William Shakespeare, universally revered as the finest writer of all time, was born in April 1564. The exact date of his birth is not known, but it’s usually celebrated around the world on 23rd April. By a remarkable coincidence, he died on that same day, 52 years later: 23rd April 1616. Why not mark the date of Shakespeare’s birth and death by brushing up your knowledge of the great man with these five lesser-known facts?
The planet Uranus has 27 known moons; many of them are named after Shakespearean characters. To begin with they were named after magical characters, including the King and Queen of the Fairies Oberon and Titania of A Midsummer Night’s Dream; as more moons were discovered, they were given the names of mortal characters including Miranda, daughter of Prospero in The Tempest, and Margaret, maid to Hero in Much Ado about Nothing.
Edward Arden, cousin to Shakespeare’s mother Mary, was suspected of plotting against Queen Elizabeth I. Although there seems to have been no real evidence against him, he was arrested, thrown into prison and then executed in 1583. Edward Arden is now considered a Catholic martyr.
Shakespeare is believed to have written a play called The History of Cardenio, in collaboration with John Fletcher. Its performance by the King’s Men – the theatre company to which Shakespeare belonged for much of his life – was recorded in 1613. But as no copy of The History of Cardenio remains in existence, it can’t be performed today, and tantalisingly little is known about it. It may have been based on Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote, which features a character named Cardenio.
Shakespeare was laid to rest in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford upon Avon. His tomb has this poem carved on it: ‘Good friend for Jesus sake forbeare, To digg the dust encloased heare, Blest by the man that spares these stones, And curst be he that moves my bones.’ Shakespeare is believed to have written this poem himself, to deter relic hunters.
Despite Shakespeare’s warning, a non-invasive radar examination carried out during a 2016 archaeological investigation suggests that grave robbers did indeed disturb his tomb – and that they stole his skull. The theft is believed to have taken place in the 18th century, when grave robbery was rife. Robbers often stole the skulls of famous people to try to discover the source of their intellectual gifts. As there’s not enough evidence to be completely sure that Shakespeare’s skull is missing, though, the mystery endures.
If these five facts have whetted your appetite for all things Shakespearean, visit the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s website, William Shakespeare Biography, to find out more!