Who Was William Shakespeare?

Contributor: Suzanne Riordan. Lesson ID: 13330

You may know Shakespeare as the author of "Romeo and Juliet," "Hamlet," and other famous plays. You may know that he also wrote poetry. But you may not know just how much his writing has affected you!


Theatrical Arts, World

learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Beaver, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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Have you ever heard these sayings:

one fell swoop

play fast and loose

set my teeth on edge

wear my heart upon my sleeve

wild-goose chase

be-all and the end-all

These, and many, many more sayings we use every day come from…

You guessed it: Shakespeare!

The sayings above are just a small sample of Shakespeare's influence on the English language.

In this lesson, you'll learn about Shakespeare's life and work and the impact he's had on the world.

Shakespeare's Life


First, watch this short biography entitled William Shakespeare: Legendary Wordsmith - Fast Facts | History:

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William Shakespeare was born in 1564, in a little country town called Stratford-upon-Avon, England.


In school, he studied Latin and the Roman poet, Ovid, which influenced his love of writing. He had to quit school at 15, however, to help his father in the family business -- making gloves.

  • How did he get interested in the theater?

It's not really known, but he probably went to public festivals and saw performances by roaming groups of actors, called troupes.

At 18, he married an older woman named Anne Hathaway (she was 26). The couple eventually had three children: a girl named Susanna and twins Hamnet and Judith. Hamnet died at the young age of 11.

Shakespeare spent many years in London, working in the theater. His troupe was known as Lord Chamberlain's Men. It was also later known as The King's Men.

Around this time, the production of plays had gotten very popular. This brought about a lot of competition between the various acting troupes, and Shakespeare became popular because he could work both as an actor and a playwright.

His first plays were about history, but when he began to write some comedies, his popularity really took off.

After Shakespeare had some years of success, a plague caused the theaters to close down. Actors went back to performing in traveling troupes, and Shakespeare probably joined one of these, though there's no historical record to prove that.

During this time, he also began to write poetry.

  • How could someone make a living just writing poems?

An artist, writer, or poet could continue to work on their art if they found a wealthy person to support them. This is called patronage. Shakespeare wrote under the patronage of Henry Wriothesley, the Earl of Southampton.

Earl of Southampton

In 1599, Shakespeare's troupe built a new theater called the Globe Theater. It became very popular, and they performed there for many years. The theater burned down in 1613 but was rebuilt in 1997 and is still in use today.

Globe Theatre

From 1595 to 1605, Shakespeare wrote some of his greatest plays. Then, sometime between 1611 and 1613, he returned to Stratford and spent the rest of his life there. He wrote more plays and even took on an apprentice to help him.

He died early, at the age of 52. The cause of his death is not known, but some speculate that he contracted the disease called typhoid.

Shakespeare's Career

Shakespeare is known to many as the greatest English writer of all time.

Let's take a brief look at some of the things Shakespeare wrote, and you'll get a taste of his genius and talent. We'll focus on the three types of plays he wrote (histories, comedies, and tragedies) and his favorite poem type (sonnet).

History Plays

History plays, of course, tell a historical narrative.

historical play actor

An example of one of Shakespeare's history plays is Richard III.

Watch as the evilly ambitious hunchback brother of King Richard, as played by Sir Lawrence Olivier, delivers his opening speech in this scene.

"Now is the winter of our discontent" - Richard III by William Shakespeare courtesy of Philip Spade:

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Tragedy Plays

Tragedies usually center on a noble person with a tragic flaw and end in sadness and death.

tragedy play actor

An example of a Shakespearean tragedy is Macbeth.

Macbeth is a Scottish general who just won a victory when he encounters three witches in the woods. It's probably not a good sign when witches foretell your destiny.

Macbeth: Macbeth meets the Witches | Shakespeare's Globe | Rent or Buy on Globe Player by Shakespeare's Globe:

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Comedy Plays

Comedies, obviously, are meant to be funny. They always end happily, usually with a wedding.

comedy play actor

An example of Shakespeare's comedy is Twelfth Night, in which disguises and mistaken identities drive the plot.

A young lady named Viola diguises herself as a man, falls in love with a duke, and is asked by the duke to deliver love messages for him to another young lady named Olivia. Impressed with the romantic messages, Olivia falls in love with Caesario (really Viola)!

  • How will this all work out?

Twelfth Night Extract from Giresh:

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Shakespeare also wrote many beautiful sonnets. A sonnet is a 14-line poem.

Listen to Sonnet 18, one of Shakespeare's well-known sonnets.

Shakespeare Sonnet 18: Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? from Socratica:

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Now that you've met Shakespeare and some of his works, move on to the Got It? section and test your knowledge!

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