William Shakespeare 1564-1616

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William SHAKESPEARE 1564-1616

Biographical Note

Born at Stratford upon Avon, son of John Shakespeare, glover. Educated locally, there is much uncertainty about his early career and movements during the 1580s; he was in Stratford in 1582, when he married Ann Hathaway. He became an actor, and by the early 1590s he was performing in London, and beginning to write plays; in 1593 his narrative poem Venus and Adonis was published. By the end of the 1590s he was attached to the Chamberlain's Men (from 1603, renamed the King's Men); his reputation as a playwright grew, and by the early years of the 17th century his plays were increasingly being printed. In 1613 he bought a part-share in the gatehouse at Blackfriars, near the Blackfriars Theatre. By the time of his death he was regarded as an important and influential writer - a perception enhanced by the publication of his collected works in the "First Folio" in 1623 - but his reputation as the foremost literary figure of his time, which is now a widely-held view, evolved only gradually from the 18th century onwards.


This is one of the few entries in this database for someone about whose books we have next to no evidence; it has been created to provide answers to obvious questions around what books Shakespeare owned, and where they might be. Despite much searching by many scholars, over many years, there are none that can be identified. It is obvious, from his writings, that he was well-read; unless credence is given to one the numerous theories that Shakespeare was not in fact the author behind the plays and poems - theories which most people dismiss, and a minority take seriously - it seems highly likely that Shakespeare did own books, however many he may have read that belonged to others. If so, we do not know how many, or what happened to them. Books marked by him may no longer exist, because they were lost through the destruction which overtook countless unwanted or worn books over the centuries, or he may have been one of the many former owners who did not mark his books. There is no mention of books in his will; his household goods (in which books would have been included) were bequeathed to his daughter Susanna and her husband John Hall.

There are numerous books, found in libraries around the world, with "William Shakespeare" inscriptions on their titlepages, in hands that look to be around the right date. They are all forgeries, or the inscriptions of namesakes. A number of these are the work of the literary forger William Henry Ireland (1735-1835), who also faked many "Shakespeare" documents, but there are others. In 2014 two American booksellers (Koppelman and Wechsler, see below) published a whole book on a copy of a 1580 dictionary which they believed to be annotated by Shakespeare, but scholars have dismissed this theory. Stuart Kells's 2019 book is a popular account of the many efforts which have been undertaken, over the centuries, to find books from Shakespeare's library.