Born in 1564, William Shakespeare was the eldest son of John and Mary Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s father was a landowner who raised sheep, and a well respected guild member in Stratford-Upon-Avon. The prestige and respect Mr. Shakespeare earned in his lifetime afforded him and his descendants the honor of being granted a coat of arms in 1596, a promotion from commoner to gentry status.
In 1582, William Shakespeare’s name appears on a marriage certificate at Trinity Church along with his wife Anne Hathaway. They had three children, Susanna , and twins Hamnet and Judith. Hamnet died in 1596. Shakespeare apparently left for London around 1586. Although it cannot be known with certainty, his first plays — Titus Andronicus, Henry VI, and The Comedy of Errors — were performed in London sometime between 1588 and 1594. His mythological love poem “Venus and Adonis” was published in 1593, followed the next year by “The Rape of Lucrece,” both dedicated to the Earl of Southampton. Theaters in London were closed due to the plague, leaving Shakespeare time to write poetry. It’s believed he wrote most of the sonnets during this period, as well. Shakespeare’s greatest writing period ranged from 1599 to 1608, when he wrote such masterpieces as Twelfth Night, Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth. All told, Shakespeare is known to have written thirty seven plays, two narrative poems, and the sonnets from 1588 through 1613.
On March 25, 1616, William Shakespeare revised his last will and testament. He died on April 23 of the same year, and his body was buried within the chancel and before the altar of Trinity Church in Stratford. A rather wry inscription is chiseled into his tombstone:
Good friend for Jesus’ sake forbear,
To dig the dust enclosed here!
Blest be the man that spares these stones,
And curst be he who moves my bones.
The last direct descendant of William Shakespeare was his granddaughter, Elizabeth Hall, who died in 1670.