The notices of the life and career of England's greatest poet are not only sparse and brief, but unusually cryptic. If ever their meaning was precisely understood it is so no longer. All attempts to break the unselfconscious code have failed. The name, Shakespeare, in one form or another, was a common one in sixteenth-century Warwickshire. The poet was probably the grandson of Richard Shakespeare, a husbandman of Snitterfield, a hamlet 4 miles to the north of Stratford. It is assumed that the ‘Johannem Shakesper de Snytterfyld … agricolam’ who was named administrator of his father's estate in 1561 is the same John Shakespeare who already figures in the records as having been fined for keeping a dung-heap in front of his house in Henley Street in 1552 (the house that is still revered as the Birthplace) and who in a suit of 1556 is described as a glover.
When Richard Arden, Richard Shakespeare's Snitterfield landlord, drew up his will in 1556, his youngest daughter Mary was still single. In 1558, her first child by John Shakespeare was baptized in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford. There her third child was christened, on 26 April 1564, ‘Gulielmus filius Johannes Shakespeare’. From that day nothing is heard of him for more than eighteen years.
John Shakespeare prospered. Although illiterate, he was named one of the chief burgesses, then chamberlain, then alderman in 1565, and