Shakespeare's reputation as dramatist and poet actor is unique and he is considered by many to be the greatest playwright of all time, although many of the facts of his life remain mysterious.
William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire and was baptised on 26 April 1564. His father was a glovemaker and wool merchant and his mother, Mary Arden, the daughter of a well-to-do local landowner. Shakespeare was probably educated in Stratford's grammar school. The next documented event in Shakespeare's life is his marriage in 1582 to Anne Hathaway, daughter of a farmer. The couple had a daughter the following year and twins in 1585. There is now another gap, referred to by some scholars as 'the lost years', with Shakespeare only reappearing in London in 1592, when he was already working in the theatre.
Shakespeare's acting career was spent with the Lord Chamberlain's Company, which was renamed the King's Company in 1603 when James succeeded to the throne. Among the actors in the group was the famous Richard Burbage. The partnership acquired interests in two theatres in the Southwark area of London, near the banks of the Thames - the Globe and the Blackfriars.
Shakespeare's poetry was published before his plays, with two poems appearing in 1593 and 1594, dedicated to his patron Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton. Most of Shakespeare's sonnets were probably written at this time as well. Records of Shakespeare's plays begin to appear in 1594, and he produced roughly two a year until around 1611. His earliest plays include 'Henry VI' and 'Titus Andronicus'. 'A Midsummer Night's Dream', 'The Merchant of Venice' and 'Richard II' all date from the mid to late 1590s. Some of his most famous tragedies were written in the early 1600s including 'Hamlet', 'Othello', 'King Lear' and 'Macbeth'. His late plays, often known as the Romances, date from 1608 onwards and include 'The Tempest'.
Shakespeare spent the last five years of his life in Stratford, by now a wealthy man. He died on 23 April 1616 and was buried in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford. The first collected edition of his works was published in 1623 and is known as 'the First Folio'