William Shakespeare, Shakespeare also spelled Shakspere, byname Bard of Avon or Swan of Avon, (baptized April 26, 1564, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England—died April 23, 1616, Stratford-upon-Avon), English poet, dramatist, and actor often called the English national poet and considered by many to be the greatest dramatist of all time.
While William Shakespeare’s reputation is based primarily on his plays, he became famous first as a poet. With the partial exception of the Sonnets (1609), quarried since the early 19th century for autobiographical secrets allegedly encoded in them, the nondramatic writings have traditionally been pushed to the margins of the Shakespeare industry. Yet the study of his nondramatic poetry can illuminate Shakespeare’s activities as a poet emphatically of his own age, especially in the period of extraordinary literary ferment in the last ten or twelve years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth.
Shakespeare’s exact birth date remains unknown. He was baptized in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon on April 26, 1564, his mother’s third child, but the first to survive infancy. This has led scholars to conjecture that he was born on April 23rd, given the era’s convention of baptizing newborns on their third day. Shakespeare’s father, John Shakespeare, moved to Stratford in about 1552 and rapidly became a prominent figure in the town’s business and politics. He rose to be bailiff, the highest official in the town, but then in about 1575-1576 his prosperity declined markedly and he withdrew from public life. In 1596, thanks to his son’s success and persistence, he was granted a coat of arms by the College of Arms, and the family moved into New Place, the grandest house in Stratford.