Poet Biographies

William Shakespeare: The Bard Who Shaped the English Language

William Shakespeare was a renowned English playwright, poet, and actor who lived during the 16th and 17th centuries. Considered to be the greatest writer in the English language, he wrote more than 30 plays and over 150 sonnets, which are studied and celebrated to this day.

William Shakespeare Portrait

William Shakespeare is considered to be one of, if not the most important English-language writers of all time. His plays and poems are read all over the world. Interestingly, from the 1730s onward, Shakespeare’s plays made up 25% of all theatrical productions. Some of the best remembered and most commonly performed and read are Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Othello. The English poet has inspired many poets to this day and is widely regarded as the pinnacle of poetry and the greatest dramatist of all time.

Living during Elizabethan England, many scholars are still unsure of the full extent of his private life, as not many records were kept during his lifetime. However, his literary legacy of narrative poems, tragedies, and comedies remains.

Life Facts

  • Shakespeare was likely born on April 23rd, 1564, although there are no records of the day.
  • He got married to Anne Hathaway when he was 18.
  • Together, they had three children, only two of whom survived into adulthood.
  • He worked for and with a popular performing company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men.
  • He died on April 23rd, 1616.

Interesting Facts

  • He wrote 38 plays and 154 sonnets.
  • Shakespeare was an actor and writer.
  • He wrote some of the most quoted lines in the English language.
  • Shakespeare’s home in Stratford was called New Place.
  • At least two of Shakespeare’s plays have been lost.

Famous Poems

  • Sonnet 130: ’My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun’ is one of Shakespeare’s most popular sonnets. Here, the speaker compares his lover’s eyes to other beautiful things. But it doesn’t turn out well. She doesn’t have many similarities to the natural items he points out. Her lips are dull, her breasts aren’t white enough, and she walks on the ground. If she were a real goddess, she would never need to. Shakespeare loves a twist ending, and the couplet provides that. His love might not be outrageously beautiful, but that doesn’t make her less important or loveable to him.
  • Sonnet 18: ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’ is very likely Shakespeare’s most famous, or at least his most quoted. It begins with the much-loved line, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” The answer is clearly yes, as the following thirteen lines are devoted to doing just that. The listener is better than even the best parts of summer. They are “more lovely and more temperate.” The most important part of the poem comes at the end, where a real distinction is drawn between the listener and a perfect, warm sunny day. The summer is temporary; it isn’t going to last. But, luckily for the listener, their beauty is.
  • Sonnet 29: ‘When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes’  is another sonnet focusing on the redeeming power of love; the speaker begins by mourning his own situation. He is lost, an outcast, and separate from those he would like to know. Even if he spoke, no one would hear or listen to him. He is not a lucky man. But, perhaps he is. He has a love that comes to him his mind and improves his outlook. He is like a rising bird, escaping from his earthly troubles and singing to God.
  • Sonnet 104: ‘To me, fair friend, you never can be old’ is one of the many poems dedicated to the Fair Youth. The speaker, who some believe to be Shakespeare himself, addresses the facts of aging and the possibility that the Fair Youth is affected. Throughout the text, the speaker compliments the Fair Youth on his beauty. He seems not to have aged the whole time the speaker has known him. Over the last three years, he had remained just as fresh and green as when they first met. But, the speaker acknowledges towards the end he knows this can’t be the case. All people’s age and time move so slowly that he can’t see it.
  • Sonnet 27: ‘Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed’  is a haunting description of mental and emotional unrest. The speaker spends fourteen lines struggling with his thoughts of a lost love, which is, for some unknown reason, far away from him. Shakespeare uses memorable phrases such as “zealous pilgrimage” to relate love to religious adoration. The last lines are very striking as well. The poem ends immediately after the speaker declares that he can’t find quiet for himself or “For thee.” The emptiness beyond the final line speaks to weariness and exhausted reverence.

Explore more of William Shakespeare’s poems.

Early Life

The only record, from the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon, of William Shakespeare’s birth is from April 26, 1564, when he was baptized. His birthday is generally celebrated on the 23rd, the same day, years later, that he died. Remarkably, despite him being his mother’s third child, he was the only one to survive infancy.

It is believed that William’s childhood was one of privilege but did not remain that way for its entirety. His father, John Shakespeare, was a burgess, an alderman, and later a bailiff. Shakespeare’s mother, Mary Arden, or Mary Shakespeare, came from money and inherited land from her family. Shakespeare came from a relatively large family, with three younger brothers, Gilbert, Richard, and Edmund, and two younger sisters, Anne and Joan.

As a boy, Shakespeare likely attended the Stratford Grammar School, where he probably studied Latin and Classical history. He did not go to university. Instead, he married Anne Hathaway when he was 18. The two had their first child, a daughter, Susanna, in 1583. Following this was the birth of twins Hamnet (who died when he was eleven) and Judith in 1585. The twins were baptized in February 1585.

The following years of Shakespeare’s life are something of a mystery. Between the years 1585 and 1592, not much is really known about Shakespeare’s activities. This period is known as ‘The Lost Years.’ However, scholars believe that he had been active in London during the spell, as by 1592, he had garnered somewhat of a reputation. It was not until his name started turning up in reference to theatres that any definitive answers to how he lived his life could be drawn.

There has been speculation surrounding how he survived financially during the years of the plague, as many London theaters were closed regularly. Scholars believe that Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, was responsible for providing Shakespeare with sufficient income. They had built a connection, shown by his decision to dedicate some of his poetry to Wriothesley. The poetic works ‘Venus and Adonis‘ and ‘The Rape of Lucrece‘ were two of these.

Literary Career

From 1594 onward, he was a member of the Lord Chamberlain’s Company of Players, later called the King’s Men. Shakespeare became a full-time dramatist working for the company. Unfortunately, these years of his life are also without detail. He spent the next 20 or so years writing the plays and poems with which we associate his name today. His earliest plays tended to be comedies and histories. Henry VI and The Comedy of Errors are some of the most notable of these.

In 1593 ‘Venus and Adonis’ was published. The first quarto of Shakespeare’s plays was published a year later. One of Shakespeare’s final plays was The Two Noble Kinsmen which was written alongside John Fletcher. 

It was in the period beginning in 1596 that Shakespeare was most prolific, creating such works as:

  • Julius Caesar
  • Hamlet
  • Othello
  • King Lear
  • Macbeth
  • Anthony and Cleopatra

Writing Career and Relationships

Today, Shakespeare is considered to be one of, if not the, most important English-language writers of all time. His plays and poems are read all over the world. Shakespeare may be best known for his plays, such as Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth, but he also wrote 154 sonnets and several long poems that proved his skill in this style as well. Throughout all forms of his writing, readers will come across skilled metaphors, complex allusions, and syntax and diction, which is often hard for contemporary readers or audiences to understand.

His plays were written in what is known as blank verse or unrhymed iambic pentameter. The poems, on the other hand, which were mostly sonnets, used iambic pentameter but also followed a strict rhyme scheme of ABABCDCDEFEFGG.

William Shakespeare’s poems and plays were not without progression as he expanded his repertoire. In the late 1580s to the early 1590s, he took a new direction in comedies. Some of the most notable of these is A Midsummer’s Night DreamMuch Ado About NothingAs You Like It, Merchant of Venice, and Twelfth Night.

A Midsummer’s Night Dream is actually one of the most popular of his plays. A Midsummer Night’s Dream accounted for more than 7% of all professional Shakespeare performances worldwide from 2011-2016, according to Shakespearances.

Later Life

Again, William Shakespeare showed his ability to adapt and write across many themes. Towards the latter stages of his life, the majority of his last plays focused on the romantic side of writing, creating a number of tales of love. Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale, and The Tempest were some of these.


Sadly, William Shakespeare passed away on 23 April 1616 at the age of 52. The exact cause of his death is still shrouded in mystery. Numerous theories have been put forward, but none have been confirmed as the definitive explanation. Nonetheless, many historians have suggested that Shakespeare passed away due to natural causes, likely resulting from a combination of ailments such as pneumonia and liver disease.

Influence from other Poets

William Shakespeare was notably influenced by writers such as Ovid and Plutarch, as well as the poems of Geoffrey Chaucer and Christopher Marlow.

His influence has been felt by many more writers. His pioneering style has inspired writers in all languages around the world. Some of the best-known names are Walt Whitman, Charles Dickens, William Faulkner, and many more.


Why did Shakespeare disappear for seven years?

During the years 1585 to 1592, there are no records of William Shakespeare, creating a sense of mystery around the period of his life in which he gained his reputation. Scholars have penned this time of Shakespeare’s life, ‘The Lost Years.’

What was William Shakespeare’s real name?

There is some debate surrounding the real name of William Shakespeare. However, many conclude that his name was indeed William. At his baptism in 1564, he was named Gulielmus Shakspere, which means ‘William’ in Latin. Alongside this, his own reference to himself in some of his works was indeed ‘Will,’ and his peers called him William.

What is Shakespeare’s most famous play called?

Shakespeare was arguably the greatest playwright and poet of all time, so inherently he has a plethora of celebrated works. However, there is a strong case for ‘Romeo and Juliet‘ being his most famous.

What is mysterious about Shakespeare’s death?

Like many parts of his life, there was an element of mystery around the cause of Shakespeare’s death in 1616. The most common explanation among modern scholars is that he died of liver problems or pneumonia. However, more extreme theories have suggested that he succumbed to syphilis, with some even going as far as to say that he was murdered.

What is a rare fact about William Shakespeare?

Interestingly, William Shakespeare’s tomb in Trinity Church, located in his hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon, features a poem on its outside. It acts as a warning to anyone who might consider disturbing his final resting place. The poem includes the phrase, “and cursed be he that moves my bones.”

William Green Poetry Expert
Will created Poem Analysis back in 2015 and has a team of the best poetry experts helping him analyze poems from the past and present. Although he has a background in Automotive Engineering, having worked for McLaren testing supercars, Will has a keen eye for poetry and literature.

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