Not much is known about William Shakespeare’s life because his life was not really well-documented. Whatever we know about him now are just fragments of history collected over years of research by scholars and interested people across the globe.
So, in this article of 56 William Shakespeare facts, we will go through some of the most interesting facts about him. But, we need to say that this list will not be complete. We will create a separate article for covering the remaining facts. So, let us begin…
William Shakespeare Facts: 1-5
1. There are 80 different variations of the name of Shakespeare. All these variations are recorded. There are a couple of weird variations like “Shaxberd and Shappere”.
2. Of all the signatures that Shakespeare had penned down with his own hands, only a few remain today. None of those signatures have the spelling ‘William Shakespeare’. Those that he himself used include:
- William Shakspere.
- Wm Shakspe.
- Willm Shaksp.
- Willm Shakspere.
- William Shakspeare.
3. No one knows the exact date of birth of William Shakespeare. It is however considered to be April 23, 1564 as per the old Julian Calendar that preceded the Gregorian Calendar.
4. How is the date of birth derived if the birth date was not known? Nice question! Records have been found which shows that baptizing of Shakespeare took place on April 26, 1564. The place was Stratford-upon-Avon. In those days, baptizing happened only 3 days after birth. So logically, his birth date should have been April 23.
5. We said that his birth date was as per Julian Calendar. But what’s his birth date according to the Gregorian Calendar? If April 23 was indeed his birth date as per Julian Calendar, his birth date as per Gregorian Calendar would be 3rd May.
William Shakespeare Facts: 6-10
6. Here is something really interesting. Only three days before Shakespeare’s baptizing, a plague outbreak was recorded in Startford parish register. This means that the day he was born, a plague broke out!
7. Interestingly, April 23 is also Saint George’s Day or Feast of Saint George, but that’s per the Julian Calendar. As per the new Gregorian Calendar, Saint George’s Day actually falls on 6th of May. Saint George’s Day is England’s National Day.
8. Shakespeare died on April 23, 1616. So, his day of death and his day of birth are both the same. He was only 52 years old then.
9. Nothing much of Shakespeare’s life has been recorded. There are a few legal documents and church records of Shakespeare. Some contemporary documents also have a few records of his, but rest that we know come from circumstantial evidence. Nothing much can be said with absolute certainty.
10. Mary Shakespeare and John Shakespeare were the mother and father of William Shakespeare.
William Shakespeare Facts: 11-15
11. Shakespeare’s father – John Shakespeare came from Snitterfield to Stratford in 1551. He was an apprentice leather tanner and glover. Later he started selling malt, wool, corn and leather goods.
12. In 1556 John Shakespeare became the official ale taster of the borough. His job was to inspect malt liquor and bread.
13. In 1557, John Shakespeare married a girl called Mary Arden. Mary was an aristocratic farmer’s daughter. This gave John a social leap and soon he became a moneylender in Stratford. Later he rose through several civic positions and became Stratford’s Mayor. By the 1570s he went into debt and was caught up in several legal problems and eventually stepped out of civic life.
14. As far as William Shakespeare’s siblings are concerned, there were 7 of them. The were:
- Joan – 1558 [died only two months after birth].
- Margaret – 1562.
- Gilbert – 1566.
- Joan – 1569 [this was another one].
- Anne – 1571.
- Richard – 1574.
- Edmund – 1580.
15. From his mother’s side, Shakespeare had a relative known as William Arden. That person was imprisoned in Tower of London for plotting against Queen Elizabeth I. William Arden was later executed.
William Shakespeare Facts: 16-20
16. Shakespeare married a woman called Anne Hathaway. When the two married, William Shakespeare was only 18 years old but Anne Hathaway was 26 years old.
17. At the time of their wedding Anne Hathaway was already pregnant with Shakespeare’s child. She was 3 months pregnant. After 6 months of their marriage, Anne’s and Shakespeare’s first child was born.
18. The couple together had 3 children – two daughters and one son. Their son Hamnet died in 1596. The two daughters were Judith and Susanna. Nothing is known about Judith. Susanna was married and she gave birth to a daughter called Elizabeth. Elizabeth died in 1670 without giving birth to any child. So, Shakespeare doesn’t have any descendants.
19. Shakespeare had a double life. He was, in London, a famous playwright. Back in Stratford, he was a property owner and a businessman of repute.
20. His wife and children lived in Stratford while he himself lived in London most of the time. However, he did frequently visit his wife and children.
William Shakespeare Facts: 21-25
21. Not only Shakespeare was a famous playwright, he also composed sonnets. He was an actor himself. He actually performed in some of his own plays. He played the role of Adam in his work: “As You Like It” and played the role of ‘ghost’ in his play Hamlet.
22. During his lifetime, Shakespeare performed both in front of James I and Queen Elizabeth I. James I was a great admirer of his work.
23. Apart from being an actor, a poet and a playwright, Shakespeare was also a businessman. He created a joint-stock company with all his actors. He took a share of the profits earned by the company and even took a fee for every single play he wrote for his company.
24. Here is one of the most interesting William Shakespeare facts that will startle you. There is a ‘black period’ of Shakespeare’s life. That period is from 1585 to 1592. What exactly did Shakespeare do during this time is not really known. That’s the period right before he moved to London. So, how exactly his career started is not known.
25. There are some theories that try to explain this absence of Shakespeare from 1585-1592. Some historians say that he became a school teacher and also studied law. Some say he went traveling continental Europe. Some others say that he joined an acting troupe that was passing through his hometown of Stratford.
William Shakespeare Facts: 26-30
26. It is also said that Shakespeare once poached a deer from the estate of a local politician and hence, he had to flee from his hometown. This is according to an account from the 17th century.
27. Many critics of Shakespeare actually say that Shakespeare was a fraud. According to the critics, Shakespeare was a commoner who had never been out of Stratford and never been to college. Then how did he even manage to become such eloquent and prolific writers of all time?
28. The argument put forward by the critics is that he [Shakespeare] at a very early age, started writing about high society, royal court, history, European capitals, international affairs etc. and that too in great depth. That’s not possible for someone who didn’t go out of Stratford.
29. So who wrote all these that is considered as work of William Shakespeare? Those critics say that there were many authors who wished to maintain anonymity and hence, used Shakespeare on the forefront.
30. Who were those anonymous writers? The critics propose a few names like Mary Sidney Herbert, Christopher Marlowe, Francis Bacon and Edward De Vere. Yes, many historians simply don’t approve of this hypothesis by the critics but a majority of historians do believe that Shakespeare had the habit of often collaborating with other contemporary playwrights.
William Shakespeare Facts: 31-35
31. “Oxford Dictionary of Quotations” says that of all of the most quotable quotations that are ever spoken or written in English, 1/10th was composed by Shakespeare.
32. Shakespeare is actually famous as Elizabethan playwright. However in reality, he produced most of his greatest works only after James I took the throne. So to speak more accurately, he was a Jacobean playwright.
33. The ‘Theatre’ was leased by Lord Chamberlain’s Men – the company owned by Shakespeare – by 1597. When it was time to renew the lease, the owner of ‘Theatre’ was very reluctant to do so. It turned out that the employees of ‘Lord Chamberlain’s Men’ and nearly another dozen workers simply tore down ‘Theatre’. A new theater was built across the Thames. The new theater was named as ‘New Globe’.
34. The land on which the New Globe was standing was leased to Richard Burbage, Cuthbert Burbage, Shakespeare and 4 more men from the troupe by 1599. The lease was for 31 years. Share of Shakespeare varied between 1/14th to 1/10th over the years.
35. In 1613, June 29, New Globe was hosting Shakespeare’s play called Henry VIII. That’s when a cannon was fired during the performance. The result of that firing was that the whole theater came burning down.
William Shakespeare Facts: 36-40
36. In 1603, King James I chose Shakespeare’s company as his official player. That’s when the company of Shakespeare was renamed and the new name given was: “The King’s Men”.
37. Blackfrair’s Theatre was the name given to the new theater that The King’s Men opened in 1608. The indoors of the theater became the template for all future theaters that ever opened.
38. Shakespeare might have been a bisexual. This information comes from the textual evidence derived from his sonnets and a few of his plays.
39. Talking of Sonnets, Shakespeare composed 154 sonnets in his lifetime.
40. There are no records of the time when these sonnets were composed by Shakespeare. He didn’t even mention to whom those were addressed. And, no one knows whether the current order of assembling them is right or wrong.
William Shakespeare Facts: 41-45
41. In case you don’t know, Sonnets are typically supposed to be love poems. Shakespearean sonnets are far from being that. Many of them are homoerotic and almost all of them are bitter and self-loathing.
42. Shakespeare actually refers to a beautiful ‘Young Man’ in his sonnets. That man is the lover. Now, who was that guy? Some say that the Young Man was Baron of Titchfield and Earl of Southampton. His name was Henry Wriothesley. It is this man to whom Shakespeare actually dedicated his works – The Rape of Lucrece, and Venus and Adonis.
43. The sonnets composed by Shakespeare were published in a quarto volume in 1609 on May 20. The person who published them was Thomas Thorpe. Thorpe published them without the permission of Shakespeare.
44. Shakespeare was different from the other playwrights and poets of his time. He usually based most of his works on the works of others (plays written by others), on earlier poems and history.
45. At the time when Shakespeare lived, theaters didn’t have scenery and curtains. The entire setting was actually described by the playwrights with the performance text.
William Shakespeare Facts: 46-50
46. Works of Shakespeare have first ever recordings of exactly 2,035 words of English. A few of those words are frugal, assassination, barefaced, excellent, critical and countless.
47. Shakespearean work also contains some of today’s most commonly used phrases. He used those phrases for the first time in his works. Some examples will be – ‘with bated breath’, ‘be cruel to be kind’, ‘flesh and blood’, ‘tower of strength’, ‘foul play’, ‘vanish into thin air’ etc.
48. Shakespeare was buried near Holy Trinity Church’s altar located at Stratford-upon-Avon. It is the same place where he was baptized. He actually wrote a curse on his tombstone which reads:
Good friend, for Jesus’ sake forebeare
To digg the dust enclosed heare;
Bleste be the man that spares thes stones,
And curst be he that moves my bones.
Well, the curse actually worked. His remains are still intact even to this day!
49. It is estimated that the vocabulary range of Shakespeare was between 17,000 and 29,000 words.
50. Some of the most memorable insults ever, in the history of mankind, have also been provided by Shakespeare. For example: “Thou clay-brained guts, thou knotty-pated fool, thou whoreson obscene greasy tallow-catch!”; “You scullion! You rampallian! You fustilarian! I’ll tickle your catastrophe!”; “Thou art like a toad; ugly and venomous.”.
William Shakespeare Facts: 51-56
51. The first publishing of the works of Shakespeare was ‘First Folio’. It was published back in 1623.
52. The works of Shakespeare draw 600 references to various bird types. One of those birds mentioned in his works was Starling – a bird native to western Asia and Europe. The bird can do mimicry and is a lustrous songbird.
53. Eugene Schiffelin – American “bardolator” came up with a unique idea of getting every single bird mentioned in Shakespeare’s work, but not present in the USA. So he ended up bringing 120 starlings (2 flocks, each containing 60). He released them in Central Park of New York in 1890.
54. That bird is known for its adaptation skills and now (over 120 years later) it has become so invasive that many of the native bird species of America have come to near extinction.
55. At the time when Shakespeare lived, the life expectancy was between 30 years and 40 years. He lived for an impressive 52 years.
56. Shakespeare gave only a bed to his wife through his will.