William Shakespeare: Timeline of his Life

Timeline of Major Events from the Life of William Shakespeare

This William Shakespeare timeline reveals that his plays and sonnets cannot be separated. Although he was undoubtedly a genius, he was also a product of his time.

In this article, we piece together both the historical and personal events that shaped the World's most influential dramatist and poet.

William Shakespeare Timeline: Major Life Events 

1
1564: Shakespeare Born

Shakespeare's Birthplace
Shakespeare's Birthplace. Photo © Peter Scholey / Getty Images

The life of William Shakespeare begins in the April of 1564 when he is born into a prosperous family, son of a glove maker. In this article you can find out more about Shakespeare’s birth and discover the house in which he was born.

2
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.

3
1582: Married Anne Hathaway

Anne Hathaway's Cottage
Anne Hathaway's Cottage. Photo © Lee Jamieson

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

4
1585-1592: The Shakespeare Lost Years

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

The life of William Shakespeare disappears from the history books for several years. This period, now know 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.

5
1594: 'Romeo and Juliet'

'Romeo and Juliet' - Title Page from the First Quarto
'Romeo and Juliet' - Title Page from the First Quarto. Photo © British Library

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.

6
1598: Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre Erected

Wooden O – Shakespeare's Globe Theatre
Wooden O – Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. Photo © John Tramper

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.

7
1600: 'Hamlet'

Hamlet: Title Page from the First Quarto. Photo © British Library
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 whilst Shakespeare was coming to terms with the devastating news that his only son, Hamnet, had died aged only 11.

8
1603: Elizabeth I Dies

Queen Elizabeth I
Queen Elizabeth I. Public Domain

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.

9
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.

10
1616: Shakespeare Dies

Hamlet Skull: Alas Poor Yorick
Hamlet Skull: Alas Poor Yorick. Vasiliki Varvaki/E+/Getty Images

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, this article does discuss a few of the theories.

11
1616: Shakespeare Buried

Shakespeare's Grave
Shakespeare's Grave. Photo © Lee Jamieson
You can still visit Shakespeare’s grave today and read the curse written upon his tomb. Find out more in this article.