Today on April 23, 1564, one of the world's most famous playwrights, William Shakespeare, was born — to be, or not to be, that is the question.
English playwright, poet, and actor, William Shakespeare, was born in the town of Stratford, England. He held the title Swan of Avon (or Bard of Avon) and was one of the most iconic figures of 16th century Britain. The precise date of Shakespeare's birth hasn’t been definitively confirmed. Local records indicate that his baptism occurred on April 26, 1564. But many biographers use April 23 as his birthday, given its appeal of also being the day that he died in 1616.
The actual spelling of William Shakepeare’s last name has also been the subject of great debate; often appearing as Shakspere or Shaxpere. In fact, his name has been found printed more than 80 different ways. Elizabethan English of the 1500s was notorious for having countless spelling variations of words. Even Shakespeare himself was found to be inconsistent in writing his name. There are six surviving documents that bear the playwright’s signature — none of which he spelled the same way.
"Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em." — Twelfth Night
Shakespeare married his senior of eight years, Anne Hathaway, when he was only 18. The couple gave birth to three children; two of whom were fraternal twins. He rose to prominence after becoming a prominent member of the Lord Chamberlain's Company of Players, named the King's Men by James I of England. Following the completion of the Globe Theatre in 1599, they recruited a famous actor by the name of Richard Burbage. As a result, the company flourished throughout the early 1600s. Shakespeare took an active role in ensuring the financial success of his plays. While living in London, he also expanded into acting and took prominent roles in several of the plays. Some evidence suggests he even played the ghost in Hamlet.
"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." — Jaques in As You Like It
Over a career spanning nearly three-decades, Shakespeare wrote and produced 17 original plays while contributing to several others. Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and A Midsummer's Nights Dream are among his most renowned plays. During his early years, the playwright mainly produced comedies and historical plays — many of which are considered the finest in their respective genres, such as Julius Caesar and Henry V. However, it's Shakespeare's tragedies, like King Lear and Othello, that have placed him among England's literary elite. Most of his final works were tragic comedies, or romances, that were collaborations with other playwrights.
Many of Shakespeare's plays were published across many editions with varying levels of quality. In 1623, two of his fellow actors, John Heminges and Henry Condell, released a definitive edition known as the First Folio. This posthumous publication includes all but two of his plays. Ben Jonson prefaced First Folio with a poem hailing William Shakespeare as "not of an age, but for all time."