What was Shakespeare's childhood like?
From the available evidence, we know that Shakespeare was born on or about 23 April, 1564, that he had several sisters and at least one brother, that his mother, Mary Arden, was from the gentry class, and that his father was a merchant/tradesman (perhaps a glover or dealer in leather goods) who married above his station and rose into what we might consider the respectable upper-middle class. Shakespeare grew up in the Tudor market town of Stratford-on-Avon, a lovely village surrounded by extensive, unspoiled woods. His father, John Shakespeare, served as a burgess on the local municipal council, and it was because of his father's status as a town official that Shakespeare was able to attend Stratford Grammar School. There he was exposed to courses in Latin and Greek literature, in rhetoric and in Christian ethics. All of this suggests that William Shakespeare enjoyed a reasonably comfortable and secure upbringing. On the other hand, John Shakespeare seems to have experienced a major financial setback in 1579 (when his son William was fifteen) and there are indications that the playwright's father had periodic bouts with alcoholism (and, in fact, died from health problems brought on by excessive drinking). All in all, however, the young William Shakespeare grew up in favorable circumstances, enjoying privileges during his boyhood and early adolescence that were not open to most children of Elizabethan England.