There was a time when the biography of Shakespeare consisted only of such traditions as were collected by Nicholas Rowe, and corroborated bv Pope or
Theobald; and then it was thought that these contributions to the poet's life gave a fair enough idea of the man and his age. But now that these traditions have been generally
repudiated, there is a tendency on the other hand to exaggerate our ignorance, and to take up with the hasty notion that nothing at all is known of Shakespeare, and the growth of his mind and fortunes.
... Now, this is an extreme which requires correction, Enough has been collected from documents of undoubted
value and unquestionable authority, to fix the outlines of his career and to suggest the kind and manner of man that he was, or appeared to be to his contemporaries; nay,
such as he really was, if we may accept the evidence of his works in corroboration of the external testimony that is procurable.
It is our desire, accordingly, in a brief paper, to state all that can be fairly cited in aid of the story of the poet's
To begin with his birth. There can be no doubt that William Shakespeare was the son of John Shakespeare, a resident of Stratford, who married Mary, the youngest
daughter of Robert Arden, of Willmecote, in the parish of Aston Ca
ntlow, and a
descendant of the Robert Arden who was groom of the chamber to Henry the Seventh.
The poet ... came of a respectable family. His birthday is supposed to have happened on the 23rd of April, 1504, the anniversary of the tutelary saint of England, St.
George. The year 1501 was remarkable for a plague that raged in Stratford from the last day of June to that of December, destroying two hundred and thirty-eight of its inhabitants. The poet's family, however, seems to have been spared the visitation. Between the family of the Shakespeares and that of the Hathaways an early
intimacy subsisted; for we find, in 1566, two precepts of the Stratford Court of Record, in which John Shakespeare appears as the surety of Richard Hathaway. Into this family Shakespeare married at the
early age of eighteen. His marriage-bond bears date 28th of November, 1582. The seal of R. H., probably Richard Hathaway, is appended to the bond. His wife's name was Anne Hathaway; and they lived together at Stratford until
1585, and had three children, Susanna, Hamnet, and Judith. That year Shakespeare quitted his native town, to push his fortunes in London. He
became attached to the theatre, and had a house in Southwark, where his brother lived with him; and it is probable that his wife was his
frequent companion there. ...
In other places, also, we find the gentleness of Shakespeare mentioned. Nor are we without descriptions of his person, which credit him with an augustness of aspect, a loftiness of forehead, & mild countenance, a sweet mouth, and a deep look. He wore a brown heard, and had a. noble appearance. Aubrey says ho was "a handsome well-made man, very good company, and of a very ready and pleasant smooth wit?' Greene, too,
... confesses that he had "seen his demeanour no less civil than he excellent in the quality he professes;" adding, " divers of worship have reported his uprightness of dealing, which argues his honesty; and his facetious grace in writing, that approves his wit."
These citations bring the man before us "in his habit as he lived," prepossessing in person and punctilious in his dress and address, as
became a man who aspired to a higher station. His ambition was, indeed, to entitle himself to the rank and title of a gentleman; for, about this time, his father, at his instance, applied to the Heralds' College for a grant of arms; and a draft of such grant (1596) is still preserved in the College of Arms. The grant itself was conceded the following year.
William Shakespeare had three children. Susanna was born in May 1583,
six months after the wedding of her parents Anne Hathaway and William Shakespeare. The baptism of Susanna Shakespeare took place in Stratford
Parish Church on May 26th 1583. Two years later in 1585 Anne and William's twins, Hamnet and Judith Shakespeare, were born.