Childhood and family

Shakespeare grew up in the town of Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire. His mother was the daughter of a local farmer and his father was a glove-maker. They were one of the richest families in town. Shakespeare went to school in Stratford, where he would have learnt to read and write in Latin and Greek as well as English. One of the ways in which the students were taught was through the performance of Latin plays. He would also have learnt about plays from the travelling companies who performed in Stratford. Shakespeare’s father was a bailiff and companies had to get a licence from him to perform in town.

At 18 Shakespeare married a local girl, Anne Hathaway. They had three children – a daughter called Susanna and twins, Hamnet and Judith. Hamnet died in 1596 – Shakespeare appears to have named his most famous character, Hamlet, after his son. Apart from his marriage and children, there is no record of what Shakespeare was doing at this time, before he went to London. Some people have suggested he was a teacher.

The area in which he grew up influenced his plays – the Forest of Arden, to the north of Stratford, appears in As You Like It. As a country lad he knew plenty of names of plants and flowers, which feature all over his work – like the wild pansy, known as 'love in idleness', which, 'purple with love’s wound', is the little flower which causes all the mischief in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Did you know?

  • In Elizabethan times spelling was not fixed. You could choose how to spell certain things – including your own name! Shakespeare signed himself Shakespe, Shakspe, Shakspere and Shakespear.
  • Shakespeare’s plays weren’t published during his life – it was only after he died that his friends got together and paid for his plays to be collected. If they hadn’t, most of the plays would not have survived to this day.
  • The only thing Shakespeare left to his wife in his will was his ‘second-best bed’ and its bedclothes. This would be their marriage bed – the best bed was kept for guests, and kept in a downstairs room, so that passers-by could see it and see how rich the house-owners were.