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© Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

Shakespeare - well, I never knew that!

Did you know the word housekeeping was a Shakespeare invention? He's responsible for over 1,700 words we use every day. And another thing....

Bard facts

William was popular with King James I who acceded the throne after Elizabeth I.

He was so taken with the Bard’s skill that he gave his acting company, The Lord Chamberlain’s Men a patent allowing them to perform and also made these actors Grooms of Chamber.

The Bard returned the favour by renaming his company, The King’s Men. This title made William a favourite for Court performances and with the new King of England

The Box Office

In Elizabethan times many of Shakespeare’s plays were performed at The Globe Theatre in London. To get in, you put one penny in a box by the door. Then you could stand on the ground in front of the stage.

To sit on the first balcony, you put another penny in the box held by a man in front of the stairs. To sit on the second balcony, you put another penny in the box held by the man by the second flight of stairs.

Then when the show started, the men went and put the boxes in a room backstage - the box office.

The Globe

The Globe Theatre didn’t just show plays. It acted as a bear pit, brothel, and a gambling house.

Droeshout engraving of Shakespeare

© Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

Actors' toil

In Shakespeare’s time copyright didn’t exist, so the actors only got their lines as the play was in progress. They only got to know who else was playing what the day of the performance.

Many times they didn't even get their own lines. They did cue acting, which meant that there was a person backstage that whispered the lines to the person right before he was going to say them. Actors were not considered trustworthy people, and the market for good plays was large.

No women allowed

The actors were all men in Shakespeare's day. The parts of women were played by boys who still had light voices.

Elizabeth I influence

Legend has it that at the tender age of eleven, William watched the pageantry associated with Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Kenilworth Castle near Stratford and later recreated this scene many times in his plays.

You speak Shakespeare every day

Shakespeare literally invented 1,700 words in the English language. He was the first person to use words like - aerial, critic, submerge, majestic, hurry, lonely, road, assassination, laughable, reliance, exposure......

He’s also responsible for many of the every day phrases we use without a thought to where they came from. If you thought you didn’t know any Shakespeare then you should think again. Have you ever said any of these phrases?

Break the ice, All that glitters is not gold, Hot-blooded, In the mind’s eye, Housekeeping, It’s all Greek to me, The naked truth, One fell swoop, Method in his madness.....

There you go. Shakespeare is probably in all our lives in some way every day. Even those of us who’ve never seen one of his plays or read one of his sonnets.


Nobody knows Shakespeare’s true birthday. By tradition and guesswork, William is assumed to have been born on 23 April, a date now commonly used to celebrate the famous Bard's birthday.


William was born to a Stratford tanner named John Shakespeare. His mother Mary was the daughter of a wealthy gentleman-farmer named Robert Arden.

Anne Hathaway's cottage

Anne Hathaway's cottage

Images of him

There are only two authentic portraits of William Shakespeare. An engraving of him by Martin Droeshout, first published on the title page of the 1623 First Folio, and the monument of the great playwright in Stratford's Holy Trinity Church in Stratford.

His wife

William married a much older woman. Anne Hathaway was 26-years-old when William married her at age 18-years-old. They married at Temple Grafton, a village approximately five miles (8 km) from Stratford. Anne Hathaway was said to be from Shottery.

His children

Shakespeare and his wife had three children, daughter Susannah, Hamnet and Judith. Susannah received most of the Bard's fortune when he died in 1616, age 52-years-old.

Hamnet died at age 11, Judith at 77. Susanna died in 1649, age 66.

More Shakespeares

There were two Shakespeare families living in Stratford when William was born; the other family did not become famous.


Shakespeare, one of literature’s greatest figures, never went to university.

His first play?

Most academics agree that William wrote his first play, Henry VI, Part One around 1589 to 1590 when he would have been roughly 25-years old.

First sonnet

He is believed to have started writing the first of his 154 sonnets in 1593 at age 29. His first sonnet was Venus and Adonis published in the same year.

His work was copied

He suffered breech of copyright. In 1609, many of his sonnets were published without his permission.


William lived through the Black Death. This epidemic killed over 33,000 in London alone in 1603 when Will was 39-years-old.

Shakespeare lost a play

The play Cardenio that has been credited to him and which was performed in his life, has been completely lost to time. Today we have no written record of its story whatsoever.


Shakespeare died in 1616 at the age of 52. He wrote on average 1.5 plays a year since he first started in 1589. His last play The Two Noble Kinsmen is thought to have been written in 1613 when he was 49 years old.


Unlike most famous artists of his time, the Bard did not die in poverty. When he died, his will contained several large holdings of land.

Nearly missed out

William never published any of his plays. We read his plays today only because his fellow actors John Hemminges and Henry Condell, posthumously recorded his work as a dedication to their fellow actor in 1623, publishing 36 of William’s plays.

This collection known as The First Folio is the source from which all published Shakespeare books are derived and is an important proof that he authored his plays.

Bard - the actor

Few people realize that aside from writing 37 plays and composing 154 sonnets, William was also an actor who performed many of his own plays as well as those of other playwrights (Ben Jonson).

Shakespeare invested in 'New Place' in Stratford

Shakespeare invested in 'New Place' in Stratford

As an actor performing his own plays, William performed before Queen Elizabeth I and later before James I who was an enthusiastic patron of his work.


Shakespeare dabbled in property development. At age 33, he bought the second most prestigious property in all of Stratford, The New Place, and later he doubled his investment on some land he bought near Stratford.

Medieval critics

Even Shakespeare had his critics. One called Robert Greene described the young playwright as an "upstart young crow" or arrogant upstart, accusing him of borrowing ideas from his seniors in the theatre world for his own plays.

His booty

Shakespeare left most of his property to Susannah, his first child and not to his wife Anne Hathaway. Instead his loyal wife infamously received his "second-best bed".

The Bard's second best bed wasn’t so bad, it was his marriage bed; his best bed was for guests.

Doom and gloom

Suicide occurs an unlucky thirteen times in Shakespeare’s plays.

'Romeo & Juliet' illustration by Alex Smith

'Romeo & Juliet' illustration by Alex Smith

It occurs in Romeo and Juliet where both Romeo and Juliet commit suicide.In Julius Caesar where both Cassius and Brutus die by consensual stabbing, as well as Brutus’ wife Portia.

In Othello, where Othello stabs himself, in Hamlet where Ophelia is said to have "drowned" in suspicious circumstances, in Macbeth when Lady Macbeth dies, and finally in Antony and Cleopatra where suicide occurs an astounding five times (Mark Antony, Cleopatra, Charmian, Iras and Eros.

And finally.....

William Shakespeare is one of the most identifiable icons of England. Others include The Queen, Big Ben and London red buses.

last updated: 31/03/2008 at 16:10
created: 31/03/2008

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