Into the Intro: The Cambridge Shakespeare Guide


Go Into the Intro of The Cambridge Shakespeare Guide

This week, we delve into the life of the Bard with The Cambridge Shakespeare Guide, edited by Emma Smith. An indispensable, colorful, and informative reference for scholars and Shakespeare enthusiasts alike, this volume brings the world of the plays to vibrant life.


William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire in April 1564: tradition has it that his birthday is 23 April, St George’s Day, but the only detail we have is that he was baptised on 26 April 1564 in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford. Shakespeare’s father, John, was a prominent citizen and a glover, living in Henley Street, Stratford. We know little of Shakespeare’s early life: he almost certainly went to the town’s grammar school, where he would have learned grammar and rhetoric, using textbooks including plays by Terence and Plautus, rhetorical treatises by Cicero and poetry by Ovid, which can be seen to influence his later writing. There is no evidence that Shakespeare attended university.

In November 1582, aged 18, he married Anne Hathaway, daughter of a local farmer. It is likely that she was already pregnant – as were many Elizabethan brides, partly due to different customs about betrothal and marriage – because their first child, Susanna, was baptised in May 1583. Twins, Hamnet and Judith, were born in 1585. (Hamnet died in 1596.)

We do not know what Shakespeare was doing for most of the 1580s: he turns up on the London literary and theatrical scene in a snide remark by the dramatist Robert Greene, who called him an ‘upstart crow’ in a 1592 publication. The so-called ‘lost years’ of Shakespeare’s life have been inventively filled by biographical speculation: for those who maintain Shakespeare was a Catholic, for example, this is the period during which he served as schoolmaster to a northern recusant family; for those who enjoy romantic stories he left Warwickshire to avoid prosecution for poaching deer in Charlecote Park; for others he is picked up to supply a providential gap in a touring theatre company. Like many other ambitious young men of the period, he moves to the rapidly expanding metropolis to pursue his career, leaving the family behind in Stratford.

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