The Bard Is Born
William Shakespeare is born in Stratford-upon-Avon to John and Mary Arden Shakespeare. The fourth of the Shakespeares' eight children shares a birthday with St. George, the patron saint of England. (Note: Though April 23 is commonly accepted as Shakespeare's birthday, it's impossible to know the exact date he was born. It was 450 years ago, people. Just go with it.)
The Bard Is Baptized
William Shakespeare is christened at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford.
Shakespeare Goes to School
Shakespeare enters King's New School, an excellent grammar school in Stratford attended by the sons of civil servants like his father. Boys typically enter the school around the age of five, but since no official records survive its impossible to know exactly when Shakespeare starts his education. Other than the dates of his marriage and children's births, little is known about Shakespeare's life before 1592—a period known as the "Lost Years."
The Bishop of Worcester issues a marriage license to "William Shagspere" and "Ann Hathwey," formalizing the marriage of 18-year-old William Shakespeare and 26-year-old Anne Hathaway.
First Child Born
Six months after their marriage, the Shakespeare's first child, Susanna, is born and baptized.
Anne Hathaway gives birth to twins, son Hamnet and daughter Judith. The babies are named after Shakespeare's close friends, Hamnet and Judith Sadler.
Around this time, Shakespeare writes Henry VI, Part One—his very first play. Like all of Shakespeare's plays, the precise year of its authorship is now unclear. Also around the same time, Shakespeare leaves Stratford to begin work as a playwright and actor in London.
Greene Attacks Shakespeare
Playwright Robert Greene pens a scathing critique of Shakespeare, calling him an "upstart crow" who doesn't belong with Greene's university-educated dramatist crowd. Thanks to this diatribe, we now know that Shakespeare has become successful enough as a playwright by 1592 to make his peers jealous.
Plague Closes Theaters
London theaters are closed due to an outbreak of bubonic plague that eventually kills about five percent of the city's residents. Shakespeare uses the break to write poetry.
"Venus and Adonis"
In the spring of 1594, the London theaters reopen to the public. Over the next five years Shakespeare's troupe, the Chamberlain's Men, becomes one of the most popular acting groups in London. They accept frequent invitations to perform in the royal court of Queen Elizabeth I.
"The Rape of Lucrece"
Shakespeare publishes "The Rape of Lucrece," also dedicated to the Earl of Southampton. Shakespeare purchases shares in the Chamberlain's Men.
Death of Hamnet
William and Anne bury their only son, Hamnet, who dies at the age of 11 of unknown causes.
Wealthy thanks to his theater work and shrewd investments, Shakespeare buys New Place, the second-largest house in Stratford.
Writer Francis Meres publishes a glowing review of Shakespeare's work. Thanks to Meres' review, we know that by this time Shakespeare has become a noted playwright with at least a dozen plays under his belt, including Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Merchant of Venice, Love's Labors Lost, Richard II and Titus Andronicus.
Globe Theater Built
The Chamberlain's Men build the Globe, a wooden theater in London. Many of Shakespeare's most famous plays are performed for the first time here, including a href="http://www.shmoop.com/hamlet/" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear. Plays Shakespeare is believed to have written in this amazingly productive year include Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It, Julius Caesar, and The Merry Wives of Windsor.
Shakespeare's father dies and his patron Earl Southampton is sentenced to death (later reprieved) for his role in the Essex rebellion. It is believed that his father's death motivates Shakespeare to write Hamlet around this time. Shakespeare's plays over the next few years take a dark, brooding tone.
Elizabeth Dies, Jacobean Age Begins
Upon the death of Queen Elizabeth I, King James ascends the throne. The Chamberlain's Men change their name to the King's Men, and perform before King James eleven times between 1 November 1604 and 31 October 1605.
The King's Men begin performing at Blackfriars, an indoor theater in London. In contrast to the somber mood of the last seven years, Shakespeare's work takes on a lighter tone in plays like Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale, and The Tempest.
Publisher Thomas Thorpe prints a collection of 154 of Shakespeare's sonnets.
Return to Stratford
Shakespeare leaves London and moves back to Stratford, where his wife and married daughters live. (The exact date of this move remains in some dispute, with historians placing it anywhere between 1610 and 1613.)
Shakespeare composes his final plays— Henry VIII, Two Noble Kinsmen (possibly written in 1614), and the now-lost Cardenio—in collaboration with John Fletcher, replacement playwright for the King's Men. The Globe catches fire during a performance of Henry VIII and burns to the ground.
An ailing Shakespeare calls his lawyer to revise his will, making some odd changes that include leaving his "second-best bed" to his wife and £10 to the poor.
Sufferning from an unknown illness, William Shakespeare dies on his 52nd birthday.
Shakespeare is buried in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford, the same church where he was baptized. His marker orders a curse on anyone who disturbs his grave.