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William Shakespeare

This week marks nearly 450 years since William Shakespeare was baptized into the Church of England as an infant on 26 April 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon. He was the third of eight children, and his father was a glovemaker and an alderman, a member of the local assembly.

At age eighteen he married Anne Hathaway, and together they had three children: first a daughter named Susanna, then twins named Judith and Hamnet. Neither of Shakespeare's daughters ever received an education; Judith could not even sign her own name on documents. Susanna married a physician named John Hall and they had one daughter named Elizabeth. Elizabeth was the only grandchild born during William Shakespeare's lifetime and thus was the only grandchild he ever knew. Elizabeth married twice but never had any children. Shakespeare's daughter Judith married Thomas Quiney, a winemaker, two months before her father's death. Thomas and Judith had three children, all of whom died without marrying. William Shakespeare's only son Hamnet, Judith's twin brother, died at the age of eleven. Thus Shakespeare has no living descendants today, the last being his granddaughter Elizabeth.

From 1585 to 1592 Shakespeare's whereabouts and activities are unknown. Sometime during that period he moved to London to act and write plays. He joined a playing company called the Lord Chamberlain's Men and became a part owner of the company. After 1594, his plays were performed only by the Lord Chamberlain's Men and they became the leading playing company in London. In 1599 they built their own playhouse, the Globe, on the south side of the River Thames. After Queen Elizabeth died, James I gave the company a royal patent and the name was changed to the King's Men. The company was very successful and it made Shakespeare a wealthy man; he divided his time between homes in London and Stratford.

Shakespeare's prolific playwriting career spans more than two decades and includes a variety of subjects and genres; he also wrote many sonnets. 154 of his sonnets were published in a compiled volume, Shakespeare's Sonnets, in 1609.

Many of Shakespeare's plays were written in non-rhyming iambic pentameter verse, or iambic pentameter "blank verse." The first recorded plays that can indubitably be attributed to him are Richard III and the three parts of Henry VI, written in the early 1590s. During the 1590s, he wrote history plays and comedies; Julius Caesar, one of his most famed histories, was the first play performed in the Globe after it opened in 1599. In the early 1600s, Shakespeare began writing tragedies, including Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear, all of which were written to be performed in the Globe Theater. On 29 June 1613 the thatched roof of the Globe caught fire from a cannon, and the theater burned to the ground. William Shakespeare died on 23 April 1616. In 1623 former colleagues published the First Folio, a collection of his works containing all but two of the plays now attributed to him.

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