Shakespeare the Father, Shakespeare the Son.

I realize Father’s day was last weekend, but I thought I’d like to cap off that week of posts with one final insight into Shakespearean fathers, only today they won’t be fictional! Today I’ll be sharing with you some details from the lives of William Shakespeare and his father, John Shakespeare. We’ve been talking about good, bad, and dad dads, so after reading this post, what do you think- were these men good fathers, or not?

-Bio of John Shakespeare c1530—to 1601


Shakespeare Family Tree
Shakespeare Family Tree
  • John Shakespeare was born around the year 1530 (exact records no longer exist). He came from a long line of prominent farmers in Snitterfield, and moved to Stratford Upon Avon in Warwickshire, in the year 1557 John married Mary Arden, who also came from pretty posh country stock; records trace the Arden family back before the Norman conquest in 1066!
  • John and Mary’s children
    • Altogether, John and Mary had 8 children (see the family tree above.)
    • Sadly, their 2 eldest daughters Margaret and Anne died in infancy, making William the eldest child, and the son and heir of his father’s wealth.
    • William’s brother Edmund became an actor, while his sister Joan took over John’s old house.
    • Shakespeare was born in 1564 in a modest house on Henley Street, which still stands today!
The house on Henley Street, where Shakespeare was born in 1564. Click here to learn more about Shakespeare's birthplace.
The house on Henley Street, where Shakespeare was born in 1564. Click here to learn more about Shakespeare’s birthplace.
  • Mayor, Bailiff, Glover When John and Mary moved to Stratford, John established himself as a great fixture of the community- he started as the local glover, and rose to the highly respected office of town ale taster (no, I’m not kidding). At the height of his career, John became Mayor of Stratford, and an Alderman- a town counsilor who helped make decisions like whether or not to let local theater troupes come to town! Maybe John took his young son to watch the travelling players and helped inspire Will’s lifelong love of theater.
  • Teach Your Children Well Shakespeare got to go to one of the first ever public schools in England, where he learned English history, poetry, and the art of persuasive speech, everything he needed to become the great writer he would become.
  • Brogger not Blogger As I mentioned in my first post, Shakespeare’s dad had an illegal side business as a wool dealer. All wool was controlled by the English government, so selling it directly to people was a crime, and eventually John Shakespeare was caught. Fortunately, the fine he paid wasn’t enough to ruin him financially…yet.
  • Closet Catholic The biggest financial problem John Shakespeare faced was his religious beliefs. In 1757, archeologists unearthed a pamphlet where John confessed to be a secret Catholic in a society where the Church of England was the national religion. Scholar Michael Wood believes that John’s Catholicism led to financial ruin; he refused to go to Episcopal church and had to pay crippling fines every time he failed to appear.
  • John’s Descent At the same time, John’s debts kept mounting and he was afraid to go to the town council house for fear of more collectors, even though he was the mayor. The final blow came in 1576, when John was booted off the town council.
  • Son of Fortune John’s son William would eventually repair the family dignity when he became a success. In 1596, William made himself, and all the male members of his family gentlemen, by applying for a coat of arms. Below is a picture of Shakespeare’s family crest.
Shakespeare's coat of arms, as depicted in the Folger Shakespeare Library window.
Shakespeare’s coat of arms, as depicted in the Folger Shakespeare Library window.
  • John Shakespeare died in 1601, shortly after his son’s play Hamlet was published. Will might have honored his father’s memory by playing the Ghost of Hamlet’s father.

-Bio of William Shakespeare as a Father 1564-1616.

  • Drawing of Anne Hathaway, original artist unknown.
    Oil reproduction by Roger Dunn of an alleged drawing of Anne Hathaway. Reproduced with Permission, Shakespeare’ Birthplace Trust. Click on the picture to find out more about this work of art!

    Roger Dunn BA

    Wedding Bells In 1582, Will married Anne Hathaway (not the Oscar winning actress from Les Miserables, although that one has shown some love for Shakespeare too. Based on the timeline, it’s very likely that Anne was already pregnant when William married her. Some claim that the Bard was basically in a “shotgun” marriage, but nobody has proven otherwise. We do know that he wrote a sonnet to her on their wedding day, click here to read it!

  • Shakespeare’s Children Shakespeare and Anne had three kids (Judith, Susanna, Hamnet) Susanna was born in 1583, while the twins were born 5 years later.
  • Hit the Road! Sometime around 1590, Shakespeare moved to London and must’ve gotten a job with a theater company. Unfortunately, no records survive between the birth of Shakespeare’s children, and his first success as a playwright in 1592, which is why scholars refer to this period as “The Lost Years.” It was probably a tough life for the Shakespeares, with the father away in the city while they were cooped up in Stratford with their grandparents.
  • RIP Hamnet. Shakespeare’s only son died August 9th He was away in London at the time, and undoubtedly the news was a terrible shock.
Burial Registry of Hamnet Shakespeare
Burial Registry of Hamnet Shakespeare

  • Will’s daughters Shakespeare had two girls, Judith and Susanna. Naturally, it’s hard to tell anything about Shakespeare’s personal feelings, but looking at his plays and his future actions, Shakespeare must have really loved his girls. Many of his later plays explore the relationships between fathers and daughters, and as you’ve probably noticed, most of the fathers on my previous countdowns have at least 1 girl. Shakespeare was preoccupied with his daughter’s futures and helped them find husbands, Susanna Shakespeare was arrested for refusing to take protestant communion Susannah married Dr. John Hall, a respected puritan physician. She also bore William his only grandchild, Elizabeth Barnard (pictured below).
Elizabeth Hall, 1608-1680. Shakespeare's granddaughter.
Elizabeth Hall, 1608-1680. Shakespeare’s granddaughter.

Will clearly loved his daughters, especially his daughter Susanna. His last 5 plays were about fathers trying their best to improve their daughter’s lives. In his will he gave his daughter Susannah 100 pounds of English money, as well as a dowry To his other daughter Judith he left 30 pounds, all of his silver, and permitted her to live in one of his houses on Henley street.


  • by Michael Wood: A fantastic documentary/ book/ website, which looks at the life of William Shakespeare and his work. On this website is an interactive timeline that shows pictures of the places Shakespeare lived and worked, and the documents with his name on them:
  • Will In the World by Steven Greenblatt: A great biography of Shakespeare by a celebrated Harvard scholar and editor of tne Norton Shakespeare edition. Click here for a review: 

So that ends my posts on Shakespeare and Father’s Day. Stay tuned for another post about a very interesting holiday!

Illustration of the Shakespeare family, wife and children, 1890.
Illustration of the Shakespeare family, wife and children, 1890.

3 thoughts on “Shakespeare the Father, Shakespeare the Son.

  1. Hello ShakespeareStudent,

    Thanks for including our painting of Anne Hathaway in your post. It is an oil painting in the collections of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, it is a contemporary painting by Roger Dunn BA based on a pen drawing done by Sir Nathaniel Curzon of Kedlestone in 1708. Its reference number in our collection is SBT 2010-1. We would appreciate if you could use the credit “Reproduced by Permission of Shakespeare Birthplace Trust”.



    Jennifer Reid
    Collections Development Officer
    Shakespeare Birthplace Trust


    1. Dear Ms. Reid,

      Thank you so much for your informative comment. Do you have an online gallery with the picture in it that I could direct my readers to? I’m sure they’d like to see more Elizabethan portraits like Mr. Dunn’s to learn more about the Shakespeare family. If so, I’ll link the image to the gallery and make a point of it in my next post.


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