a prosperous family (his father was a glove maker). Learn more about Shakespeare’s birth and early childhood, and discover the house in which he was born.

1571-1578: Schooling

Shakespeare Writing
Shakespeare Writing.

Thanks to the social standing of William Shakespeare's father, he managed to gain a place at King Edward IV Grammar School in Stratford-upon-Avon. He was schooled there between the ages of 7 and 14, where he would have been introduced to the classic texts that later informed his playwriting.

1582: Married Anne Hathaway

Anne Hathaway 's cottage in Stratford - on - Avon : house where William Shakespeare visited his bride.
Anne Hathaway's cottage in Stratford-upon-Avon. Culture Club / Getty Images

A shotgun marriage to ensure that their first child was not born out of wedlock sees the young William Shakespeare married to Anne Hathaway, daughter of a wealthy local farmer. The couple had three children together.

1585-1592: The Shakespeare Lost Years

Plays of Shakespeare
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The life of William Shakespeare disappears from the history books for several years. This period, now known as the Lost Years, has been the subject of much speculation. Whatever happened to William in this period formed the foundations for his subsequent career and by 1592 he had established himself in London and was making a living from the stage.

1594: 'Romeo and Juliet'

Romeo and Juliet by Henry Fuseli 1741-1825
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With "Romeo and Juliet", Shakespeare really makes his name as a London playwright. The play was as popular then as it is today and was regularly played at The Theatre, the predecessor to the Globe Theatre. All of Shakespeare’s early work was produced here.

1598: Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre Erected

Globe Theatre, Bankside, Southwark, London, as it appeared c1598.
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In 1598, the timbers and materials for Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre were stolen and floated across the River Thames after a dispute over the lease of The Theatre became impossible to resolve. From the stolen materials of The Theatre, the now famous Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre was erected.

1600: 'Hamlet'

Hamlet
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"Hamlet" is often described as “the greatest play ever written” -- remarkable when you think it’s first public production was in 1600! "Hamlet" may have been written while Shakespeare was coming to terms with the devastating news that his only son, Hamnet, had died at the young age of 11.

1603: Elizabeth I Dies

Elizabeth I, Armada Portrait, c.1588 (oil on panel)
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Shakespeare was known to Elizabeth I and had his plays had been performed to her on many occasions. She ruled during England’s so-called, “Golden Age”, a period in which artists and writers flourished. Her reign was politically unstable because she adopted Protestantism -- generating conflict with the Pope, Spain and her own Catholic citizens. Shakespeare, with his Catholic roots, drew upon this in his plays.

1605: The Gunpowder Plot

The Gunpowder Plot
The Gunpowder Plot. Public Domain

There is evidence to suggest that Shakespeare was a “secret” Catholic, so he may have been disappointed that the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 failed. It was a Catholic attempt to derail King James I and Protestant England -- and there is evidence that the plot was hatched in Clopton, now a suburb of Stratford-upon-Avon.

1616: Shakespeare Dies

After retiring to Stratford-upon-Avon in around 1610, Shakespeare died on his 52nd birthday. By the end of his life, Shakespeare had certainly done well for himself and owned New Place, the largest house in Stratford. Although we have no record of the cause of death, there are a few theories.

1616: Shakespeare Buried

The Prince Of Wales & Duchess Of Cornwall Mark 400th Anniversary Of Shakespeare's Death
Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon, the site of Shakespeare's grave. Tristan Fewings / Getty Images

You can still visit Shakespeare’s grave today -- and read the curse written upon his tomb.