“The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.” Welcome to my first Shakespeare video! I’m going to be talking about Shakespeare, the man. What do we know about him as a person, historically, through official documents and things like that? For example, we know that Shakespeare was baptized right here in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-on-Avon on April the 26th in 1564. And we know this because it says so in the parish register, which reads “Gulielmus filius Johannes Shakspere”; William, the son of John Shakespeare.
And several documents show that Shakespeare’s father, John Shakespeare, owned this house in Henley Street in Stratford-on-Avon, so we can be fairly sure, again, that that’s where Shakespeare grew up. Here, for example, is a document of 1556, showing that Shakespeare’s father had recently purchased the house in Henley Street, and here’s another from 1575, relating to a neighboring house, that shows John Shakespeare connected with that property. We can’t be completely sure of Shakespeare’s school because the school records haven’t survived, but he went to school here in all likelihood. Documents are showing that Shakespeare’s father served as an alderman on Stratford’s Town Council from 1565. This means Shakespeare would have had the right to attend King’s School, which was the only school for miles around, for free.
It would be strange, indeed, if John Shakespeare had not sent his son here. And we know that in 1582 Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway. Not that one! This one. The original documents testifying to the marriage are in Worcester Cathedral, and if you ask the bishop nicely, he might just let you have a look at them. And so it goes on. It’s often said that we don’t have much information about Shakespeare. Still, we have the baptismal records of his three children, we’ve got the burial record of his son at the age of eleven, we’ve got records showing that he got into some fight in London in 1596. However, it does seem that that case never actually went to court, and we’ve got plenty of other documents. For example, we know that he purchased a big house in Stratford-on-Avon in 1597. We know that he became one of three co-owners of the Globe Theatre site in 1599 and that he bought another property in London in 1613. And his will survives, of course, together with his burial place, in the same church where he was baptized, and several writers mention him in books published during his lifetime.
Rare Ornaments and Resplendent
I’ll come back to this topic later on, but for now, I’ll look at one of those books, Palladis Tamia or Wits Treasury, written by Francis Meres and published in 1598. Books in those days were often numbered by the signature, rather than the page, and on the recto or front side of signature 280 Meres praises the writers of classical antiquity and goes on to say… “…the English tongue is mightily enriched and gorgeously invested in rare ornaments and resplendent habiliments by Sir Philip Sidney, Spenser, Daniel, Drayton, Warner, Shakespeare, Marlowe, and Chapman. And he makes several other mentions of Shakespeare.
We know as much about Shakespeare as we do about most other writers and famous people of that time. If you’re interested in this subject, and you want to check these records. The best starting point is the Folger online exhibition, which has nearly 500 documents from Shakespeare’s time, including those depicted in this video. And if you want to see the actual places and objects associated with Shakespeare, well, then you could start by paying an online visit to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Happy researching, and I hope you learn many more details about the life of William Shakespeare!