William Shakespeare born According to tradition, the great English dramatist and poet William Shakespeare is born in Stratford-upon-Avon on April 23, 1564. It is impossible to be certain the exact day on which he was born, but church records show that he was baptized on April 26, and three days was a customary amount of time to wait before baptizing a newborn. Shakespeare’s date of death is conclusively known, however: it was April 23, 1616. He was 52 years old and had retired to Stratford three years before. Although few plays have been performed or analyzed as extensively as the 38 plays ascribed to William Shakespeare, there are few surviving details about the playwright’s life. This dearth of biographical information is due primarily to his station in life; he was not a noble, but the son of John Shakespeare, a leather trader and the town bailiff. The events of William Shakespeare’s early life can only be gleaned from official records, such as baptism and marriage records. He probably attended the grammar school in Stratford, where he would have studied Latin and read classical literature. He did not go to university but at age 18 married Anne Hathaway, who was eight years his senior and pregnant at the time of the marriage. Their first daughter, Susanna, was born six months later, and in 1585 William and Anne had twins, Hamnet and Judith. Hamnet, Shakespeare’s only son, died 11 years later, and Anne Shakespeare outlived her husband, dying in 1623. Nothing is known of the period between the birth of the twins and Shakespeare’s emergence as a playwright in London in the early 1590s, but unfounded stories have him stealing deer, joining a group of traveling players, becoming a schoolteacher, or serving as a soldier in the Low Countries. The first reference to Shakespeare as a London playwright came in 1592, when a fellow dramatist, Robert Greene, wrote derogatorily of him on his deathbed. It is believed that Shakespeare had written the three parts of Henry VI by that point. In 1593, Venus and Adonis was Shakespeare’s first published poem, and he dedicated it to the young Henry Wriothesley, the 3rd earl of Southampton. In 1594, having probably composed, among other plays, Richard III, The Comedy of Errors, and The Taming of the Shrew, he became an actor and playwright for the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, which became the King’s Men after James I’s ascension in 1603. The company grew into England’s finest, in no small part because of Shakespeare, who was its principal dramatist. It also had the finest actor of the day, Richard Burbage, and the best theater, the Globe, which was located on the Thames’ south bank. Shakespeare stayed with the King’s Men until his retirement and often acted in small parts. By 1596, the company had performed the classic Shakespeare plays Romeo and Juliet, Richard II, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. That year, John Shakespeare was granted a coat of arms, a testament to his son’s growing wealth and fame. In 1597, William Shakespeare bought a large house in Stratford. In 1599, after producing his great historical series, the first and second part of Henry IV and Henry V, he became a partner in the ownership of the Globe Theatre. The beginning of the 17th century saw the performance of the first of his great tragedies, Hamlet. The next play, The Merry Wives of Windsor, was written at the request of Queen Elizabeth I, who wanted to see another play that included the popular character Falstaff. During the next decade, Shakespeare produced such masterpieces as Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, and The Tempest. In 1609, his sonnets, probably written during the 1590s, were published. The 154 sonnets are marked by the recurring themes of the mutability of beauty and the transcendent power of love and art. Shakespeare died in Stratford-on-Avon on April 23, 1616. Today, nearly 400 years later, his plays are performed and read more often and in more nations than ever before. In a million words written over 20 years, he captured the full range of human emotions and conflicts with a precision that remains sharp today. As his great contemporary the poet and dramatist Ben Jonson said, “He was not of an age, but for all time.” 1791 James Buchanan is born Future President James Buchanan is born in Cove Gap near Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, on this day in 1791. Buchanan, remembered mostly for his administration’s corruption and his failure to solve the country’s crisis over slavery, also inspired salacious gossip abut his love life over the course of his career. The son of wealthy Scottish and Irish immigrant parents, Buchanan became a successful lawyer and entered politics with his election to the Pennsylvania state legislature as a Federalist in 1814. When the Federalist Party later collapsed, he joined Andrew Jackson’s Democratic Party and was elected to Congress in 1820. He served five terms in the House of Representatives until 1831, served as President Jackson’s minister to Russia in 1832 and returned to the U.S. to win a Senate seat in 1833. Buchanan also served as James Polk’s secretary of state from 1845 to 1849 and as Franklin Pierce’s minister to Great Britain from 1853 to 1855 before running for the presidency. His overseas duties enabled him to avoid becoming embroiled in the domestic conflict over slavery. That isolation, which ended when he was elected president in 1856, contributed to the failure of his administration. Buchanan’s ignorance of slavery’s divisive role in American domestic politics became apparent soon after he entered the White House. He actively pressured the Supreme Court to rule in the 1857 Dred Scott case that Congress had no right to outlaw slavery, mistakenly believing that Americans would take the court’s decision as the final word and the debate would end. In addition, Buchanan’s expansionist foreign policy, his mishandling of the 1857 economic depression and his failure to curb rampant corruption within his administration revealed him to be inept and out of touch. His passivity toward southern states who threatened to leave the union alienated half of his own Democratic Party and allowed a united Republican Party under Abraham Lincoln to win the presidential election of 1860. Buchanan’s personal life was also rife with turmoil and controversy. In his late 20s, Buchanan became engaged to a woman, Anne Coleman, whose wealthy father accused him of gold-digging and opposed the marriage. Some historians claim that Buchanan then began an affair with another woman. When Anne discovered the affair, she broke off the engagement and died shortly thereafter, either from illness brought on by her despair or suicide. Her family blamed Buchanan for Anne’s death and refused to allow him to attend her funeral. Buchanan thereafter remained a confirmed bachelor–the only president who never married–but was at one point linked in the press with Dolley Madison’s niece. Rumors also circulated that Buchanan was gay. While a member of Congress, he forged a close relationship with William Rufus King, a North Carolina senator and Franklin Pierce’s future vice president. For a time, the two men shared lodgings in Washington and were referred to as Miss Nancy and Aunt Fancy, though a sexual relationship has never been substantiated. King died of tuberculosis eight months into Pierce’s term and four years before Buchanan entered the White House. After serving one disastrous term, Buchanan retired to his home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in 1861. In 1866, he published his memoirs, in which he blamed abolitionists for causing the civil war. He died in 1869.