William Shakespeare (Baptized April 26, 1564-April 23, 1616) is considered by many to have been the greatest writer the English language has ever known. As a playwright, he wrote not only some of the most powerful tragedies, but also many of the funniest comedies ever to appear on an English stage. He also wrote 154 sonnets and several major poems, some of which are considered to be the most brilliant pieces of English literature ever written, because of Shakespeare's ability to rise beyond the narrative and describe the innermost and the most profound aspects of the human nature. For the most famous examples of this ability, see Quotations from Shakespearean plays. He is believed to have written most of his works between 1585-1610, although the exact dates and chronology of the plays attributed to him are not accurately known.
The identity of William Shakespeare the playwright has been the subject of considerable debate and confusion. The vast majority of academics hold that actor Shakespeare and the playwright Shakespeare are one and the same person, but this subject has been hotly debated over the years. See the article on Shakespearean authorship for further details.
Most historians agree that actor and playwright were both the same William Shakespeare for whom we have considerable historical records. Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, in April 1564, the son of John Shakespeare, a glove maker, and Mary Arden. The baptism of Shakespeare is recorded on April 26 of that year and the 23rd has traditionally been considered his birthday. After his marriage to Anne Hathaway in 1582, which seems to have been rushed by the bride's pregnancy, little is known of Shakespeare until he appears on the London literary scene. He was sufficiently known to be denounced in 1592 by Robert Greene as "an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tygers hart wrapt in a Players hyde, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blanke verse as the best of you: and beeing an absolute Johannes fac totum, is in his owne conceit the onely Shake-scene in a countrey".
Shakespeare became an actor, writer and ultimately part-owner of an acting company known as The Lord Chamberlain's Men - the company was named, like others of the period, for their aristocratic sponsor. It was sufficiently popular that after the death of Elizabeth I and the coronation of James I (1603), the new monarch adopted the company and it became known as The King's Men. Various documents recording legal affairs, and business transactions show that Shakespeare grew increasingly affluent in his London years. He retired approximately 1611 and died in 1616, on April 23rd, perhaps the reason behind the tradition of his birthday being this same day.
His plays continue to be widely studied and performed and are a firm part of the Western canon of literature. Other indicators of his comtemporary influence are his inclusion in the top 10 of the "100 Greatest Britons" poll sponsored by the BBC and voted for by the public, and the fictional account of the writing of Romeo and Juliet in the 1998 film Shakespeare in Love.
We can divide his dramatic work in this way:
His other literary works include:
See also BBC Television Shakespeare.