William Shakespeare is often called the world's greatest playwright. He wrote comedies, tragedies and historical plays in England in the last part of the 16th and the early 17th century.
William Shakespeare was born in 1564 in the English town of Stratford-upon-Avon. His father was a businessman and the town's mayor. His mother came from a family that owned land near Stratford. William had three younger brothers and two younger sisters.
Like other boys of middle-class families, William attended a grammar school in Stratford where he got a good education and also learned Latin.
When William was 18 he married Anne Hathaway. They had three children, first Susanna and then twins, a son named Hamnet and a daughter named Judith. Hamnet died when he was 11.
We don't really know what William did during the following years but in 1592 he went to London to work as a writer and actor. It was a difficult job and only the best found work in London.
From 1592 to 1594 the Black Death spread across England. Many public places were closed and plays couldn't be performed either. Shakespeare spent these years writing sonnets and poems.
When the theatres opened up again in 1594 Shakespeare joined the best acting company of the country—Lord Chamberlain's Men. It had the best actors, the best writers and the most famous theatre—the Globe.
The Globe was a huge amphitheatre without a roof. The seats were curved around a stage that was built on many levels.
Plays always started at 2 o'clock in the afternoon. People who didn't have the money to buy a seat were allowed to stand in the front of the stage. All kinds of people came to see the shows– housewives, children, noblemen and even visitors from other countries. The company also presented special plays for kings and queens.
Shakespeare and his fellow actors were responsible for everything in the Globe theatre. They owned the building and the costumes, they wrote the scripts and they also shared the profits that they made. The actors and writers of the theatre worked together successfully for many years.
In the twenty years that he worked on stage Shakespeare wrote 37 plays. They can be put into three big categories:
- Tragedies are plays that show the downfall of a main character. His most famous tragedies are Hamlet, King Lear and Macbeth.
- Comedies are funny plays that have a happy ending most of the time. A Midsummer Night's Dream, As You Like It and The Merry Wives of Windsor are among the most popular.
- Historical plays are dramas about the lives of some of England's most powerful kings like Henry IV or Richard II.
William Shakespeare retired from the theatre in 1610 and went back to his home town Stratford, where he lived until his death in 1616.
At that time the people of England did not know that their country's greatest poet and playwright had died. They thought of him only as a popular actor and writer.