Any person who has studied English Literature is sure to know something about William Shakespeare. He is considered England’s most beloved poet and widely known as the greatest dramatist of all time. Without an ounce of doubt, Shakespeare occupies a significant seat in the world of literature, and despite the number of other poets and novelists who have managed to transcend national boundaries, no other writer comes close to exceeding Shakespeare’s reputation. But behind his famous works is a poet whose personal life is shrouded in mystery. Keep on reading to learn 50 facts about William Shakespeare.
Fact 1: William Shakespeare’s exact birth date remains a mystery to this day.
- Although it is believed that he was born sometime in April 1564, and was baptized on the 26th of April, some historians think that he was born before this time.
Fact 2: Shakespeare is considered the world’s greatest dramatist.
- He’s also widely regarded as the greatest writer of the English language.
Fact 3: Shakespeare had 7 siblings.
- He had 4 sisters named Joan, Judith, Anne and Margaret, and 3 brothers named Gilbert, Richard, and Edmund.
Fact 4: Shakespeare’s surviving works consist of about 39 plays, 154 sonnets, 2 narrative poems and other unclassified works.
- His sonnets expanded opportunities for poets, academics, and students to bring poetry and drama into their lives.
Fact 5: Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire in the United Kingdom.
- He also grew up in the same place.
Fact 6: Shakespeare is known as England’s national poet, as well as the “Bard of Avon”.
- Historically, a bard was someone who enjoyed writing lyrical verses, however, these days it’s a title given to someone who’s considered a great poet.
Fact 7: When Shakespeare was just 18, he married a farmer’s daughter, Anne Hathaway.
- Hathaway was already 25 at that time.
Fact 8: Shakespeare and Hathaway’s marriage was quite abrupt since Hathaway was already 3 months pregnant at the time of their nuptials.
- Shakespeare and his wife had 3 children, Susanna, Judith and Hamnet.
Fact 9: One of Shakespeare’s children, Hamnet, died at the young age of 11.
- He was buried in Stratford-upon-Avon on 11 August 1596. The cause of his death is unknown.
Fact 10: Shakespeare was responsible for introducing almost 3,000 words to the English language.
- He was credited by the Oxford English Dictionary for introducing a substantial amount of words and to developing the English Language.
Fact 11: We’ve been spelling Shakespeare’s name incorrectly for years.
- Sources from William Shakespeare’s lifetime spelled his last name in more than 80 different ways, ranging from “Shappere” to “Shaxberd.”
Fact 12: Shakespeare penned a curse on anyone daring to move his body.
- His epitaph was:
Fact 13: A study found that Shakespeare’s skull may have been stolen by grave robbers.
- The first archaeological investigation of Shakespeare’s grave at Holy Trinity church in Stratford-on-Avon was carried out for a documentary in 2016. Researchers concluded that Shakespeare’s skull was taken from what appears to be a shallow grave by trophy hunters.
Fact 14: Unlike their father, Shakespeare’s children were illiterate.
- It’s quite likely that Shakespeare’s wife and children never learned to read or write, as was often the case for people of their standing during the Elizabethan era.
Fact 15: Between 1585 and 1592, there was no record of what Shakespeare had been doing.
- Historians consider these “the lost years” of his life since nobody knew where he was.
Fact 16: In 1592, Shakespeare rose to fame again, emerging as an actor and playwright.
- He also became a shareholder in an acting company known as the Lord Chamberlain’s Men.
Fact 17: Most of Shakespeare’s famous works were written between 1589 and 1613.
- His earlier plays were mostly comedies and histories.
Fact 18: Plays performed at his theatre, The Globe, featured unique special effects including trap doors, actors lifted with wires, smoke, and fire.
- The competition was fierce, so they had to put on shows that were completely different from anything that had been done before. Putting on bigger special effects brought in a large audience and made Shakespeare’s works even more popular.
Fact 19: A modern version of The Globe Theatre was constructed in London in 1997.
- The new theatre was the spitting image of the original theatre.
Fact 20: Shakespeare’s shortest play is “The Comedy of Errors” which has 1,770 lines.
- While his longest play is “Hamlet” which is 4,042 lines long.
Fact 21: Unlike most of the famous artists during his time, Shakespeare was considerably wealthy.
- This was confirmed after his death; his will showed that he owned several large plots of land, which was unusual for the everyday man to own at this time.
Fact 22: The longest word in Shakespeare’s works was in “Love’s Labor Lost”.
- One of the characters said “honorificabilitudinitatibus,” which meant “invincible glorious honorableness”.
Fact 23: Shakespeare performed in many of his own plays.
- He also played in several works of other playwrights.
Fact 24: Surprisingly, despite his writing prowess, Shakespeare never attended university.
- He, however, did attend the King Edward VI Grammar School in his hometown, at the age of 7 in 1571, and left school when he was just 14.
Fact 25: Suicide was a recurring theme in Shakespeare’s plays, 13 unlucky times in fact.
- It occurred in “Romeo and Juliet” where both Romeo and Juliet committed suicide, and in “Julius Caesar” where both Cassius and Brutus died by consensual stabbing.
Fact 26: No one knows for sure how Shakespeare died in real life.
- However, many thought it was from a typhoid outbreak.
Fact 27: When Shakespeare died, he only left his wife a bed in his will.
- The law at that time automatically entitled the wife to a third of her husband’s estate and use of the family home for the rest of her life. Shakespeare leaving a bed to his wife was actually an act of love.
Fact 28: The word “love” appears 150 times in “Romeo and Juliet”.
- Shakespeare wasn’t afraid of repetition in his works, when it was necessary.
Fact 29: Only two of Shakespeare’s plays were written entirely in verse.
- These were “Richard II” and “King John“. Most of his other plays feature prose for more than half of the text.
Fact 30: Shakespeare passed away a month after signing his will.
- This came as a surprise, since he often described himself as ‘being in perfect health’.
Fact 31: Shakespeare’s original grave marker portrayed him holding a bag of grain.
- However, in 1747, Stratford citizens replaced the bag of grain with a quill.
Fact 32: None of Shakespeare’s original manuscripts exist, since they were written quickly for stage performances.
- In fact, there’s no hard evidence proving that Shakespeare could even write a complete sentence.
Fact 33: Shakespeare had several bitter haters.
- His jealous rivals, known as the ‘University Wits’, criticised and made fun of his work. One writer, named Robert Greene, even referred to him as ‘an upstart crow’.
Fact 34: Shakespeare’s plays only ever casted male actors.
- Interestingly, even the women’s parts were played by men! Meaning, the likes of Juliet would’ve been played by a man!!!
Fact 35: Shakespeare lived through the Black Death.
- The epidemic killed over 33,000 people in London alone in 1603, Shakespeare was 39 year of age at this point.
Fact 36: Shakespeare lived a double life
- During the 17th century, he was known as a famous playwright in London, but in his hometown of Stratford, he was a highly respected businessman and property owner.
Fact 37: It’s possible that Shakespeare wore a gold hoop earring in his left ear.
- Even then, earrings on men were already trendy hallmarks of a bohemian lifestyle, as evidenced by images of other Elizabethan artists.
Fact 38: Shakespeare has given rise to many memorable and hilarious insults.
- Among these were “Thou art like a toad; ugly and venomous.”, and “You scullion! You rampallian! You fustilarian! I’ll tickle your catastrophe!”
Fact 39: Shakespeare’s vocabulary was estimated to be around 17,000 to 29,000 words.
- That’s double the number of words used by an average person at that time.
Fact 40: A number of today’s common expressions were coined by Shakespeare.
- These were “wild goose chase”, “foregone conclusion” and “in a pickle”, “Break the ice” and “For goodness’ sake”.
Fact 41: Shakespeare was the most quoted author in Samuel Johnson’s, “Dictionary of the English Language’
- Johnson was one of the most important English writers of the 18th century.
Fact 42: Shakespeare’s plays are usually separated into 3 main divisions.
- These are, ‘Comedies’ (‘All’s Well that Ends Well’, ‘Much Ado About Nothing’), ‘Histories’ (‘Henry V’), and ‘Tragedies’ (‘Romeo and Juliet’, ‘Hamlet’, and ‘Othello’).
Fact 43: In 1890, Eugene Schiffelin, an American ‘Bardolator’ decided to import every kind of bird mentioned in Shakespeare’s works to America.
- This resulted in a flock of 60 starlings being released in New York.
Fact 44: Hamlet was based on a well-known Scandinavian legend called “Amleth”.
- The word ‘Amleth’ means “one who bored with his madness”.
Fact 45: Shakespeare’s plays contain 200 references to dogs and 600 references to birds.
- Birds were an important motif in “Hamlet”.
Fact 46: Shakespeare’s work had the royal seal of approval; Queen Elizabeth and King James I were both Shakespeare’s patrons.
- The virgin queen loved theatrical entertainment, and even used her influence to progress English drama.
Fact 47: Shakespeare was often referred to as an Elizabethan playwright.
- Most of his plays, however, were written in the Jacobean period.
Fact 48: Shakespeare’s popularity blossomed after the Romantic period and during the Victorian period.
- He received praise from famous poets like Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Victor Hugo and Voltaire.
Fact 49: Shakespeare never edited his own writing.
- His fellow playwright Ben Jonson once said, “Whatsoever he penned, he never blotted out a line”.
Fact 50: Shakespeare’s company performed their last play in honour of the aged queen at the Palace of Richmond on February 2, 1603.
- Shortly after that, in March of the same year, the Queen died from an illness.