Local parish records reveal that William Shakespeare was baptized on April 26, 1564, in the town of Stratford, in the English midlands. He was probably born just a few days earlier, but the exact date is not known. His father was John Shakespeare, a glove-maker and trader in farm commodities; his mother was Mary Arden, the daughter of a wealthy landowner.
Although no records exist to prove it, as a boy Shakespeare probably attended Stratford grammar school where he would have received a sound education in the classics. In November 1582, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway, who was eight years his senior. The couple had three children: Susanna, born May 26, 1583, and the twins, Judith and Hamnet, who were born February 2, 1585.
Nothing is known about why or when Shakespeare left Stratford for London. It may have been in the late 1580s, since in 1592 there is a hostile reference to Shakespeare as a prominent actor and playwright by Robert Greene, a rival playwright.
Shakespeare was a dramatist through and through. Although he also wrote two long narrative poems, Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece, and over 150 sonnets, his main work was writing plays for the theater.
In 1594 Shakespeare became a charter member of a theatrical company called the Lord Chamberlain's Men, which became the King's Men in 1603. Shakespeare held a one-tenth interest in the company, which meant that he shared the profits. The company's home after 1599 was the famous Globe Theatre, on the south bank of the River Thames.
Shakespeare prospered well enough in London to make investments in real estate in Stratford, including the purchase in 1597 of the second-largest house in town.
In his entire career, Shakespeare wrote thirty-seven plays, including comedies, tragedies, histories, and romances. Scholars dispute the exact date on which each play was written, but it is possible that Shakespeare's first play was The Comedy of Errors or Love's Labor's Lost, written sometime between 1588 and the early 1590s. His last plays were The Tempest (1612) and Henry VIII (1612-13).
The Life of Timon of Athens is a tragedy, possibly written near the time of the composition of King Lear (around 1603 to 1606), judging by similarity of themes. However, the play is not thought to be the equal of the other great tragedies written around this period. There are no records of it being performed during Shakespeare’s lifetime, and the text was published for the first time in the First Folio in 1623. Some scholars believe that the play is unfinished. Others believe that another dramatist, Thomas Middleton, wrote sizable portions of the play in a collaboration with Shakespeare.
Shakespeare retired from the theater around 1612, and returned to live in Stratford. He died on April 23, 1616, and was buried within the chancel of the church at Stratford.