THE books, articles, dissertations, and theses written about Shakespeare constitute an entire literature; the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D. C., includes more than 100,000 "items." Never has a poet received so much critical scrutiny, and never has there been so little known about the person.
The authentic history of Shakespeare the man can be quickly summarized; all the accounts consist of a few undisputed facts and many fanciful legends. The factual evidence is this: William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-on-Avon in April, 1564; the exact date of his birth remains uncertain. He was the third of eight children. His father was a glover, dealer in hides, and perhaps a butcher; his mother was a farmer's daughter. His boyhood was over early, for he became a father at nineteen. At eighteen he had married a woman eight years older than himself, some think at the compulsion of Ann Hathaway's brothers; he left her a few years later to go up to London. In the metropolis he became an actor-manager, adapting other men's plays besides creating dramas for his own theatrical company. His poetry was so popular that it was often pirated, and his name was attached to productions he never undertook. He made friends with the great and secured a much-desired coat of arms for his father. Before he was fifty, and at the very height of his powers, he retired to his native town. There he died, in his fifty-second year, on April 23, 1616, and was buried in the chancel of the Stratford church. The rest is speculation and controversy.