Despite being one of the most well-known figures in the history of Western literature, there is a tremendous degree of mystery surrounding the life of William Shakespeare. From within all that mystery, a certain degree of legend abounds. Luckily, there are a few tidbits here and there to pore over.
The lost years
There is no historical record of Shakespeare’s life between 1585 and 1592, after which he became established as a dramatist and playwright. The Bard would have been about 21 years old at the beginning of that period. What was he up to? Nobody really knows, with some theories hypothesizing that he was a law clerk, a soldier, or an actor.
Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway in 1582 when he was 18 years old. They remained together until his death in 1616. All of this was to the tune of a rather abrupt start as Hathaway was several months pregnant at the time of their marriage.
What’s in a name?
To answer the question: a lot of letters in an apparently arbitrary order. Unlike many other aspects of life in in Elizabethan England, spelling was a rather liberal endeavor. Proper names were spelled in a wide variety of different ways, and "Shakespeare" was no exception. There are 14 different spellings across various sources referring to Shakespeare the playwright, including “Shaxberd,” “Shake-speare,” and “Shaskpe.”
Spared from the plague
Though it is only mentioned in one of his plays, Shakespeare lived through the outbreak of the Bubonic plague in England, was lucky to have survived it, and lost several of his loved ones to it, including three sisters, his brother Edmund, and his son Hamnet.
When death did visit Shakespeare, no one seemed to think much of putting it into writing. Though the time of his passing has been documented, his cause of death remains a mystery. An anecdote from a clergyman's diary, written decades after, claims that the writer died from a severe fever, possibly related to typhus, but that has never been proven.
By the time of his death, Shakespeare was a wealthy man. The lion’s share of his estate went to his daughter Susannah Hall. His wife, on the other hand, received slightly less: his second-best bed. This is not a metaphor.
Cursed be he that moves his bones
It’s perhaps a modest request that a great playwright wished for his remains to be left in peace, but Shakespeare wasn’t taking any chances. His grave stone at the Church of the Holy Trinity in Stratford-upon-Avon reads:
"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."
Someone moved his bones
A few centuries without disturbance isn’t that bad of a deal — if only it had been maintained. In 2016, a team of scientists used radar scans to investigate the burial site of William Shakespeare and uncovered signs of disturbances around the remains. The evidence suggests that his skull was likely removed from his grave.
Hamlet was no comrade
Joseph Stalin was actually quite the poet. Stalin’s literary exposure afforded many citizens of the Soviet Union the opportunity to attend productions of William Shakespeare's works sanctioned by the state. However, “Hamlet” touched upon themes that were too close for comfort to Stalin, and the play was banned in the Soviet Union.
Written in the stars
Several moons of Uranus (Titania, Oberon, Ariel, Miranda, and Puck) are named after characters from his plays "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" and "The Tempest." And so, his legacy shines brightly in the night sky (provided you have a good telescope).
Cover image credit: bykac/ iStock