Birth of Shakespeare
Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire The 23rd of April 1564 AD
The date of Shakespeare’s birth, annoyingly for historians of drama, has never been proved, though there are very good reasons to suppose that April 23 is probably correct. Even if the date is not correct, surely the greatest dramatist the world has yet seen would appreciate the choice?
What is known for sure is that William Shakespeare ’s existence was registered on April 26 1564, when he was baptised at the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon. It was usual to baptise children rapidly after their birth, given that so many died shortly after entering the world and it was believed those not baptised could not ascend to heaven.
The more romantic reasons for April 23 being accepted as William’s birth-date are that it seems right that he should have been born on St George’s day, England’s greatest writer born on its patron saint’s day; and that he died on April 23 1616, the dramatic coincidence of birth and death days also fitting. As his memorial gives his age as 53, and he died on April 23 1616, logically he must have been born on or before April 23.
Shakespeare was almost certainly born at a house his father owned on Henley Street in Stratford. Stratford at this time was an important market town, the rich agricultural lands around it providing the basis of the town’s wealth.
John Shakespeare , the poet’s father, was a reasonably well-to-do leather goods maker and dealer in farm produce – his wife Mary (nee Arden) was the daughter of a prosperous farmer who owned land. Two siblings, sisters Joan and Margaret, had died before William was born, and five more were born after him.
While scholars will continue to argue, and to write books about, the precise date of Shakespeare’s birth, the lack of certainty chimes nicely with much of the rest of his life. It cannot be proved, though it is believed, that he went to the grammar school in Stratford. There are whole years of his life in London missing as far as factual records are concerned. Where he got the knowledge upon which locations for his plays are based is far from sure. It is even regularly suggested that he was not the author of the plays that bear his name. What background could be better for these great works than anonymous and mysterious neutrality?
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