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William Shakespeare's family came from the area surrounding Stratford-upon-Avon. William's father, John Shakespeare, was the son of a respectable farmer at Snitterfield, just a few short miles from Stratford. John arrived in Stratford with a moderate inheritance and set up business as a local merchant and landowner. He is described as being a wool dealer and a glover in Stratford. He purchased two houses; one in Green-hill Street and another in Henley Street.

In 1557, John married Mary Arden, daughter of a wealthy land owner, who brought with her an estate called "Ashbies" and an interest in two Snitterfield tenements. John and Mary settled in the house on Henley Street where all of their eight children are believed to have been born. John was successful in business and held many town offices until about the year 1575 when he began to suffer financial difficulties.

William, the third child and eldest son in the Shakespeare family, was born when the family was still affluent and influential in Stratford. His christening date was recorded on April 26, 1564 and he spent his first twenty years as a resident of Stratford.

It is assumed that William attended the public school in Stratford, which was known for its high quality of education. It was not unusual for boys at the school to be writing fluent Latin by the time they were eleven years old. Unfortunately, John Shakespeare's declining financial resources and the burden of supporting a large family made it impossible for William to be sent either to Oxford or to Cambridge upon graduation from the public school in Stratford.

The period of time between William's graduation from public school and his appearance as a successful London dramatist is full of conjecture. Some sources claim he was apprenticed to a butcher, ran off to London and was accepted as a servant into a playhouse. This butcher story, however, most likely had its origin in a tradition that said, "when he ( Shakespeare) kill'd a calfe, he would doe it in a high style, and make a speech." This probably refers to an old semi-dramatic entertainment called "killing the calf" in which the actor, behind a door or screen, using ventriloquism, went through a pretended performance of slaughtering a calf. The more dramatic the performance, the more the crowd enjoyed it. (The Globe_Illustrated Shakespeare, Greenwich House,l9B3)

Some historians believed that the youthful Shakespeare must have spent several years working as a law clerk because legal expressions are more frequently and accurately used in his writings than in any other author of the day. However, his familiarity with legal terminology could also be explained by the fact that his father was a leader in Stratford government for many years and the young William could have been exposed to legal proceedings in this way.