1. There are more than 80 variations recorded for the spelling of Shakespeare’s name. In the few original surviving signatures, Shakespeare spelt his name Willm Shaksp, William Shakespe, Wm Shakspe, William Shakspere, Willm Shakspere, and William Shakspeare. There are no records of him ever having spelt it “William Shakespeare” but, additional fun fact, I’m sure I learnt that the Shakespeare spelling came about as a printing error. I have been trying to find the source but basically, it was something like when printing the letters ran together and make it look different, or it was something about how the printer laid out the letters.
2. Shakespeare has been credited with introducing almost 3,000 words to the English language and popularising many more. Examples include: fashionable (Troilus and Cressida), sanctimonious (Measure for Measure), eyeball (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), and lacklustre (As You Like It); not to mention expressions like foregone conclusion (Othello), in a pickle (The Tempest), wild goose chase (Romeo and Juliet), and one fell swoop (Macbeth).
3. He is also credited with inventing the now common names Olivia, Miranda, Jessica and Cordelia (as well as the less popular such as Nerissa and Titania).
4. In Elizabethan theatre circles it was common for writers to collaborate on writing plays. Towards the end of his career Shakespeare worked with other writers on plays that have been credited to those writers. Other writers also worked on plays that are credited to Shakespeare. We know for certain that Timon of Athens was a collaboration with Thomas Middleton; Pericles with George Wilkins; and The Two Noble Kinsmen with John Fletcher.
5. Shakespeare’s last play – The Two Noble Kinsmen – is reckoned to have been written in 1613 when he was 49 years old.
6. The Comedy of Errors is Shakespeare’s shortest play at just 1,770 lines long.
7. There are only two Shakespeare plays written entirely in verse: they are Richard II and King John. Many of the plays have half of the text in prose.
8. It’s certain that Shakespeare wrote at least two plays that have been lost – titled Cardenio, and Love’s Labour’s Won. It’s likely that Shakespeare wrote many more plays that have been lost.
9. It was illegal for women to perform in the theatre in Shakespeare’s lifetime so all the female parts were written for boys. The text of some plays like Hamlet and Antony and Cleopatra refer to that. It was only much later, during the Restoration, that the first woman appeared on the English stage.
10. According to the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, Shakespeare wrote close to a tenth of the most quoted lines ever written or spoken in English. He is the second most quoted writer in the English language – after the various writers of the Bible.
11. Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre came to a premature end on 29th June 1613 after a cannon shot set fire to the thatched roof during a performance of Henry VIII. Within two hours the theatre was burnt to the ground, to be rebuilt the following year.
12. An outbreak of the plague in Europe resulted in all London theatres being closed between 1592 and 1594. As there was no demand for plays during this time, Shakespeare began to write poetry, completing his first batch of sonnets in 1593, aged 29.
13. Copyright didn’t exist in Shakespeare’s time, as a result of which there was a thriving trade in copied plays. To help counter this, actors got their lines only once the play was in progress – often in the form of cue acting where someone backstage whispered them to the person shortly before he was supposed to deliver them.
14. In one of Hitler’s 1926 sketchbooks, there is a design for the staging of Julius Caesar. It portrays the Forum with the same sort of “severe deco” neoclassical architecture which would later create the setting for the Nazi rallies at Nuremberg.
15. The Lady Macbeth supporting figure on the Gower Statue of Shakespeare in front of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon is modelled after actress Sarah Bernhardt. The bronze characters represent four elements of Shakespeare’s genius: Falstaff chortles for Comedy; Henry V holds the crown aloft for History, Hamlet with Yorick’s skull broods for Philosophy, and Lady Macbeth wrings her hands for Tragedy.
16. Many composers contemplated or tried writing operas about Shakespeare’s plays including Tchaikovsky, Verdi, Delius, and even Mozart who apparently almost wrote one about The Tempest.
17. In 1786, Queen Catherine the Great, Empress of all the Russias, did her own adaptation of Shakespeare’s play The Merry Wives of Windsor, titled “What it is to have Linen and Buck-baskets”. She also translated Timon of Athens. Other world leaders have attempted to translate Shakespeare’s plays too. Julius Nyerere, the first president of Tanzania, translated both Julius Caesar and The Merchant of Venice into Swahili.