Celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday with some free lessons

Shakespeare: we use his works more often than we realise

Parents and teachers looking for teaching resources and inspiration would do worse this week than look to the life and work of the Bard. LAURA STEELE, from education resource experts PlanBee, offers some tips

Many consider Shakespeare to be the greatest writer of the English language. His work is studied in schools and universities, and his plays are still performed in theatres across the world – many of them have been made into television programmes or films.

Date of birth a mystery
We know that Shakespeare was baptised on April 26, 1564, but his exact birth date is not known. Since the 18th century, his birth date has been attributed to April 23, which has become widely accepted, largely because as well as being St George’s Day, it was also the date on which Shakespeare would die, in 1616.

Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon to John Shakespeare, a successful glove-maker, and Mary Arden, a wealthy heiress. William was the third of eight children. It is thought that he was fortunate to be educated at the King’s New School in Stratford, a free school chartered in 1553.

Family man
When he was just 18, William married Anne Hathaway. She was eight years older than him. They had three children: a daughter called Susanna, and twins named Hamnet and Judith. After the birth of the twins, there are no further records of Shakespeare’s life or movements for many years – historians call them the “lost years”.

The Lord Chamberlain’s Men
In 1592, when he was around 28, records show that Shakespeare was working for an acting company in London, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. The members worked together to create and perform plays. Shakespeare both wrote and acted for the company – his early plays of this period include The Taming of the Shrew, Romeo and Juliet, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The modern-day recreation of The Globe Theatre, on London’s South Bank

Saving the Globe Theatre
The Lord Chamberlain’s Men performed their plays in a theatre that was on land owned by a man called Giles Allen. Allen wanted to clear the land and intended on tearing down the theatre, despite the protests of the acting company. One night, some of the members dismantled the theatre and moved it across the River Thames.

There, they rebuilt it, and called it the Globe Theatre. It opened in 1599. The new theatre could seat up to 3,000, had musicians to create special sound effects, and there was even a cannon which fired blanks!

How many plays?
Shakespeare wrote 37 plays. They are grouped into three main types: the histories, the tragedies and the comedies. Some of his best plays were written in his later years, such as the tragedies Othello, Hamlet, King Lear and Macbeth.

All 154 of Shakespeare’s sonnets were published together in a book in 1609.

When did Shakespeare die?
Due to the success of his plays, Shakespeare became a wealthy man. Some time after 1611, he left London and retired to his family home, New Place, in Stratford-upon-Avon. It is thought that he died on what would have been his 52nd birthday.

Inventor of words
Shakespeare’s works provide the first recorded use of more than 1,700 words in the English language, and he is credited with inventing many himself – by combining words, changing nouns into verbs, or adding prefixes or suffixes.

Here are just some of the words that he is thought to have introduced or invented: dwindle, gossip, swagger, rant, fashionable, lonely, freezing, bloodstained, coldhearted, majestic.

For a free Shakespeare quiz and Shakespeare word search, click on these links:
Shakespeare quiz, and
Shakespeare word search

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