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TOPIC: Family & Education

Family & Education 10 years 3 weeks ago #99

  • William Shakespeare
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No biography of Shakespeare, therefore, which deserves any confidence, has ever been constructed without a large infusion of the tell-tale words “apparently,” “probably,” “there can be little doubt”; and no small infusion of the still more tell-tale “perhaps,” “it would be natural,” “according to what was usual at the time” and so forth. The following summary will give the certain facts, with those which are generally accepted as the most probable, distinguishing the two classes, so far as is possible, without cumbrous saving clauses, but avoiding altogether mere guesswork, unless it has assumed such proportions in ordinary accounts that it cannot be passed by.

The name of Shakespeare appears to have been very common, especially in the west midlands; and there was a William Shakespeare hanged (cf. his namesake’s “Hang-hog is Latin for bacon”) as early as 1248, not far from Stratford itself. In the sixteenth century, the name seems to have been particularly common; and there were at least two John Shakespeares who were citizens of the town about the time of the poet’s birth. It has, however, been one of the accepted things that his father was a John Shakespeare (son of Richard), who, at one time, was a “prosperous gentleman”—or, at any rate, a prosperous man of business as woolstapler, fellmonger and so forth, thinking himself gentleman enough to make repeated applications for coat armour, which, at last, were granted. This John Shakespeare married Mary Arden, an heiress of a good yeomanly family, but as to whose connection with a more distinguished one of the same name there remains much room for doubt. The uncertainty of the poet’s birthday is one of the best known things about him. He was baptised on 26 April, 1564; and probability, reinforced by sentiment, has decided on the 23rd, St. George’s day, for the earlier initiation. He would seem to have had three brothers and two sisters.

There was a free grammar school at Stratford, to which, as the son of his father, he would have been entitled to admission; and it has been supposed that he went there. Aubrey, who is entirely unsupported, even says that he was a schoolmaster himself. The point is only of importance, first in regard to Jonson’s famous ascription to him of “small Latin and less Greek”; secondly, and much more, in relation to the difficulty which has been raised as to a person of no, or little, education having written the plays. The first count matters little—many schoolboys and some schoolmasters have answered to Ben’s description. The second matters much—for it seems to be the ground upon which some persons of wit have joined the many of none, who are “Baconians” or at least against “the Stratforder,” as certain anti-Shakespearean Germans call him.

The difficulty comes from a surprising mixture of ignorance and innocence. A lawyer of moderate intelligence and no extraordinary education will get up, on his brief, at a few days’ notice, more knowledge of an extremely technical kind than Shakespeare shows on any one point, and will repeat the process in regard to almost any subject. A journalist of no greater intelligence and education will, at a few hours’ or minutes’ notice, deceive the very elect in the same way. Omniscience, no doubt, is divine; but multiscience—especially multiscience a little scratched and admitting through the scratches a seacoast to Bohemia and knowledge of Aristotle in Ulysses—is quite human. What is wonderful is not what, in the book sense, Shakespeare knew, but what he did and was. And the man—whoever he was—who wrote what Shakespeare wrote would have had not the slightest difficulty in knowing what Shakespeare knew.



This document was originally published in The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes, Volume V. The Drama to 1642, Part One. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons; Cambridge, England: University Press, 1907–21.
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Family & Education 7 years 1 month ago #4616

  • rusty
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For actual facts of Wil's life there is a surprisingly good text by Bill Byson - "Shakespreare" published by Harper Press. Very little of him is know but this is not unusal for people of this time and record-keeping. My favouriate trivia item is that of all the ways he spelt his name, he never used the spelling we employ today. The book is well worth a read - with apoligies to those keen to assert Shakespeare was someone else.
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Re: Family & Education 4 years 11 months ago #5513

  • Sally Johnson
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There is very vague information on his life - however here are some facts about what is known about his earlier years.


William Shakespeare’s parents: John Shakespeare (c.1530-1601) and Mary Arden (died 1608) – married circa 1556-58.
• John was a glover and whittawer (a dresser of light-coloured leather) in Stratford.
• 1556 – he bought a property in Henley Street, Stratford. Other property followed after this. By 1575 he had purchased property that made up a large house – perhaps the entirety of the building now known as the ‘Birthplace’.
• Mary – a member of the powerful, wealthy Arden family and one of the two executors of her father’s will after his death in 1556. Through him she inherited Asbies, a valuable estate in Wilmcote, which became her husband’s property upon their marriage.
• September 1558 – Joan Shakespeare is born (probably dying in infancy).
• December 1562 – Margaret Shakespeare is baptised, but buried the following April.
• April 1564 – William Shakespeare is born; he survived the plague that visited the town that year.
• William’s younger siblings: Gilbert (1566–1612), another Joan (born 1569, indicating that John and Mary's first child must have died by that year; she was the only sibling to outlive William, dying in 1646), Anne (1571–1579), Richard (1574–1613), and Edmund (1580–1607).
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Re: Family & Education 4 years 11 months ago #5514

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• 1565 – John became an alderman for the town.
• 1568 – he was elected bailiff for the year, the highest office in the town.
• 1571 – moved up to become chief alderman and deputy bailiff. At the start of the decade however, he also found himself being prosecuted for usury.
• 1578-1580 – his debts reached a pinnacle and he lost the lands that would have been William’s inheritance.
• 1586 – he was replaced in his role as alderman.
• 1592 – John’s faith was called into question since he was listed as an ‘obstinate recusant’ who avoided the local Protestant Church and the payments it demanded. This might point to Shakespeare’s father being a ‘crypto-Catholic’, debt was often stated as reason by Catholic recusants, however he was strident in observing the command to whitewash the ‘graven images’ on the walls of the guild chapel in Stratford, though this might simply have been a further example of John's outward conformism.
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Re: Family & Education 4 years 11 months ago #5515

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Also, it seems he would have been brought up in a 'petty school', not really giving him the education it would have taken to really have the depth of knowledge it would have needed to write these works.
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