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Preface: The Early Years


William Shakespeare was born in April 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon. The exact date of his birth is unknown, but he was baptized on April 26, 1564. Many people observe his birthday on April 23, which is the date of his death.

Video Short from Shakespeare Uncovered on PBS


William Shakespeare's daughter, Susanna, was born.


Twins Judith and Hamnet were born to
William and Anne.

The Sonnets

Shakespeare moved to London to
become an actor and playwright.
Many of his 154 sonnets were likely
written sometime in the mid-1590s and
were not published until 1609.

What is a Sonnet?

  • Fourteen-line poem.
  • Written in iambic pentameter: lines that are ten syllables long, with accents falling on every second syllable.
  • First popularized during the Italian Renaissance by the poet Petrarch.
  • The Shakespearean sonnet is divided into four parts: the first three parts are quatrains (four lines rhymed ABAB) and the fourth part is a couplet (two lines rhymed CC).

Shakespeare's Sonnet 18

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.


Shakespeare became a published poet when Venus and Adonis was released (1593). Shakespeare wrote this narrative poem and The Rape of Lucrece (1594) while London theaters were closed because of the plague. In addition to his plays and sonnets, up to five narrative poems have been attributed to Shakespeare.

What is a Narrative Poem?

  • A short or long poem written in metered verse (a rhythmic or rhyming structure).
  • Epics, ballads, idylls or lays: think Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Dante's The Divine Comedy or Homer's The Odyssey.
  • Shakespeare's narrative poems, like many in the genre, focused on mythology and love.
  • Narrative poems, not plays, were considered the high-art of Shakespeare's day.

Excerpt from Shakespeare's
Venus and Adonis

EVEN as the sun with purple-colour'd face
Had ta'en his last leave of the weeping morn,
Rose-cheek'd Adonis hied him to the chase;
Hunting he loved, but love he laugh'd to scorn;
Sick-thoughted Venus makes amain unto him,
And like a bold-faced suitor 'gins to woo him.

'Thrice-fairer than myself,' thus she began,
'The field's chief flower, sweet above compare,
Stain to all nymphs, more lovely than a man,
More white and red than doves or roses are;
Nature that made thee, with herself at strife,
Saith that the world hath ending with thy life.

'Vouchsafe, thou wonder, to alight thy steed,
And rein his proud head to the saddle-bow;
If thou wilt deign this favour, for thy meed
A thousand honey secrets shalt thou know:
Here come and sit, where never serpent hisses,
And being set, I'll smother thee with kisses;
(Lines 1-18.)

The Plays



Scholars believe The Comedy of Errors was written sometime between 1592 and 1594.


Theaters reopened and Shakespeare was a leading actor in the troupe Lord Chamberlain's Men (later known as the King's Men).



Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet sometime between 1594 and 1596.

"Give me my Romeo; and, when he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun."

Romeo and Juliet, Act 3, scene 2, lines 21-25


Richard II was written in 1595, but it wasn't published until 1597.

"My crown I am; but still my griefs are mine"

Richard II, Act 4, scene 1

Video Short from The Hollow Crown on PBS

Mid 1590's

A Midsummer Night's Dream was
written sometime in the


Shakespeare's only son, Hamnet, died.

"Grief fills the room up of my absent child.
Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me.
Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words.
Remembers me of all his gracious parts.
Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form.
Then, have I reason to be fond of grief."

King John, Act 3, scene 4, lines 95-100


Shakespeare wrote Henry IV, Part I in 1596,
but it was not published until 1598.

"I know not whether God will have it so,
For some displeasing service I have done,
That, in his secret doom, out of my blood
He'll breed revengement and a scourge for me"

Henry IV, Part 1, Act 3, scene 2

Video Short from The Hollow Crown on PBS


Henry IV, Part II was written in
1597, and published three years
later in 1600.

"Rumour is a pipe
Blown by surmises, jealousies, conjectures
And of so easy and so plain a stop
That the blunt monster with uncounted heads,
The still-discordant wavering multitude,
Can play upon it."

Henry IV, Part II, Induction, lines 15-20


Henry V was written in 1599
and published in 1600.

"From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day."

Henry V, Act 4, Scene 3, lines 61-70

1598 - 1599


What should I do with him-dress him in my apparel and make him my waiting gentlewoman? He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man; and he that is more than a youth is not for me, and he that is less than a man, I am not for him.

Act 2, Scene 1, Lines 28-32, Much Ado About Nothing

Scholars believe Shakespeare wrote
Much Ado About Nothing
around 1598 or 1599.


The Globe Theatre was constructed.

Video Short from Shakespeare Uncovered on PBS


As You Like It was likely written, but it was not published until it was included in the First Folio.



It is likely Hamlet was authored sometime
between 1599 and 1601.

Video Short from Shakespeare Uncovered on PBS



Scholars believe Twelfth Night was written
around 1601 or 1602.

Video Short from Shakespeare Uncovered on PBS



Shakespeare probably wrote Othello sometime between 1603 and 1604.

"O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green-ey'd monster, which doth mock
The meat it feeds on. That cuckold lives in bliss,
Who, certain of his fate, loves not his wronger:
But O, what damned minutes tells he o'er
Who dotes, yet doubts, suspects, yet strongly loves!"

Othello, Act 3, scene 3, lines 165-171



Macbeth was written in 1606 or 1607.

Video Short from Shakespeare Uncovered on PBS

"To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing."

Macbeth, Act 5, scene 5, lines 19-28



The Tempest was likely written
around 1610 or 1611.

Video Short from Shakespeare Uncovered on PBS

"Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep
Will make me sleep again; and then in dreaming
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked
I cried to dream again"

The Tempest, Act 3, Scene 2, lines 130-138



Sometime between 1610 and 1613,
Shakespeare retired and returned to Stratford.

Video Short from Shakespeare Uncovered on PBS


On April 23, 1616 William
Shakespeare died. He is buried
in Stratford.


The First Folio, a collection of Shakespeare's plays, was published.

Video Short from Shakespeare Uncovered on PBS

This project is made possible through the generosity of the
National Endowment for the Humanities,
Howard and Abby Milstein Foundation - lead foundation sponsor
with major funding from Rosalind P. Walter,
The Polonsky Foundation,
Virginia and Dana Randt,
the LuEsther T. Mertz Charitable Trust,
and PBS.

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