William Shakespeare, Playwright and Poet
William Shakespeare, Playwright and Poet

When did he live?

William Shakespeare’s exact date of birth is unknown, but it is believed to be April 23rd 1564.

He died on April 23rd in 1616 (his believed birthday).

A Young William Shakespeare
A Young William Shakespeare

Why is he famous?

Many people say he is Britain’s – and possibly the world’s – greatest writer. He wrote plays and sonnets (14-line love poems).

His plays, which were generally either comedies or tragedies, are his most famous works. Some examples:

Hamlet
Romeo and Juliet
Othello
King Lear
The Tempest
A Midsummer Night’s Dream

His poetry is also well-known, but less so than his plays. ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’ (the beginning of Sonnet 18) is a famous line.

William Shakespeare Manuscript (Getty Images)
William Shakespeare Manuscript (Getty Images)

What is his mark on history?

Shakespeare remains possibly the biggest name in English literature: his works and words are studied in school, performed in theatres, and made into movies. He is also known by a simple nickname: The Bard.

Many Shakespearean phrases have become part of the English language: fight fire with fire; band of brothers; it was all Greek to me (more examples can be seen here).

The line ‘To be or not to be? That is the question.’ is arguably the most famous in literature.

Shakespeare’s ear for language was exceptional and he put many everyday terms he heard onto paper: his works contain over 2000 words not previously seen in literature.

In a 2002 nationwide poll, Shakespeare was voted the 5th Greatest Briton of all time.

Notes

During his life, Shakespeare’s work was performed at The Globe Theatre.

He was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, where a large Shakespeare industry has grown.

Many of Shakespeare’s stories were not original: like famous Greek writers he took stories he heard and rewrote them.

There are a large number of dirty jokes in Shakespeare’s work, although it can be difficult to understand them now. Many people who visited the theatre in his time were everyday types, and being a playwright Shakespeare needed to keep the audience entertained.

Shakespeare was married to Anne Hathaway. They had 3 children.

Christopher Marlowe was one of Shakespeare’s contemporaries, rivals, and friends.

Writer Ben Jonson said: ‘He was not of an age, but for all time.’