the Ashbourne Portrait

 The Life and Loves of William Shakespeare

Although he wrote some of the world's most renown romances and comedies, William Shakespeare's personal life remains a great mystery. Little is known about the writer and what is thought to be known is hotly debated by scholars. Conspiracy theories and suggestions of hoaxes and false identities abound, but have resisted proof for centuries.

What is known about Shakespeare is that whatever his identity, his works provide insight into human nature and the nature of love. His 38 plays, as well as his many sonnets, capture themes and emotions in story-telling that continue to be the most entertaining concept of today.

The most widely agreed upon story of Shakespeare's life suggests that he was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1554 to a prosperous glovemaker. In 1582, when just a lad of 18, he married Anne Hathaway and had three children, including a son who died at the age of 11.

No documentation of Shakespeare's life between 1585 and 1592 exits, lending these "lost years" to great conjecture and controversy, He re-emerged as a public figure in 1592, working in London as an actor and playwright. Though he was not yet the writer he would become, already the playwright Robert Greene referred enviously to Shakespeare in 1592 as "the upstart crow" of the London theater. He was quickly drawing the attentions of hungry theater-owners in the burgeoning Bank side district and the jealousies of bitter rivals. He began spending his summers in London, returning to his family in Stratford every winter when the public theaters were closed due to fear of the plague.

Throughout 1593, Shakespeare published several of his most erotic sonnets, but it was in 1594 that he really made his career breakthrough, coming to the fore with this great work of romance, "Romeo and Juliet." He joined the Chamberlain's Men, a theatrical troupe which enjoyed the patronage of the royal court and which later built the famous Globe Theater.

What accounted for the sudden turn-around in Shakespeare's creative life ? Did he have a real-life muse in his hidden history that unlocked the secrets of the human heart ? Several theories have been advanced by Shakespearean scholars and biographers, many involving a mysterious "dark-lady" to whom the bard seems to pine for in several of his sonnets. As the Shakespearean scholar Arthur Aches writes :

" I believe, from what I find in the Sonnets, that our poet's connection with [a] woman commenced at almost the same period as his acquaintance with Southampton, in about 1593, ... I believe, also , that he genuinely loved her, and fired with the passion and intensity of his love, produced in those years the marvelous rhapsodies of love in "Romeo and Juliet," ... and other of his love plays, which have so charmed the world, and still charm it, and shall continue to do so while the language lives. If ever a man lived who sounded the human heart to its depths, and gauged its heights, that man was Shakespeare, and such knowledge as he had, and shows us of life, may not attained by hearsay, nor at second hand."

The true nature of Shakespeare's love will only ever be known through his enduring works. He is believed to have died in April 1616, on the anniversary of his birthday, after developing a fever whilst spending a night entertaining the playwright Ben Johnson. He is buried in Stratford-upon-Avon.


from the Miramax press release on Shakespeare in Love

 The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust  

Shakespeare's Complete Works

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