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Tudor Stratford - The Shakespeare Story

Baptised in Holy Trinity Church on St George's Day, 23 April 1564, the eldest son of John Shakespeare and Mary Arden, William Shakespeare as a lad went to the newly reformed King Edward VI Free Grammar School at Stratford. In 1582 he married Anne Hathaway of Shottery and then - according to some - left hurriedly for London in 1585, a schoolmaster on the run for poaching deer from the Earl of Warwick's estates nearby.
By 1596 - exactly 400 years after the founding of Stratford-upon-Avon - William Shakespeare had become established as a court dramatist and was writing "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "The Merchant of Venice". In "A Midsummer Night's Dream", he thought back to his tradesman's roots, and ends the drama with Bottom the Weaver and fellow traders getting up a play for the Duke of Athens and local gentry - who are more than a little supercilious about their hamish acting.

 

"The Merchant of Venice" in its own way also draws upon business life: the point at issue is whether a bond to forfeit "a pound of flesh" if three thousand ducats are not repaid by the due date is to be interpreted literally.  

 

This same year of 1596 saw William Shakespeare able to obtain a grant of Arms for his father, so that John Shakespeare - variously a Stratfordian glover, butcher and wool dealer, official ale taster and Bailiff (Mayor) - at last became a gentleman.  

 

Sadly this year of status and success was also one of sorrow for William and Anne: their only son, Hamnet, died on 11 August 1596 at the age of eleven and a half.  

 

Eventually William Shakespeare himself retired back to New Place, Church Street, opposite the Guild Chapel and his old school, and died on the day of his birth, 23 April, in 1616. By 1623, when his wife died, a bust in his memory had been erected near his tomb in Holy Trinity Church - where hundreds of townsfolk and admirers led by The Worshipful the Mayor and Councillors pay floral tribute each April.