Stanley Wells was born in Hull, Yorkshire, in 1930, where he attended a state grammar school, Kingston High School. He read English at University College London from 1948 to 1951. Following several years as a school teacher in Hampshire he joined the Shakespeare Institute, a graduate department of the University of Birmingham, in 1958. In 1962 he was awarded the degree of Ph. D. for an edition of two prose works by Shakespeare’s contemporary Robert Greene.
He became a Fellow of the Institute, where he has supervised some 60 or more Ph.D. students as well as teaching in graduate and undergraduate courses. While at the Institute he started his publishing career as author of academic articles, books, and editions, being appointed Associate Editor of the New Penguin Shakespeare; he is now General Editor of the Penguin edition. He also became director of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre Summer School and a governor of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, serving on several sub-committees and becoming Vice-Chairman, an office which he held until 2003 He is now Honorary Governor Emeritus.
In 1977 he was appointed director of the Shakespeare Department of Oxford University Press with the specific responsibility of supervising a new Oxford edition of the Complete Works. This, completed in collaboration with Gary Taylor, John Jowett, and William Montgomery, was published in 1986. He also inaugurated the multi-volume of Shakespeare’s works which is due to be completed early in 2011. While in Oxford he held an Honorary Research Fellowship of Balliol College. He returned to Stratford in 1987 as Director and Professor of Shakespeare Studies at the Shakespeare Institute. In 1990 he undertook the voluntary role of Chairman of The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and on retiring from the Institute in 1997 moved to an office at its headquarters, The Shakespeare Centre, undertaking his duties as Chairman, assisting with the work of the Education department, and continuing with his scholarly activities. He is a Trustee of the Rose Theatre and a Council member of the Globe Theatre. In 2007 he was appointed Commander of the British Empiure for services to literature. Other honours include an Honorary Fellowship of UCL and honorary doctorates of Furman University, South Carolina, and the Universities of Munich, Hull, Durham, Warwick, Craiova, and Marburg. He is married to the novelist Susan Hill, and has two daughters, Jessica Ruston and Clemency Wells.