An Illustrated Biography of William Shakespeare
Charles Cattermole and
is the most celebrated English playwright in history and the best-selling author
of all time, with book sales estimated between two and four billion.
Though his literary success occurred in Tudor-era London, the author was buried
(1616) in his hometown of
the previously unremarkable market town where he was born (1564). He achieved
some level of social and financial success before his death, yet Shakespeare’s
legend began to form after his demise.
Initially there was limited interest in the author and little effort was made to
preserve biographical information about Shakespeare, his family and his
hometown. However these topics would later become the foundations of lucrative
public’s attention was drawn to the author in 1709 when England’s Poet
published the first 18th century edition of Shakespeare’s plays. The
six illustrated volumes contained biographical information about the deceased
Shakespeare had been associated with London’s
Yet Rowe’s book became the first to express a reverence for “Shakespeare
country,” which included the villages of Stratford and
in the county of
the onset of the 19th century, national industrialization and
environmental destruction began to transform the English countryside. The
historical novels of Sir Walter Scott were eagerly read by Victorians who
harkened to the past and had a growing reverence for nature.
book entitled “The
Home and Haunts of Shakespeare,”
published in 1892, contained photographs that depicted the pathways, cottages
and rural landmarks where Shakespeare was born, courted his wife, lived and
Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
and President Ulysses S. Grant were among the horde of tourists who made the
pilgrimage to Stratford. Thousands of other tourists visited nearby Shottery,
cottage had been transformed into a shrine of romance.
Realizing the potential lucrative income that could be derived from the influx
of tourists, the
Shakespeare Birthplace Trust
was formed in 1847.
assuage the yearnings of these devotees, Victorians created a fictive romantic
story about Shakespeare’s life. The playwright became the central figure of a
literary mythology which enshrined places and invented events.
Charles Cattermole (1832 - 1900) was one of a number of Victorian artists whose
popular paintings portrayed scenes from Britain’s historical past. To accompany
a lecture about Stratford’s most famous son, William Ryland commissioned
Cattermole to paint thirteen scenes depicting Shakespeare’s life.
These watercolours, each of which measures 23.5 x 13 inches, illustrate
Shakespeare’s life from his Christening to his death and helped influence the
modern perception of “who” William Shakespeare was.
consequence, millions of tourists visit Shakespeare’s birthplace,
Stratford-Upon-Avon, every year, which results in £600
million flowing into the local economy.
Cattermole paintings not only provide a chronological framework of events, they
also include references to the people who influenced Shakespeare’s life and
depict significant locations in the playwright’s existence.
The Christening of Shakespeare
John Shakespeare was a glove maker and a successful businessman who
served as Stratford’s mayor. His wife,
Mary Arden, came from a rich farming family. William, the first of their
seven children and the oldest son, is baptized on 26 April, 1564. The artist
depicted the church with the avenue of lime trees along the road.
Shakespeare Meets the Strolling Players
William attended the King’s New School until the ago of 14, where he
received an education based on Latin and the Classics. In this scene young
Shakespeare encounters a troupe of actors who are travelling through the
Stag-Hunting by Moonlight
One of the unresolved mysteries surrounding Shakespeare’s life concerns the
story that he was caught
deer at Charlecote Park, an estate situated four miles from his home in
Shakespeare Before Sir Thomas Lucy
Charlecote Estate belonged to
Sir Thomas Lucy,
a Protestant Member of Parliament who came into conflict with Shakespeare’s
Catholic relatives. This scene depicts Sir Thomas, the local magistrate,
sitting in judgment at Charlecote Hall, where he is about to have the young
Mayday Sports at Shottery
Upon her father’s death in 1581, Anne
Hathaway inherited the family farm and large home located in the village of
Shottery, a mile west of Stratford. Anne’s role in Shakespeare’s life is the
Cattermole’s illustration depicts Shakespeare at Hathaway’s cottage in an
invented courtship scene.
This image was important to the Victorians, who had trouble reconciling
Shakespeare’s marriage at eighteen to a woman eight years his senior and who
was pregnant when they married. The
became an icon commemorating the couple’s romance.
Shakespeare Leaving Home--The Farewell
Although his place of birth is not disputed, Shakespeare’s family had
historical links with Prescott, a town further north in Lancashire. Prior to
moving south to Stratford, William’s grandfather Richard spelled his surname
Shakeshafte. The spelling of the family name may have influenced William
Shakespeare’s married life. After learning of Anne’s pregnancy, the young
couple only had a few weeks to be married before the onset of December,
during which time marriages were not performed. Some
have argued that Alexander Hoghton of Lancashire left a sum of money to
“William Shakeshafte” and that it was this unexpected financial bequest that
allowed the couple to wed in time. William and Anne were married in haste on
November 27, 1582. Their first child, Susanna, was born six months later. In
1585 Anne gave birth to twins, Hamlet and Judith. To support his family,
Shakespeare may have been employed as a teacher or started work in the
theatre. The date of his departure from Stratford to London is unknown. This
is the first image of Shakespeare in the saddle and the artist depicts the
family standing on
which spans the river Avon.
Ben Jonson Visits Shakespeare in London
One of the mysteries concerning Shakespeare is how he spent “the lost years”
(1585-92) before he is mentioned as taking part in the London theatre.
have speculated that Shakespeare was employed as a teacher by wealthy
Catholic families residing in Lancashire. His friend
believed this explained Shakespeare’s knowledge of Latin. Others have
suggested that Shakespeare travelled to
during this mysterious time in his life, which would explain why a third of
his plays are set in that country and include details about cities, bridges,
weather and the trees found there.
Shakespeare in the Green Room
Records confirm that Shakespeare was working in London as an actor and
playwright in 1592. He was unlike other Elizabethan and Stuart dramatists,
who were from London or had attended university. Yet his plays, especially
comedies such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, drew huge audiences. Scholars
speculate that the death of his 11-year-old son may have been one of the
inspirations for his famous tragedy, Hamlet. There have been questions
regarding the spelling of the child’s name. “Thus the
of academic consensus has silenced common sense in so many aspects of
Shakespeare studies throughout most of this century.”
Shakespeare Acting Before Queen Elizabeth
A distinct contrast is now apparent. One of London’s most famous citizens is
intensely private. Shakespeare was among the men who created the Globe
Theatre on the south bank of the Thames river in 1599. This is an enormously
productive time in his life when many of his most famous plays, including
Julius Caesar and Much Ado About Nothing, are written. He is a leading
member of the acting troupe, the
Lord Chamberlain’s Men,
and his plays are enjoyed by royalty and commoners alike. With a few
exceptions, Shakespeare did not invent the plots of his plays, relying on
historical events and previously published books. Though his enormous
vocabulary was evident, and his scholarship profound, the playwright baffles
scholars by his reticence to reveal details about his private life or
Shakespeare Reading The Merry Wives of Windsor to Queen Elizabeth
The artist depicts Shakespeare performing before Queen Elizabeth aboard her
royal row barge. Despite the nautical setting, the fate of the play’s famous
character, Falstaff, is linked to his horse. Shakespeare’s knowledge of
horses, their training, equipment and theft is so extensive that in 1877
Charles Flowers wrote the first equestrian study of the playwright.
“Shakespeare not only looked on a horse with the eye of a judge, but he
entertained for him a feeling of affection which is exhibited through all
the plays and poems. He knew well there must be for perfect training an
intimate sympathy between the horse and his rider, so that the one can
instantly feel the intention of the other, even before it can be expressed
by word or sign.”
Shakespeare's Return to Stratford-upon-Avon
The death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603 ushers in her successor,
who was such a strong supporter of Shakespeare’s plays that the troupe of
actors changed their name to the
and performed before the royal court eleven times in a year. With the wealth
made by his plays, Shakespeare retires at the age of 49. He purchases New
Place, the second largest home in Stratford, and resumes living in the
village where his wife and married daughters had been living all the while.
He is respected by prominent people in London and is granted a coat of arms,
which he displays with pride at home.
Shakespeare with His Friends at New Place
The artist chose to depict Shakespeare entertaining his friends in the shade
of a legendary black
which the playwright is believed to have planted in front of his home, after
King James encouraged the planting of these trees in an attempt to induce
landowners to start a silk industry in England. While the origin of this
specific tree may be in question, what is remembered is that this tree is
connected to the destruction of Shakespeare’s home.
was inhabited in 1756 by the Reverend Francis Gastrell. Having grown tired
of visitors constantly asking to view the tree, Gastrell ordered the
mulberry to be cut down in what was described as an act of gothic barbarity.
The inhabitants of Stratford were incandescent. When Gastrell requested
permission to extend the garden, the town council refused and raised his
taxes. In retaliation Gastrell promptly demolished Shakespeare’s home.
Outraged residents forced the reverend to leave the town and the legend of
Shakespeare’s mulberry tree gave birth to a cottage industry which created
souvenirs supposedly made from the fabled tree.
Shakespeare's Last Hours
The cause of Shakespeare’s death has
never been determined. He died on April 23, 1616, which marked his 52nd
birthday. He is seen being attended by wife and two daughters. In the
background of the painting, the artist depicted the spire of the Holy
Trinity Church, the same place where Shakespeare had been baptized and was
later buried. Seven years after his death, two colleagues collected 36 of
Shakespeare’s plays and preserved them in a book known as the
After Shakespeare’s death, his friend
Ben Jonson said, “He was not of an age, but for all time.” And though
have been raised as to whether Shakespeare was the author of so many famous
plays, there is no credible evidence to prove that anyone else created these
great works of literature.
Thus more than 400 years after his death, Shakespeare has become a global
After Cattermole’s death, Ryland
bequeathed the original set of watercolours to the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre
at Stratford in 1901. The paintings, which were often reproduced as postcards,
can be viewed
is an English historian who undertook an investigation entitled “In
Search of Shakespeare.”
During his search, Professor Wood discovered a rare legal document. Dated
1579, it is bears the equestrian wax seal of Shakespeare’s mother, Mary
Back to The Shakespearian Equestrian Collection