English 102: Approaches to Literature  

A Brief Shakespeare Timeline  

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1558. Elizabeth Tudor becomes Queen of England and "Supreme Governor of the Church in England." The Anglican Church (invented by Elizabeth's father, Henry 8) is reinstated as the state religion. The Book of Common Prayer is revised and republished, and English translations of the Bible become standard (the Bishops Bible for church use and the Geneva Bible for home use). Literacy and education are among Elizabeth's political priorities.

1560's. The Red Lion Theatre is built in the London suburb of Stepney. This is perhaps the earliest public theater in London. Plays previously had been performed in meeting halls, public squares, and palaces. One significance of the development of theaters was that admission could be charged, so players theoretically could earn an independent livelihood.

1564. William Shakespeare is baptized in the market town of Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, on April 26, the son of John Shakespeare (a glove maker and commodity trader) and Mary Arden Shakespeare. This is a middle class family whose fortunes rose and fell with the economy, especially the wool trade. 

1570's. William probably attends grammar school (we would call it grammar school and high school) at the King' s New School at Stratford-upon-Avon. The curriculum features reading and writing, especially in Latin. Shakespeare's love of classical mythology probably began here. Scheduled graduation would have taken place at age 16 (in 1580), but an old tradition says that William was forced to leave school early to help his father support the family. (There were now five children; William was the eldest.)

1570's. The Theatre and The Curtain are built in the northern outskirts of London. 

1571. The Pope excommunicates Elizabeth and proclaims her to be deposed. Consequently, Roman Catholicism is forbidden in Elizabethan England. Several of Mary Arden Shakespeare's relatives are tortured and put to death, allegedly for plotting to assassinate Elizabeth. There is some historical evidence that Shakespeare's parents were Catholic sympathizers.

1582. William (age 18) marries Ann Hathaway (age 26), the daughter of a nearby landowner. On the wedding day Ann is several months pregnant. (It's estimated that one-third of all Tudor brides were pregnant at the altar.) By marrying, William is no longer eligible to attend university or to become an apprentice in the trade guild system. Probably the young couple lives in crammed quarters with his parents and siblings. 

1583. The Shakespeares have a daughter, Susanna.

1583. The Queen's Men are established as an acting company. They are known for comedy, with the celebrated comic actor, Richard Tarllton. (Note: Shakespeare's "comic period" will be the 1590's, while Elizabeth reigns; his "tragic period" will be the first decade of the 1600's, during the sober reign of James 1. Elizabeth and James had distinctly different tastes in drama.) 

1585.  The Shakespeares have twins, Hamnet and Judith.

1588. Shakespeare's theater career begins at about this time (at about age 24). He may have joined a touring company and gone to London with them. The company may have been producing propagandistic political plays in support of the Queen and her party against the Spanish. 

1588. The Spanish armada with support from the Pope attacks England and is routed. 

1592. The first references to Shakespeare as an actor and author are made in pamphets written by rival playwrights Robert Greene and Thomas Nashe. Both refer to the popularity of Shakespeare's Henry VI history plays. These plays are about the tragic civil wars in England during the middle ages, the War of the Roses. They are designed to instill English nationalism and show the evils of rebellion

1592-1594. Public theaters in London are closed due to plague. Shakespeare turns to writing narrative poetry on mythological subjects (Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece) and perhaps sonnets. When the theaters reopen, only two significant acting companies survive: the Lord Admiral's Men at the Rose Theatre (Edward Alleyn as their lead actor, Christopher Marlowe their playwright) and the Lord Chamberlain's Men at the Theatre (Richard Burbage as lead actor, Will Kemp as lead comic, and Shakespeare as playwright). 

1594. The public theaters reopen. Christopher Marlowe is murdered under mysterious circumstances, and Shakespeare, age 30, is left as the leading public playwright in England.  

1596. Shakespeare's only son, Hamnet, dies.

1597. Shakespeare buys New Place, a large house in Stratford.

1599. Shakespeare obtains a coat of arms for his family. This is official recognition that his family is "gentry," and he is entitled to be called a "gentleman."

1597. The lease is not renewed for The Theatre, and the building is torn down. The Chamberlain's Men play at the nearby Curtain Theater.

1599. The Globe Theater is built in the outskirts of London on the south bank of the Thames River by Shakespeare and his partners, using the timbers from the torn down Theatre. Shakespeare is entitled to a 10% stake in the enterprise. The Globe could hold an estimated 1500 spectators, paying from one to three pennies each (in modern terms, perhaps $3 to $9 each). Weather permitting, performances are given daily, except during Lent; the company later acquires indoor space at Blackfriars (see 1609).

1601. Shakespeare's father dies.

1603. Queen Elizabeth dies and is succeeded by her cousin, James 6 of Scotland (who becomes James 1 of England). The Lord Chamberlains Men become the King's Men by which name they remain, serving James and his son Charles, until the theaters were closed by the Puritans in 1642.

1607. Shakespeare's daughter Susanna marries John Hall, a physician in Stratford and a Puritan. (This couple has a daughter, Elizabeth Hall, in 1608; Elizabeth dies in 1670, Shakespeare's last surviving descendant.) Captain John Smith settles Jamestown, Virginia. 

1608. Shakespeare's mother dies.

1609. Shakespeare's sonnets are published, apparently without his involvement. The Kings Men acquire an indoor theater in the Blackfriars District of London for their winter performances; they retain the Globe for summer productions. The Blackfriars theater is much smaller, accommodating perhaps 400 spectators, but ticket prices are steep.

1611 or 1612. Shakespeare returns to Stratford to live. Although retired, he collaborates with a younger playwright John Fletcher on at least three plays.

1613. The Globe burns down during a performance of Shakespeare's and Fletcher's Henry 8, but the playhouse is rebuilt in the following year.

1616. Shakespeare (age 52) dies on April 23. His estate (according to his will) is divided among his two daughters Susanna and Judith and his wife. He is buried in Stratford with a simple memorial which remains to this day. Judith marries a Stratford vintner.

1623. Shakespeare's fellow actors John Heminges and Henry Condell publish the first complete edition of Shakespeare's plays, based on manuscript copies and prompt-books. Price: 1 pound. Ann Hathaway Shakespeare dies.

1625. King James dies and is succeeded by his son Charles I.

1642. The Puritans win a majority in Parliament and promptly enact legislation closing the public theaters. (Shakespeare and other playwrights long had ridiculed and satirized Puritans.)

1649. Charles 1 is executed after losing a civil war against the forces of Parliament led by the Puritan Oliver Cromwell. The monarchy is abolished, and England becomes a commonwealth.

1660. Following the death of Cromwell, the monarchy is restored in the person of Charles II, and the theaters are reopened. Plays of Shakespeare and other Jacobean playwrights are revived on stage. 

1709. The earliest biography of Shakespeare is published by Nicholas Rowe, the first Shakespeare editor. Plays of Shakespeare become increasingly popular through the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. 




Left: Elizabeth I in 1588.








Left: supposed site of Shakespeare's birth in Stratford.








Left: Hathaway homestead outside of Stratford, scene of Shakespeare's courtship.

















Left: John DeWitt's sketch of the Swan Theatre in London, 1596. This is the only contemporary drawing of an Elizabethan public theater. It shows a large thrust stage where the audience nearly surrounds the players. The audience balconies are not recessed, so seats are both covered from the weather and intimate in relation to the stage.  







Left: James Stuart, James VI of Scotland, James I of England.





Left: portrait attributed to John Taylor, from about 1610, now in the National Portrait Gallery, London.










Left; image of Shakespeare as shown in the first collection of Shakespeare's plays, the first folio of 1623.  

What did Shakespeare look like?

Drs Gary & Elizabeth Gutchess