Children are made to learn bits of Shakespeare by heart, with the result that ever after they associate him with pedantic boredom. If they could meet him in the flesh, full of jollity and ale, they would be astonished…Shakespeare did not write with a view to boring school-children; he wrote with a view to delighting his audiences. If he does not give you delight, you had better ignore him.
– Bertrand Russell
Shakespeare is such a fascinating and complicated character there is always something to discover and discuss. Especially since records are so few and a lot of what is known is based on what others have said about him. Having over 400 years of exposure and being famed in his lifetime as well as after his death, there are a multitude of facts about his life, his work, and the world around him. I’ve selected a few that I’ve found to share, some I’ve mentioned in previous posts and others I have also just learnt. If you’re a trivia nut like I am then these may be very useful to you.
These facts are sourced and adapted from No Sweat Shakespeare.
1. There is documentary proof that Shakespeare was baptised on 26th April 1564, and scholars believe that, in keeping with the traditions of the time, he would have been baptised when he was three days old, meaning Shakespeare was probably born on April 23rd. However, as Shakespeare was born under the old Julian calendar, what was April 23rd during Shakespeare’s life would actually be May 3rd according to today’s Gregorian calendar.
2. Shakespeare had seven siblings: Joan (b 1558, only lived 2 months); Margaret (b 1562); Gilbert (b 1566); another Joan (b 1569); Anne (b 1571); Richard (b 1574) and Edmund (b 1580).
3. One of Shakespeare’s relatives on his mother’s side, William Arden, was arrested for plotting against Queen Elizabeth I, imprisoned in the Tower of London and executed.
4. Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway had three children together – a daughter, Susanna, and twins, Judith and Hamnet (who died in 1596 aged 11). His only granddaughter Elizabeth – daughter of Susanna – died childless in 1670. Shakespeare therefore has no descendants.
5. Shakespeare lived a double life. By the seventeenth century he had become a famous playwright in London but in his hometown of Stratford, where his wife and children were, and which he visited frequently, he was a well-known and highly respected businessman and property owner.
6. It’s likely that Shakespeare wore a gold hoop earring in his left ear – a creative, bohemian look in the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras. This style is evidenced in the Chandos portrait, one of the most famous depictions of Shakespeare.
7. During his lifetime Shakespeare became a very wealthy man with a large property portfolio. He was a brilliant businessman – forming a joint-stock company with his actors meaning he took a share in the company’s profits, as well as earning a fee for each play he wrote.
8. Shakespeare’s family home in Stratford was called New Place. The house stood on the corner of Chapel Street and Chapel Lane, and was apparently the second largest house in the town.
9. Sometime after his unsuccessful application to become a gentleman, Shakespeare took his father to the College of Arms to secure their own Shakespeare family crest. The crest was a yellow spear on a yellow shield, with the Latin inscription “Non Sans Droict”, or “Not without Right”.
10. On his death Shakespeare made several gifts to various people but left his property to his daughter, Susanna. The only mention of his wife in Shakespeare’s own will is: “I gyve unto my wief my second best bed with the furniture”.The “furniture” was the bedclothes for the bed.
Note: People are often confused by the second best bed thing, thinking it meant Shakespeare didn’t love his wife. I actually learnt last week that the second best bed was actually the marital bed, the best bed in the house was reserved for guests.
11. Shakespeare’s original grave marker showed him holding a bag of grain. Citizens of Stratford replaced the bag with a quill in 1747.
12. Although Catholicism was effectively illegal in Shakespeare’s lifetime, the Anglican Archdeacon, Richard Davies of Lichfield, who had known him wrote some time after Shakespeare’s death that he had been a Catholic.
13. Shakespeare’s shortest play, The Comedy of Errors is only a third of the length of his longest, Hamlet, which takes four hours to perform.
14. Two of Shakespeare’s plays, Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing, have been translated into Klingon. The Klingon Language Institute plans to translate more!
15. In the King James Bible the 46th word of Psalm 46 is ‘shake’ and the 46th word from the end of the same Psalm is ‘spear’. Some think this was a hidden birthday message to the Bard, as the King James Bible was published in 1611 – the year of Shakespeare’s 46th birthday.
16. The moons of Uranus were originally named in 1852 after magical spirits from English literature. The International Astronomy Union subsequently developed the convention to name all further moons of Uranus (of which there are 27) after characters in Shakespeare’s plays or Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock.
17. Shakespeare never actually published any of his plays. They are known today only because two of his fellow actors – John Hemminges and Henry Condell – recorded and published 36 of them posthumously under the name ‘The First Folio’, which is the source of all Shakespeare books published.
18. The United States has Shakespeare to thank for its estimated 200 million starlings. In 1890 an American bardolator, Eugene Schiffelin, embarked on a project to import each species of bird mentioned in Shakespeare’s works that was absent from the US. Part of this project involved releasing two flocks of 60 starlings in New York’s Central Park. These have since gone on to become a significant pest and threat the native wildlife, even once causing a fatal plane crash. Interestingly the starling is only mentioned once in all the plays, in Henry IV Part One.
19. Rumour has it that poet John Keats was so influenced by Shakespeare that he kept a bust of the Bard beside him while he wrote, hoping that Shakespeare would spark his creativity. So
So there’s 19 fun facts you may not have known about William Shakespeare. I’ve got plenty more so look for another batch in the coming weeks.