Sometime between 1611 and 1613 Shakespeare returned to his family in Stratford, where he would spend his remaining years. Big changes in his family preceded his return. In 1607 his eldest daughter, Susanna, married a Stratford doctor named John Hall, and the following year she gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth. We know that Shakespeare strongly favored Susanna, since upon his death he willed her all of his property and most of his wealth. The strong connection Shakespeare felt with Susanna is worth noting in relation to his final plays. Between 1608 and 1612 he penned four plays about powerful, weary old men whose suffering and bad behavior is redeemed by their loving daughters:
The Winter’s Tale,
Critics later termed these final plays romances, because they blend serious themes of mortality with lighthearted scenes and hence are more emotionally complicated than any of Shakespeare’s comedies or tragedies.
the last play Shakespeare wrote alone, may be read as the playwright’s farewell to the stage. The play ends with Prospero turning to the audience, renouncing magic, and asking forgiveness for any harm he has done: “As you from crimes would pardoned be / Let your indulgence set me free.”
After writing The Tempest, Shakespeare took on an apprentice, the playwright John Fletcher, who would go on to be his successor as writer for the King’s Men. Fletcher collaborated with Shakespeare on three final plays:
The Two Noble Kinsmen, and finally Cardenio, which has since been lost. Shakespeare retired from writing around 1613, and he spent his remaining years in Stratford looking after his business interests and his family, until his death on April 23, 1616. The cause of his death remains unknown, though circumstantial evidence strongly suggests he may have contracted the water-borne disease known as typhoid. Shakespeare was buried in the same parish church in Stratford where he had been baptized 52 years earlier. Seven years later, two actors from the King’s Men published 36 of Shakespeare’s plays in a collection that has come to be known as the First Folio. This volume divided the plays into comedies, tragedies, and histories, and it remains our primary source for Shakespeare’s work.