Shakespeare`s Stratford

The Great Shakespearean Legacy

So strongly did William Shakespeare stood the test of time that even now, more than four hundred years after his birth, he was able to hold the highest regard as the world’s greatest poet and playwright. Over the span of his 52 years, from a relatively obscure background, he had achieved fame, wealth and an unfaltering status without ever losing touch with his roots in his native Warwickshire. Here in Stratford-upon-Avon is where Shakespeare began and ended his life. Although there is a scant documentation of his life (he left no diaries or letters to illuminate his life), scholars over the centuries have patched together enough for us to gain a good insight into the course of his life, during which he wrote thirty-seven plays, the poems¬† The Rape of Lucrece, Venus and Adonis, The Phoenix and The Turtle and The Sonnets.

Shakespeare’s Stratford

Born in the year 1564, William Shakespeare was brought up and educated in Stratford. He married Anne Hathaway, a woman from the nearby hamlet of Shottery. Later, he was able to acquire property in and around the town, including one of the largest houses in the area, New Place. Following his death there, in the year 1616, he was buried in the parish church.

Throughout Shakespeare’s life, he remained in close touch with his native town, even though at the height of his career, much of his time was spent in London. The Stratford that Shakespeare knew was certainly very different from today’s – in size, noise, smell and general atmosphere. However, in one respect it was the same, since Stratford had always been a busy place¬† just as it is now, an essential feature of any successful town. Concurrently, it was a period of great change. Stratford’s townscape has undergone a major transformation as a result of three disastrous fires; some near-famine conditions at the end of the century that reduced a third of the population to poverty; a constant threat of plague and other devastating epidemics; and religious differences that flare into physical violence.


It was roughly estimated that the population of Shakespeare’s Stratford, that in the 1600, was 2,500 and probably less. However, it was said to be growing around this time — from a figure perhaps as low as 1,600 in 1550 – an effect of a drift from the countryside to the town. Currently, some settlements with populations of over 2,000 still pass as villages. In those years, such a population was evidence of an important market town.

Fairs and Markets

In Shakespeare’s time, Stratford had fairs, a weekly market and a whole range of shops and small businesses. There were tailors, shoemakers, glovemakers (including Shakespeare’s father), wheelwrights, carpenters, blacksmiths, tinsmiths, those who dealt with food, and many more. There were also others who dealt in goods brought into the town from more distant parts, such as vintners, mercers and drapers.

On the market day, which usually falls on Thursday, the town would have been exceptionally busy, with the main streets thronged with buyers and sellers. Most of the streets in the area were named after the particular market held in them, Sheep Street, for instance, and Rother Street (after the Old English word for cattle), or Corn Street (now Chapel Street) and Swine Street (now Ely Street).

Shakespeare’s grandfathers, Robert Arden and Richard Shakespeare, from the nearby villages of Wilmcote and Snitterfield, would have been typical of the many country-dwellers making their way to Stratford on market day.

Additionally, Stratford at that time was famous for its malting – the roasting and grinding of grain, usually barley, for use in brewing. It was best carried out to the nearest place where the crops grew, since untreated grain was bulky and expensive to transport. In one contemporary document, Stratford in Shakespeare’s time is cited as ‘one of the chieffest towns in England for malt-making’.

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