He was born on the 23d of April, 1564.
Of good farmer-class parents who could not read, could not write, could not sign their names.
At Stratford, a small back settlement which in that day was shabby and unclean, and densely illiterate. Of the nineteen important men charged with the government of the town, thirteen had to "make their mark" in attesting important documents, because they could not write their names.
Of the first eighteen years of his life NOTHING is known. They are a blank.
On the 27th of November (1582) William Shakespeare took out a license to marry Anne Whateley.
Next day William Shakespeare took out a license to marry Anne Hathaway. She was eight years his senior.
William Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway. In a hurry. By grace of a reluctantly-granted dispensation there was but one publication of the banns.
Within six months the first child was born.
About two (blank) years followed, during which period NOTHING AT ALL HAPPENED TO SHAKESPEARE, so far as anybody knows.
Then came twins--1585. February.
Two blank years follow.
Then--1587--he makes a ten-year visit to London, leaving the family behind.
Five blank years follow. During this period NOTHING HAPPENED TO HIM, as far as anybody actually knows.
Then--1592--there is mention of him as an actor.
Next year--1593--his name appears in the official list of players.
Next year--1594--he played before the queen. A detail of no consequence: other obscurities did it every year of the forty-five of her reign. And remained obscure.
Three pretty full years follow. Full of play-acting. Then
In 1597 he bought New Place, Stratford.
Thirteen or fourteen busy years follow; years in which he accumulated money, and also reputation as actor and manager.
Meantime his name, liberally and variously spelt, had become associated with a number of great plays and poems, as (ostensibly) author of the same.
Some of these, in these years and later, were pirated, but he made no protest. Then--1610-11--he returned to Stratford and settled down for good and all, and busied himself in lending money, trading in tithes, trading in land and houses; shirking a debt of forty-one shillings, borrowed by his wife during his long desertion of his family; suing debtors for shillings and coppers; being sued himself for shillings and coppers; and acting as confederate to a neighbor who tried to rob the town of its rights in a certain common, and did not succeed.
He lived five or six years--till 1616--in the joy of these elevated pursuits. Then he made a will, and signed each of its three pages with his name.
A thoroughgoing business man's will. It named in minute detail every item of property he owned in the world--houses, lands, sword, silver-gilt bowl, and so on--all the way down to his "second-best bed" and its furniture.
It carefully and calculatingly distributed his riches among the members of his family, overlooking no individual of it. Not even his wife: the wife he had been enabled to marry in a hurry by urgent grace of a special dispensation before he was nineteen; the wife whom he had left husbandless so many years; the wife who had had to borrow forty-one shillings in her need, and which the lender was never able to collect of the prosperous husband, but died at last with the money still lacking. No, even this wife was remembered in Shakespeare's will.
He left her that "second-best bed."
And NOT ANOTHER THING; not even a penny to bless her lucky widowhood with.
It was eminently and conspicuously a business man's will, not a poet's.
It mentioned NOT A SINGLE BOOK.
Books were much more precious than swords and silver-gilt bowls and second-best beds in those days, and when a departing person owned one he gave it a high place in his will.
The will mentioned NOT A PLAY, NOT A POEM, NOT AN UNFINISHED LITERARY WORK, NOT A SCRAP OF MANUSCRIPT OF ANY KIND.
Many poets have died poor, but this is the only one in history that has died THIS poor; the others all left literary remains behind. Also a book.