The Unaccounted for Period of William Shakespeare's Life

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The Unaccounted for Period of William Shakespeare's Life

William Shakespeare was born on April 26th 1564[1] in Stratford on-Avon to parents John and Mary. Growing up, he received a good education for a country boy of that period. He attended the village elementary school, was tutored by his mother and others, and learned a great deal by himself[2]. At the age of 18 he married Anne Hathaway, had his first child, Susanna in 1583 followed by twins Judith and Hamnet in 1585. Documentation ends here. From the years 1586 to 1592, there is little to no information about his activities and whereabouts. During this unaccounted for period of time, Shakespeare had to get from Stratford to London, where his presence was first reported by Robert Green in 1592 as an “upstart crow” in the theatre industry.

Biographers and historians have done extensive research trying to find some information about these missing years. There are dozens of theories regarding his whereabouts but three main explanations are widely accepted in the historical community. Each of these is backed up by writings from around that time or from later in history but all are circumstantial. The theories include Shakespeare fleeing Stratford after being caught poaching game on Sir Thomas Lucy’s property, his employment as a law clerk while remaining in Stratford, and his service as a schoolmaster in faraway Lancashire[3]. Because of the mystery surrounding these years in the life of this genius, historians have now applied to this period the title The Lost Years.

The first of these theories is referred to most often. It states that Shakespeare had been poaching game on the property of Sir Thomas Lucy and was caught. He was whi...

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...y in his Brief Lives (1681) and was later argued by E.A.J Honigmann in his 1985 book, Shakespeare: “The Lost Years”.

[4] A Ballad in this sense is a poem or essay with a mocking or insulting tone.

[5] The Merry Wives of Windsor was first performed on April 23rd, 1597, St George’s Day. It was commissioned by Queen Elizabeth herself after her love of Henry IV and the character of Falstaff. Falstaff is a main character in The Merry Wives of Windsor.

[6] The Comedy of Errors was originally performed on December 28th, 1594 but was thought to have been written in or before 1592.

[7] i.e. Italian culture, language, customs in plays such as The Merchant of Venice.

[8] This theory is held by the nineteenth century writer W.J. Thoms who was amazed by Shakespeare’s knowledge of military and combat, which he portrayed in his plays.

[9] Also spelled “Kempe”

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