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His Last Years

During his last eight years of life, Shakespeare wrote only four plays--Cymbeline, Henry VIII, The Tempest, and The Winter's Tale. In the past, some scholars argued that The Tempest, written about 1610, was Shakespeare's last play. They stated that he then retired almost completely to Stratford. However, Henry VIII can be dated about 1613. In addition, Shakespeare purchased a house in the Blackfriars district of London in 1613. The evidence thus suggests that Shakespeare gradually reduced his activity in London rather than ending it abruptly.

Shakespeare must have divided his time between his private life in Stratford and his public life in London. He had lodgings in London at least until 1604 and probably until 1611. Yet such family events as his daughter Susanna's marriage in 1607 and his mother's death in 1608 would certainly have called him back to Stratford. By 1612, he may have been spending much of his time in the comforts of New Place in Stratford.

On Feb. 10, 1616, Shakespeare's younger daughter, Judith, married Thomas Quiney, the son of his Stratford neighbor Richard Quiney. Six weeks later, Shakespeare revised his will. Within a month, he died. He was buried inside the Stratford parish church. His monument records the day of death as April 23, the generally accepted date of his birth.

Shakespeare's son, Hamnet, died in 1596 at the age of 11. The playwright's daughter Susanna had one child, Elizabeth, who bore no children. Judith gave birth to three boys, but they died before she did. Shakespeare's last direct descendant, his granddaughter, Elizabeth, died in 1670.

The Anti-Stratfordians

Through the years, the facts of Shakespeare's life have been confused with many tales based on hearsay and legend. During the 1800's in particular, admiration for Shakespeare grew so intense that it resulted in a totally uncritical attitude toward the man and his works. This attitude made Shakespeare almost into a god.

Some people so admired Shakespeare's plays that they refused to believe an actor from Stratford-upon-Avon could have written them. Shakespeare's commonplace country background did not fit their image of the genius who wrote the plays. These people, called anti-Stratfordians, proposed several other Elizabethan writers as the author of Shakespeare's works. The writers they suggest are sometimes called claimants. Almost all the claimants were members of the nobility or upper class. The anti-Stratfordians believed that only an educated, sophisticated man of high social standing could have written the plays.

Sir Francis Bacon was the first and, for many years, the most popular candidate proposed as the real author of Shakespeare's plays. Bacon's followers remain active today. But other anti-Stratfordians have had their own favorites. Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, is now more popular than Bacon. Other men to whom authorship has been credited include Roger Manners, the 5th Earl of Rutland; William Stanley, the 6th Earl of Derby; and Sir Walter Raleigh. Some anti-Stratfordians have also claimed that the writer Christopher Marlowe was the actual author. In spite of the claims made for these men, no important Shakespearean scholar doubts that Shakespeare wrote the plays and poems.

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