Who was William Shakespeare?
William Shakespeare is a famous British playwright, which means he’s someone who wrote plays. Shakespeare is considered to be one of the most talented writers of all time.
Shakespeare lived around the late 16th century and early 17th century, and in between the reigns of Queen Elizabeth I and King James I. Both of them saw some of the plays he wrote, which are still performed today. Some of the phrases that Shakespeare wrote have even become part of our everyday language!
Top 10 facts
- William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in April 1564.
- Shakespeare’s wife’s name was Anne Hathaway.
- Shakespeare had three children: Susanna, Hamnet and Judith.
- Shakespeare worked as actor with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, later called the King’s Men.
- Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets and around 40 plays.
- One of Shakespeare’s first plays was Henry V.
- Shakespeare’s plays were performed for both Queen Elizabeth I and King James I – James I was the patron of Shakespeare’s theatre group.
- Shakespeare’s theatre group performed in the Globe Theatre and the Blackfriars Theatre.
- Some phrases that Shakespeare wrote in his plays are things we still say today.
- 1564William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon
- 26 April 1564Shakespeare was baptised
- November 1582Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway
- 1592This is the earliest time when records show that Shakespeare was in London
- 1593Shakespeare’s first poem was published, and his plays started to be performed by different theatre groups in London
- 1594Shakespeare’s first plays were performed by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men
- 1599The Globe Theatre was built
- 1603James I was crowned king, and Shakespeare’s theatre group was renamed the King’s Men when the King became their patron
- 1604-1605The King’s Men performed seven of Shakespeare’s plays for King James I
- 1609Shakespeare’s sonnets were published
- 1611Shakespeare moved from London back to Stratford-upon-Avon
- 23 April 1616William Shakespeare died
- 1623The first collection of Shakespeare's work was published, called The First Folio
Did you know?
- We don’t know the date that William Shakespeare was born – we just know the date that he was baptised.
- Shakespeare had three children named Susanna, Hamnet and Judith. Hamnet and Judith were twins.
- Before Shakespeare wrote plays, he worked as an actor with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men.
- The Lord Chamberlain’s Men changed its name to the King’s Men in 1603, which is when James I was crowned king and became the group’s patron.
- Shakespeare wrote both poems and plays – he started out by writing poems first.
- Most of the poems Shakespeare wrote are called sonnets. He wrote 154 sonnets!
- Shakespeare is sometimes called ‘The Bard of Avon’ – a bard is another word for a poet.
- Shakespeare wrote almost 40 plays; someone who writes plays is also called a playwright.
- Not a lot of people could read and write in Shakespeare’s time, so the Globe Theatre hung different coloured flags to let people know when a play was going to be performed, and what kind of play it was going to be (if it was sad or funny).
- The Globe Theatre was shaped like an octagon – it had eight sides.
- Women didn’t act in Shakespeare’s time, so boys would have to play the roles of women. That means that Juliet in Romeo and Juliet would have been played by a boy!
Look through the gallery and see if you can spot all the following:
- William Shakespeare
- Anne Hathaway's Cottage
- A statue of Shakespeare
- Mary Arden was Shakespeare's mother; visitors can still see her childhood home today
- William Shakespeare’s birthplace
- William Shakespeare’s grave
- A drawing of what Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre would have looked like
- A replica (copy) of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, which was built in London in 1997
- The stage in the Globe
- The Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford
Even though they lived in Stratford-upon-Avon, William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway were married in a village called Temple Grafton. At some point between 1585 and 1592, Shakespeare moved to London. His wife and children were still in Stratford-upon-Avon, and Shakespeare didn’t move back there until 1611.
Shakespeare mostly wrote plays and sonnets, which are a kind of poem. Sonnets have 14 lines with 10 syllables in each line.
Shakespeare’s theatre group, The King’s Men, worked in two theatres, the Globe and the Blackfriars. The Globe Theatre didn’t have a roof on it, but the Blackfriars Theatre did so it could be used when the weather got cold. Seeing a play at the Globe Theatre was comfortable if you could pay for a seat with a cushion, but if you paid just one penny you could stand in the middle.
Actors in Shakespeare’s time had a bad reputation – people thought they weren’t very nice people, and couldn’t be trusted. So, groups of actors – called troupes – tried to get someone rich to sponsor them. This sponsor would give them money and things that they needed. Shakespeare’s theatre group would have had to show people a piece of paper with their sponsor’s name written on it if they wanted to be welcomed somewhere.
Shakespeare was part of The Friday Club, a group for actors, poets, authors and playwrights (like Shakespeare). The explorer Sir Walter Raleigh began the group in 1603, and they all met in the Mermaid Tavern, so they sometimes called themselves the Mermaid Club.
Shakespeare wrote three different kinds of plays – comedies (funny plays), tragedies (sad plays) and histories (plays about a real person). A different colour flag would be flown from the top of the theatre so people would know which play was about to be performed – white meant a comedy would be performed, red a history, and black or dark colours meant a tragedy.
Shakespeare’s comedy plays are: All's Well That Ends Well, As You Like It, The Comedy of Errors, Cymbeline, Love's Labour's Lost, Measure for Measure, The Merchant of Venice, The Merry Wives of Windsor, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, Pericles, Prince of Tyre, Taming of the Shrew, The Tempest, Troilus and Cressida, Twelfth Night, Two Gentlemen of Verona and A Winter's Tale.
Shakespeare’s tragedy plays are: Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, Hamlet, Julius Caesar, King Lear, Macbeth, Othello, Romeo and Juliet, Timon of Athens and Titus Andronicus.
Shakespeare’s history plays are: King Henry IV Part 1, King Henry IV Part 2, King Henry V, King Henry VI Part 1, King Henry VI Part 2, King Henry VI Part 3, King Henry VIII, King John, Richard II and Richard III.
Shakespeare wrote his sonnets and plays around 400 years ago, but some of the phrases he wrote have become a part of our everyday language. For instance, you might have heard someone in trouble say that they’re ‘in a pickle’, or heard being jealous described as ‘the green-eyed monster’.
Sir Walter Raleigh (c.1552 – 1618) – Sir Walter Raleigh visited America and helped start colonies there, and some people think that he was the first one to bring tobacco and potatoes into England. He also founded the Friday Club in 1603, which was a group for poets and playwrights that Shakespeare belonged to.
Ben Johnson (1572-1637) – Ben Johnson wrote plays and poems around the same time that Shakespeare did. Both he and Shakespeare belonged to the Friday Club that Sir Walter Raleigh began. Ben wrote a poem in the introduction of Shakespeare’s First Folio, which is the collection of works that was published a few years after Shakespeare died.
Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton (1573-1624) – Henry Wriothesley was a wealthy man, and the patron of William Shakespeare. He loved the theatre and plays.
Richard Burbage (1568-1619) – Richard Burbage was a famous actor, and part of William Shakespeare’s theatre group. He often played the lead role in Shakespeare’s plays.
Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593) – Christopher Marlowe was born the same year as Shakespeare, and also famous for writing plays. Shakespeare didn’t start writing plays and having them performed until after Christopher Marlowe died.
Just for fun...
- Play a collection of games about William Shakespeare and his work
- Find Shakespeare wordsearches, comic strips, puppet-making, worksheets and more on the Shakespeare Week website
- Watch Horrible Histories Shakespeare songs: List of Plays 'wot I've Written and Shakespeare and the Quills Song
- Go Totally Shakespeare with CBBC! Complete quizzes, watch funny clips and find the best Shakespeare facts
- Download some Shakespeare-themed colouring-in
- Try a few of our suggestions to introduce children to Shakespeare's work
- Watch a free animated adaptation of The Tempest on the BBC Schools Radio site
- Find out how to 'rap' Shakespeare
- In Shakespeare Retold, 10 of Shakespeare’s most famous plays are the inspiration for a new stories by leading children’s writers; listen to them online
- Playing for Shakespeare is an free interactive game for desktop computers from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust
- Take the Shakespeare or Fakespeare quiz
- Unscramble some Shakespeare word jumbles
- Which Shakespeare character are you? Take a quiz to find out!
- Download a Shakespeare family tree, character colouring and more
Children's books about Shakespeare
Shakespeare stories rewritten for children
Shakespeare's famous stories have been reworded and illustrated for different ages and offer a great introduction to his classic plays.
We love these five series, or look through our Best Shakespeare stories for children guide:
- Marcia Williams' comic-book retellings
- Short, Sharp Shakespeare Stories
- Shakespeare Children's Stories
- Shakespeare Stories from Orchard Books
- Usborne: Shakespeare's plays retold for children
Find out more:
- Watch a BBC Bitesize KS1 animation about William Shakespeare
- The Royal Shakespeare Company's Shakespeare Learning Zone offers loads of information on Shakespeare's plays, including key facts, key scenes, pictures from past productions and videos of actors and directors working on and performing the plays
- Download a visual timeline of the major events in Shakespeare’s life and Elizabethan England
- Find out why Shakespeare is famous in a CBBC Newsround guide
- A children's introduction to Shakespeare from DKfindout!
- Discover Shakespeare's life and work through numbers
- Watch clips and play games on CBBC's Shakespeare page
- Find out about the world that Shakespeare lived in with fact pages about playhouses, writing plays and more
- 15 top Shakespeare facts from National Geographic Kids
- Look at primary sources about Shakespeare, including his will and information about his taxes
- See an animated "life of Shakespeare" video for children
- Look through some of the Shakespeare portraits in the National Portrait Gallery
See for yourself
- Visit Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon to find out more about his life
- At Shakespeare's Schoolroom & Guildhall you can explore classroom where Shakespeare studied between the ages of 7 and 14, find out about the kind of lessons he went to and even try some Tudor homework!
- While you’re in Stratford-upon-Avon, see where Shakespeare is buried at the Holy Trinity Church
- A replica of the Globe Theatre was built in London near the spot where Shakespeare’s theatre stood. You can visit in person or take a virtual tour if you can't get there in person!