The Education of William Shakespeare

Picture of King Edward VI Grammar School

The Biography of William Shakespeare

  • What type of Education did he have?
  • When and what school did he attend?
  • What lessons? What Teachers? University?
  • What was life like in an Elizabethan Grammar School?
  • What Punishments?
  • Interesting information about the education, life and times of William Shakespeare


  • There are no specific records relating to the education of William Shakespeare or his attendance at school but reasonable assumptions can be made based on the information that is available
  • William Shakespeare's parents were both his father's election to the position of Alderman in Stratford-upon-Avon brought with it free education for his sons
  • William Shakespeare would have attended King Edward VI Grammar School in Stratford-upon-Avon from the age of 7 in 1571 and left school and formal education when he was fourteen in 1578
  • King Edward VI Grammar School is also referred to as the King's New School as it was named according to a charter by King Edward VI (Queen Elizabeth's younger brother) in 1553
  • Elizabethan boys were at first sent to a 'Petty School' between the ages of 5 and 7 years old to start their education
  • Petty Schools were run by a local housewife and were often referred to as 'Dame Schools'. Petty School education would have consisted of being taught lessons in behaviour and to learn the catechism
  • The early education of William Shakespeare would include respecting his mother and father, asking his parents blessing, rising early in the morning and saying his prayers
  • The early education of William Shakespeare relating to basic manners would have included learning table manners such as eating small morsels, chewing properly , using a knife and using a napkin!


  • The Grammar School education of William Shakespeare would have included Latin taught from the Tudor text-book known as Lily's Latin Grammar and boys would be expected to translate Latin to English and English to Latin
  • The education of William Shakespeare continued by studying the works of the great classical authors and dramatists such as Ovid, Plautus, Horace, Virgil, Cicero and Seneca
  • Greek was taught at some schools but is not clear if this was part of the curriculum at King Edward VI Grammar School
  • The teachers of William Shakespeare were predominantly Catholic so William's education would have been influenced by their beliefs
  • One of his teachers, Robert Dibdale was ordained a Catholic priest, and was martyred in 1586


  • Life at the Grammar school would have been very strict
  • Summer school for William Shakespeare started at six o'clock in the morning and finished at five o'clock in the evening. Elizabethan Education was hard work!
  • Because of the dark nights the hours changed during the winter starting at seven in the morning and finishing at four o'clock in the afternoon
  • Education for William Shakespeare consisted of a five full days and a half-day on Thursday for 40 to 44 weeks of the year - 2,000 hours in school per year (more than double the current school hours)
  • Lessons were based on constant repetition of subjects - so would have been quite boring for lively students!
  • There were also continuous examinations!
  • A typical week at King Edward VI Grammar School for William Shakespeare would cover an examination on the previous Sunday’s sermon on Monday and examinations on Friday and Saturday
  • William Shakespeare would have been expected to converse in Latin at all times in order to improve his fluency in the language - any boy caught speaking English at school was punished
  • The punishments were carried out on Fridays so this, along with the examinations, must have been the worst day of the week for William Shakespeare!
  • The Punishments were severe and painful - fifty strokes of the cane was not uncommon
  • William Shakespeare may well have been involved in performing some Greek and Latin classical drama as entertainment at the end of term - is this where he received his first 'taste' of acting?
  • William Shakespeare was withdrawn from education in 1577 at the age of fourteen due to his father's financial problems
  • Boys would normally attended Grammar school until they reached the age of fourteen when they would have continued their education at University
  • William Shakespeare therefore missed any form of higher education where he would have had the choice of studying the Arts, Philosophy, Rhetoric, Poetry, History, Music, Astronomy, Arithmetic, Geometry, Theology, Law or Medicine
  • It is amazing that William Shakespeare achieved so much after leaving school at the age of fourteen - with only seven years of formal education !

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