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William Shakespeare



Date, place of birth

1564, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, United Kingdom

Date and place of death

1616, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, United Kingdom


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There is a lot of conjecture about Shakespeare's life, and less that can be proven. William Shakespeare was born in 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon, England. Today, 23.04. is generally regarded as his birthday. Researchers have been able to agree on this.

 Shakespeare came from a wealthy middle-class family; his parents John Shakespeare, a merchant, and Mary Arden, a landowner's daughter, were considered quite prosperous. He probably attended the Stratford Latin School. Why he did not study remains unclear. In 1582, when he was only 18, he married Anne Hathaway and had three children. In 1583 the first daughter Susanna was born, in 1585 the twins Judith and Hamnet. Around 1586, he possibly moves to London with one of the many troupes of actors who roam around; he is a member of the troupe Chamberlain's Men, later also called King's Men. In general, the period 1584 to 1592 is often referred to as the so-called "lost years". Much information from this period is unattested and based on conjecture and legend. In 1596, Shakespeare participates in the purchase of the Blackfriars Theatre. In contrast to the usual open-air theatres, this one is roofed, so plays can be performed even during the inclement winter months. It is also known that as the most successful playwright of his time and a partner in the Globe Theatre, he quickly became wealthy. Although he writes almost exclusively for "the theatre of the people", he is also held in high esteem at court, and several of his plays are performed at court festivities. His troupe King's Men is thus even partly under royal protection. In 1604, he even took part in James I's coronation procession. Around 1611, Shakespeare retires from the theatre world and moves back to Stratford-upon-Avon. After his death on 23 April 1616, he was buried there in Trinity Church.

Shakespeare was an indefatigable writer; his entire oeuvre comprises 38 (according to another count 37) dramas, epic verse poems and 154 sonnets. He is considered one of the most important poets in world literature, his comedies and tragedies are among the most unforgettable stage plays in world literature and are the most frequently performed and filmed.

Shakespeare's parents and his siblings most likely could not write and read. Shakespeare, on the other hand, attended college in Stratford and learned to write and read there.


Some of his most famous theatrical works are considered to be:

  • Romeo and Juliet (1595, printed in 1597 as a pirated edition, then in 1599)

  • Much Ado About Nothing (c. 1598/99, printed 1600)

  • As You Like It (c. 1599, printed 1623)

  • What You Will (c. 1601, printed 1623)

  • Hamlet (c. 1601, printed 1603)

  • Othello (c. 1604, printed 1622)

  • King Lear (c. 1605, printed 1608)

  • Macbeth (c. 1608, printed 1623)


"All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts."

-As You Like It 


“All that glitters is not gold.”

-The Merchant of Venice


Interview / Profile

Birthday: 26 April 1564

Place of birth: Stratford-upon-Avon

Star sign: Taurus

Eye colour: unknown!

Family: married to Anne Hathaway,

Children: three, including twins

What time do you like to get up?
Before the first cock crow, that's the best time to work!

How would you describe your philosophy of life?
To be or not to be, that is the question here!

Who is your enemy?
He who steals my good name robs me of that which does not make him richer, but makes me destitute.

What qualities do you value most in a man?
To be an honest man in this world is to be one in a thousand.

What do you think of women?
Some women are the Creator's smile, and others his grimaces.

If you had one wish?
Give me patience, gods! Patience is needed!

Your favourite pastime?
Writing plays, of course, and going to the theatre!

Your favourite flower?
Hawthorn and jasmine, I love the intensely fragrant white flowers.

What advice would you give to an actor?
Don't eat onions!

Historical context

The Elizabethan Age

Shakespeare lived during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, who reigned from 1558 to 1603. This period is also known as the "Elizabethan Age". This golden age, in which literature (especially theatre) flourished in England, was also the time of the so-called English Renaissance. The Renaissance ("rebirth") that followed the Middle Ages led to many innovations in all areas of English life. This "breath of fresh air" was mainly characterised by humanism (an intellectual current inspired by the philosophy of antiquity) and a new image of man, that of an independent individual in a world that was not predetermined. In addition, the newly invented printing press meant that these new ideas could circulate more quickly among the population. Another of these changes was the English Reformation, which not only disrupted ecclesiastical and social structures, but also trade, which until then had been conducted much with the Catholic parts of Europe. After the Reformation and the spiritual separation from other European countries, England began to orient its trade routes increasingly towards the West; the discovery of America in 1492 played a significant role in both trade and politics.

Another aspect of the Elizabethan Age was the spread of poverty. The population grew and many moved to the city to build a new life. As a result, however, towns were often overcrowded, leading to poor living conditions.

Medieval ideas and perceptions had not all been replaced by the Renaissance, much remained, including the belief in spirits and magic. An important role was played by the concept of the "chain of being", in which all living beings and things had their assigned place in a hierarchy. This idea offered security at a time when people felt the loss of former fixed structures. If, according to the Chain of Being, this order was shaken, it could lead to chaos, such as natural disasters. The sense of loss of order was also reflected in the plays of the time. Moreover, Elizabethan theatre was characterised by the idea that theatre is a metaphor for real life; this is well seen in one of Shakespeare's most famous quotes:

"All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages. At first the infant(...)" (William Shakespeare, As You Like It, II, vii).

The Globe and theatre practice in Shakespeare's time

Under Elizabeth I, theatre in England flourished. For the first time since antiquity, there were professional actors. From the mid-16th century onwards, these actors formed acting companies (more than 150 such companies can be traced back to this period), which were in the service and thus under the protection (= patronage system) of the royal court. This also contributed significantly to the reputation of the actor: not infrequently they even held honorary offices at court! In comparison, they were still considered "morally questionable" in other European countries until the middle of the 18th century. After the death of Queen Elizabeth I, the two acting companies Lord Chamberlain's Men and Admiral's Men, which held the licence for London, became the King's Men from 1603, which certainly became the most important company under Shakespeare!

The companies were organised as joint-stock companies. As a rule, the actors themselves were partners, who then hired stagehands and extras. Shakespeare held ten percent of the Lord Chamberlain's Men from 1599 and was also involved in the construction of the Globe Theatre, which brought him prosperity. The companies each had about 10 to 12 actors, plus the "boy actors" who took on the female roles (women were not wanted on stage). The demands on the actors were enormous: not only did they have to perform physically and vocally, but their memory was also challenged immensely: the programme was changed daily, they had a huge repertoire and often performed over 30 plays at the same time! This was only possible through the so-called "role compartment system", i.e. through casting according to certain type patterns, such as: the "hero", the "villain", the "fool" and the "lover" as well as the "young girls". Authors often wrote their plays with a select group in mind, whose actors were known to them. Shakespeare, for example, wrote his clown roles to suit an actor in his troupe. When he died, he changed the conception of the character with his successor in mind. A central role in the troupe was played by the "book-keeper", who processed the author's manuscript into individual role books ("parts") and also acted as prompter. None of the actors received the text of the entire play; the playwrights feared pirated prints and the financial losses that would result. Consequently, an author only had his works printed when he needed cash. Copyright at that time meant: whoever owned a copy of a play was also allowed to perform it!

In addition to the more or less regulated payment of theatre people, the building of permanent theatres in London also contributed to the upswing in the performing arts. The oldest stage complex, which was simply called "The Theatre", was built in 1576 by the theatre entrepreneur James Burbage. This was followed a few years later by other theatre buildings: "The Rose", "The Swan" and "The Curtain", as well as "The Globe", on whose stage most of Shakespeare's dramas were first performed. In contrast to the sparse decoration of the Elizabethan stage were the opulent costumes. They hardly differed from the fashion of their time and were sumptuous and richly decorated. The Elizabethan age produced not only William Shakespeare, but also a number of other important authors: Robert Greene, Ben Jonson, Christopher Marlowe and others. The fifty or so established authors of the time wrote close to 1000 plays, although only a fraction of them are still on the playbills of today's theatres.

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