The Bearded Bard celebrates his 400th Anniversary this year and we look at the man, the myth and the legend of William Shakespeare – what lies beyond his plays, sonnets and public persona.
Fact the First: we don’t know how he spelt his name. In fact, he wrote his own name in a variety of different ways, from Shakspear to Shaxberd.
Fact the Second: The cause of his death is unknown, but it is rumoured he drank too much one night and caught a fever.
Fact the Third: His marriage to Anne Hathaway was started with a scandal due to her age (she was eight years his senior) and the fact she was three months pregnant.
Fact the Fourth: the marriage ended in no less controversy with Shakespeare’s strange bequeath of a ‘second best bed’ to his wife, in his last Will and Testament.
Fact the Fifth: Shakespeare’s grave in Stratford-Upon-Avon has been left relatively unscathed by tourists or grave robbers over the years. Due primarily to the ‘curse’ left on the gravestone as his epitaph.
Fact the Sixth: It’s not all bad – Shakespeare uses the word love 2,191 times throughout his complete works.
Fact the Seventh: For seven years, Shakespeare was missing. Dubbed the ‘Lost Years’, between 1585 and 1592 there are no historical records of the existence of William Shakespeare.
Fact the Eighth: Shakespeare’s original grave was inscribed with a bag of grain – reference to his businesses in Stratford. However, it was later changed to a ‘quill’ to reflect his work as a playwright in London.
Fact the Ninth: one of Shakespeare’s relatives, William Arden, was imprisoned and executed for attempting to assassinate Queen Elizabeth 1.
Fact the Tenth: The starlings in Central Park were released due to a 19th Century Shakespeare fanatic, Eugene Schiffelin, deciding to import all birds mentioned in Shakespeare plays to the United States.
Fact the Eleventh: Shakespeare’s father was a glove maker, bailiff, and ‘ale-taster’, amongst many other things. If you visit Stratford-Upon-Avon, you can see Stratford Church, John Shakespeare’s house ‘New Place’, and Anne Hathaway’s house.
Fact the Twelfth: Sadly, all Shakespeare’s grandchildren died young, so there are no direct descendants of the great playwright. However, many claim he was father to an illegitimate child, William Davenant.
Fact the Thirteenth: the Muse of many of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, the ‘Dark Lady’, has never been identified, although many suggest she many of been a lady, or gentleman, of noble birth.
Fact the Fourteenth: Shakespeare’s plays contain the first written recording of over 2,000 commonly used words in the English language.
Fact the Fifteenth: Adolf Hitler sketched stage designs for a version of Julius Caesar in 1926. Years later in 1937, Orson Welles opened his New York theatre company with a version of Julius Caesar in a fascist Nazi Germany.
Fact the Sixteenth: The Gower Statue of Shakespeare outside the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon is supported by characters representing Comedy, Tragedy, Philosophy and History – Lady Macbeth, Falstaff, Yorick’s Skull, and Henry V – can you guess which is which?
Fact the Seventeenth: Over 50 different writers have been put forward as the ‘real’ author of a variety of Shakespeare’s works. No-one has really made a strong case that has been proven.
Fact the Eighteenth: a love of Shakespeare may have killed an American President. John Wilkes Booth was a Shakespearean actor who assassinated the Shakespeare quoting president of the United States of America, Abraham Lincoln.
Fact the Nineteenth: Shakespeare plays Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing have been translated and performed in Klingon.
Fact the Twentieth: According to the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, Shakespeare is responsible for one-tenth of the most quotable phrases or sayings in the English language.