Shakespeare's Birth and Birthday
“My house, mine honour, yea, my life be thine.”
All’s Well That Ends Well, Act 4, Scene 5.
William Shakespeare was born in Henley Street, Stratford-upon-Avon, the third child of John Shakespeare, a glove-maker and wool-dealer, and Mary Arden. He was baptized on April 26, 1564, but was likely born between the 21st and 23rd of that month. The editor George Steevens claimed the 23rd as the actual birthdate in his 1773 edition of Shakespeare (probably to correspond with the feast day of St. George, England’s patron saint), and since then this has been used as the date of celebration.
Henley Street, a busy thoroughfare on an important route out of town, was connected with Shakespeare’s family as early as 1552, when his father John was fined for creating an unauthorized muckheap there. In 1556 John purchased a house, which may have also served as his workshop. By the time of Shakespeare’s birth his family was rising in civic and social prominence, with John eventually becoming bailiff – the highest office in the town – in 1568.
While the house in Henley Street had been known for its Shakespearian associations since the early 18th century, it acquired its significance as a literary shrine after the 1769 Jubilee celebration of Shakespeare’s birth. By the mid-19th century the house had fallen into disrepair; it was purchased in 1847 and restored over the next fifteen years before being re-opened to the public.