When was William Shakespeare born?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Unfortunately, we do not know the precise date of William Shakespeare's birth. In Early Modern England, record keeping was not as rigorous as it is today. What's more, Shakespeare would not have been born in a hospital or birthing center setting where a birth certificate might have been issued. The good news is that most churches kept records of baptisms, weddings, funerals, and the like, and records from a church in Stratford-upon-Avon indicate that Shakespeare was baptized on the 26th of April, 1564. 

At the time Shakespeare was born, there was no strict rule for when children were supposed to be baptized. Especially if a baby was born small or not expected to survive, parents might wait to have a baptism performed until they were certain that the child would survive. The traditional date given for Shakespeare's birth, which is unverifiable, is the 23rd of April-- three days prior to his baptism. A baptism at three days old would be sensible, giving the mother and baby enough time to rest and recover after the difficulties of labor. The number three is also very important in Christianity, so baptism on the third day of life may have been considered auspicious by Shakespeare's parents. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Technically, we don’t know the exact date of Shakespeare’s birth in Stratford-on-Avon, because birth records were not kept in England in 1564; what we have is a christening date, or baptism date (April 26, 1564), and scholars have deduced that his birth was probably less than a week earlier, judging from the habits of the time.  In addition, putting his birth date at April 23rd coincides with the date of his death 52 years later, on April 23, 1616.   

So we celebrate his birthday as April 23, 1564; many cities recite all his sonnets in a group reading on this date each year, or perform key scenes or famous soliloquies from his plays.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial