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Fifteen Facts for the Bard’s Birthday

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By Kathryn Neves

Happy Birthday, William Shakespeare! This year, Shakespeare turns 457 years old! To celebrate the Bard’s birthday, here are fifteen fun facts about the Swan of Stratford-upon-Avon.

1. Shakespeare died on his birthday (probably). William Shakespeare died on April 23, 1616. The vicar of the church where Shakespeare was buried wrote that “Shakespeare, Drayton, and Ben Jonson had a merry meeting and it seems drank too hard, for Shakespeare died of a fever there contracted.” An illustrious ending for the greatest playwright in the English language. It’s too bad he missed out on his birthday celebrations that day! (Assuming, of course, that he actually was born on April 23. Traditionally, babies were baptised three days after birth, and the church’s register lists his baptism date as April 26).

2. Shakespeare may have left a “signature” in the Bible. It’s possible that Shakespeare helped to translate the King James version of the Bible. After all, he was in the king’s service at the time. When the translation was completed in 1611, Shakespeare was forty-six years old. If you look at Psalm 46, you’ll find that the forty-sixth word from the beginning of the verse is “shake” and the forth-sixth word from the end (not counting the liturgical marking) is “spear.” Coincidence?

3. Speaking of signatures, Shakespeare spelled his own name differently nearly every time! He was clearly not a consistent speller. Almost every document with his name is spelled differently! From Willm Shakp, to Wm Shakspe, to William Shakspere, the Bard definitely didn’t care how he spelled his name. Ironically, he never spelled it the way we do today!

4. Shakespeare invented over 1,700  words. Sometimes he combined words, sometimes he changed them into verbs or nouns, and sometimes he just made them up. From “alligator” to “jaded” to “rant” to “bedroom,” Shakespeare is responsible for plenty of words that we use today.

5. Not just words—Shakespeare created some pretty quotable phrases too. Think “eating me out of house and home,” “it’s Greek to me,” “green-eyed monster,” and “in a pickle”!

6. Shakespeare wrote the second-most quoted body of work in the English language. He’s the most quotable of authors. You’ll find him just about everywhere. The number one spot goes to the Bible, incidentally.

7. Shakespeare may have been a secret Catholic. Catholicism was not exactly popular after the disastrous reign of Mary I (Bloody Mary), so if Shakespeare were a Catholic, he definitely hid that fact. He was possibly married in a Catholic ceremony rather than a Protestant one, and many modern scholars find evidence of his possible Catholicism in his works.

8. Shakespeare was an actor. He acted in the plays as well as writing them. In fact, you’ll find several roles in his plays that he wrote for himself— including the Ghost of Hamlet’s father in Hamlet, King Duncan in Macbeth, and possibly even King Henry in Henry IV.

9. Shakespeare was sponsored by King James I. The monarch loved Shakespeare’s work. He sponsored the Bard’s theatre company which changed its name from the Lord Chamberlain’s Men to the King’s Men. In fact, Shakespeare even wrote Macbeth for King James!

10. Shakespeare was pretty wealthy for his time. When most people think of geniuses, they think of unappreciated, starving artists. Not so with Shakespeare! He lived pretty well-off due to the success of his plays.

11. Not everyone was a fan of Shakespeare. He was panned sometimes by critics. Robert Greene called him an ‘upstart crow.’ Even so, audiences definitely loved him! A lot of his plays were even pirated.

12. Shakespeare wrote poetry during the plague. An outbreak of the plague in 1593 shut down the theatres for a few years (sound familiar?). During this time, Shakespeare seems to have focused on his poetry. He wrote quite a few sonnets during this time!

13. We’ll never see some of Shakespeare’s plays. A few of the Bard’s works have been lost over time. Cardenio is one, and Love’s Labour’s Won (the sequel to Love’s Labour’s Lost) is the most famous. We know he wrote them, but unfortunately we’ll never get to see them.

14. Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre burned down. In 1613, a prop cannon misfired during a production of Henry VIII. It sent the very flammable wooden theatre up in flames. Luckily, it was rebuilt the next year.

**15. Shakespeare put a curse on his grave.**Graverobbing was a real problem in Shakespeare’s day. To prevent this, he had this poem inscribed on his gravestone: “Good friend for Jesus sake forbeare,/ To dig the dust enclosed here./ Blessed be the man that spares these stones,/ And cursed be he that moves my bones.” Too bad it wasn’t enough of a deterrent! In 2016, an analysis of his grave proved that Shakespeare’s skull has gone missing!

© Utah Shakespeare Festival 2023 www.bard.org