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And Timeline of His Life
Establishing a Chronology of Shakespeare's Works
Irish author Edmond Malone (1741-1812) established a chronology for the years when Shakespeare wrote his plays. The essay, entitled “An Attempt to Ascertain the Order in which the Plays attributed to Shakespeare were written,” appears in The Plays of William Shakespeare in Ten Volumes, published in 1778 and edited by Samuel Johnson and George Steevens (correct spelling: three e's).
Malone's pioneering work inspired other scholars to research the dates of Shakespeare's plays and publish their own chronologies over the years. Malone himself revised his chronology after conducting additional research. His results were published in 1790 and 1821.
In 1930, E. K. Chambers published a chronology that took into account research between Malone's time and the early twentieth century. His list of dates closely resembled that of Malone. The Oxford Shakespeare, which presents the author's complete works, supports many of the findings of Malone and Chambers.
Dating Shakespeare's plays depends on a variety of factors, including public and private records, performance records, and references in the plays to events in Shakespeare's time. For example, there is a reference in King Lear to the Great Eclipse of the Sun in 1605.
The Chronology List
The following chronology lists the probable years or time periods in which Shakespeare wrote his plays and stand-alone poems. Also included are the writing and publication dates for the sonnets.The years in each entry represent the period during which Shakespeare wrote a work. For example, he could have written The Two Gentlemen of Verona (1589-1595) in a single year during this period or in a combination of years.
1589-1595: The Two Gentlemen of Verona
1590-1591: Henry VI, Part II
1590-1591: Henry VI, Part III
1590-1591: Henry VI, Part I
1590-1594: The Taming of the Shrew
1591-1594: Titus Andronicus
1591-1597: Sonnets Completed (154 Poems)
1592-1593: Richard III
1592-1594: Comedy of Errors
1593: Venus and Adonis (Narrative Poem)
1593-1594: The Rape of Lucrece (Narrative Poem)
1594: Edward III
1594-1595: Love's Labour's Lost
1594-1595: Romeo and Juliet
1595-1596: Richard II
1595-1596: A Midsummer Night's Dream
1596-1597: King John
1596-1597: The Merchant of Venice
1597-1598: Henry IV, Part I
1597-1598: Henry IV, Part II
1598-1599: Much Ado About Nothing
1598-1599: Henry V
1599: Sonnets 138 and 144 Published
1599-1600: Julius Caesar
1599-1600: As You Like It
1599-1600: Twelfth Night
1600-1601: The Merry Wives of Windsor
1601: "The Phoenix and the Turtle" (Poem)
1601-1602: Troilus and Cressida
1602-1603: All's Well That Ends Well
1604-1605: Measure for Measure
1605-1606: King Lear
1606-1607: Antony and Cleopatra
1607-1608: Timon of Athens
1608-1609: Pericles, Prince of Tyre
1609: "A Lover's Complaint" (poem that Shakespeare may have written). Publication of the sonnets.
1610-1611: The Winter's Tale
1611-1612: The Tempest
1612-1613: Cardenio (Authorship Disputed)
1612-1613: Henry VIII (By Shakespeare and John Fletcher)
1612-1613: The Two Noble Kinsmen (By Shakespeare and John Fletcher)
1623: Publication of the first authorized collection of Shakespeare's plays, known as the First Folio
Timeline of Shakespeare's Life
1564: William Shakespeare is born to John and Mary Shakespeare, who reside on Henley Street in Stratford, England, on the Upper Avon River in the County of Warwickshire. He is the third of eight Shakespeare children. Shakespeare is baptized on April 26. (Baptismal records suggest, but do not prove, that his date of birth was April 23.) Elizabeth I is in the sixth year of her reign as Queen of England.
1568: John Shakespeare—who crafted gloves, lent money, and traded in wool, barley, timber, and leather goods—is elected high bailiff of Stratford, a position similar to that of a modern mayor.
1571 or 1572: William Shakespeare probably begins attending the King's New School in Stratford.
1582: Shakespeare, eighteen, marries Anne Hathaway, who is pregnant at the time of the wedding. She is from Shottery, a village not far from Stratford.
1583: Shakespeare's daughter Susanna is born in May.
1585: Shakespeare's daughter Judith and son Hamnet (twins) are born.
1585-1592: These are the "lost years" of Shakespeare. Little, if anything, is known about his activities during this period except that he went to London to begin his acting and writing career. The year that he first traveled to London is a matter of speculation. During this period, Shakespeare might have tended horses for theatregoers or worked as a sailor, teacher, or coachman. Or he might have been a soldier, law clerk, theatre page, or moneylender. He could have held several of those jobs. He may have held none of them. Shakespeare may also have spent time traveling to distant towns or even to foreign countries. His plays suggest that he visited Italy, for more than a dozen of them—including The Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet, All's Well That Ends Well, Othello, Coriolanus, Julius Caesar, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Taming of the Shrew, Titus Andronicus, Much Ado About Nothing, and The Winter's Tale—all have scenes set in Italy.
1592: An outbreak of plague closes London theatres. Writer Robert Greene criticizes Shakespeare and his writing in a pamphlet entitled “Greene's Goatsworth of Wit.” Greene writes:
Yes, trust them not [actors], for there is an upstart crow [Shakespeare], beautified with our [writers'] feathers, that, with his Tygers heart wrapt in a Players hide, supposes he is as well able to bumbast out a blanke verse as the best of you; and being an absolute Johannes Factotum [jack-of-all-trades], is in his owne conceit the onely Shake-scene in a countrie.”Greene's criticism actually does Shakespeare a favor. First, it recognizes him as a competitive writer. Second, it serves as valuable historical testimony that Shakespeare was both writing and acting in London in 1592.
1594: Shakespeare and fellow actors form the Lord Chamberlain's Men, an acting company, with the support of Henry Carey, the lord chamberlain under Queen Elizabeth I. Carey was the overseer of court entertainment for the queen.
1596: Hamnet Shakespeare, eleven, dies.
1597: Shakespeare purchases one of Stratford's outstanding homes, New Place. James Burbage, the director of the Lord Chamberlain's men, dies.
1599: Builders complete construction of the Globe Theatre in London. Shakespeare is one of the owners of theatre.
1601: Shakespeare's father dies.
1603: The Lord Chamberlain's Men becomes the King's Company under England's new monarch, James I, but people tend to refer to the acting troupe as the King's Men. The company performs frequently at court as well as at theatres.
1607: Susanna Shakespeare marries John Hall, an herbalist and a physician.
1608: Shakespeare's mother dies.
1610: Shakespeare leaves London to take up permanent residence in Stratford.
1616: Shakespeare writes his will. Judith Shakespeare marries Thomas Quiney. Shakespeare alters his will in March, possibly because he wishes to exclude Quiney from benefiting from Judith's inheritance. Shakespeare dies on April 23 and is laid to rest in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford. On his tombstone are engraved these words, which appear to have been written by Shakespeare himself:
Jesus' sake forbear