Shakespeare was born and raised in the picturesque Tudor market town of Stratford-on-Avon, a local government and commercial center within a larger rural setting, and it is likely that the surrounding woodlands of his boyhood were reflected in the play As You Like It, with its Forest of Arden. Shakespeare's mother Mary Arden was a daughter of the local gentry, holding extensive properties around Stratford-on-Avon in his name. In marrying Shakespeare's father, the glover and tenant farmer John Shakespeare, Mary Arden took a step down the social ladder of the Elizabethan Age, for her husband was of the yeoman class, a notch or two below the gentry. Yet long before his son's fame as a playwright fell to his good fortune, John Shakespeare's talents enabled him to rise modestly on his own accord as he became a burgess member of the town council. Despite evidence of a family financial setback when William was fifteen, Shakespeare's family was comfortable, if not privileged. Shakespeare's eventual fame and success spilled over to his parents in the form of both money and title, and on the eve of his death in 1601, Queen Elizabeth granted the Bard's father a "gentleman's" family coat-of-arms.
We have good cause to believe that Shakespeare attended Stratford Grammar School where he would have received a tuition-free education as the son of a burgess father. There young William was exposed to a standard Elizabethan curriculum strong on Greek and Latin literature (including the playwrights Plautus and Seneca, and the amorous poet Ovid), rhetoric (including that of the ancient Roman orator Cicero), and Christian ethics (including a working knowledge of the Holy Bible). These influences are pervasive in Shakespeare's works, and it is also apparent that Shakespeare cultivated a knowledge of English history through chronicles written shortly before and during his adolescence. Shakespeare left school in 1579 at the age of fifteen, possibly as the result of a family financial problem. Shakespeare did not pursue formal education any further: he never attended a university and was not considered to be a truly learned man.
There is a period in Shakespeare's life of some seven years (1585 to 1592) from which we have absolutely no primary source materials about him. Although we lack hard facts, we may surmise that before he took up a career as a playwright, Shakespeare engaged in a variety of occupations, probably working with his father in commercial trades (leathers and grains), probably working as a law clerk, and possibly serving as a soldier or sailor for an England threatened by Spain. Shakespeare displays a command of the argot and the practices of many such crafts, as in his portrayal of the law profession in trial scenes of The Merchant of Venice
We have firm evidence that Shakespeare was married in late 1582 to Anne Hathaway, that he was eighteen years old at the time, while she was twenty-six years old. We also know that the first of their children, Susanna, was born six months after the marriage and was, therefore, conceived out of wedlock. In conjunction with the substantial age difference between Shakespeare and his mature bride, it is often suggested that the future playwright married Anne Hathaway because he had gotten her pregnant, that he was, in fact, forced into a marriage with this older woman. From here, the speculation is that Shakespeare's marriage was not a happy one and that he immersed himself in London's theater scene to escape his wife. The only documentary support for this argument lies in Shakespeare's will, in which he leaves his "second best bed" to Anne, a stipulation that some later biographers have read as a final slap at a woman whom he did not love. In the plays themselves, moreover, we read warnings against pre-marital sex and against younger men wedding older women. Nevertheless, after Susanna's marriage, William and Anne had two more children, the twins Hamnet and Judith. Although Shakespeare apparently spent most of his early adult years in London, once his literary career was well established, Shakespeare spent a great deal of his time with his family in Stratford-on-Avon. This implies that Shakespeare's marriage and family life was at least tolerable. We do know that there was a tragedy in the marriage of William and Anne, that their only son, Hamnet died suddenly at the age of eleven. Beyond this, we have no direct support for the claim that Shakespeare was trapped in a bad marriage.