If all you know about William Shakespeare is that he loved to write about dramatic teenagers and occasionally wore a fluffy collar, you’re off to a good start. But there’s much more to the important historical figure than his tragic characters or his snazzy outfits. Whether you’re a Shakespeare scholar or a Bard beginner, take a moment to learn more about the man behind the myth with a list of Shakespeare facts.
His Birthday Is Probably April 23rd, but No One Is Sure
The first record of William Shakespeare’s life is his baptism certificate, dated April 26, 1564. As 16th century parents rarely baptized their children more than three days after birth, historians estimate that William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon on (or around) April 23rd — which was also the date of his death in 1616, 52 years later.
He Never Signed His Name “William Shakespeare”
Though we know the writer as William Shakespeare, he didn’t sign his name that way. There are several recorded spellings of the name, including Willm Shakspere, Wm Shakspe, and Willm Shakp. Printed versions of his last name often appeared as Shakespear or Shake-speare.
Scholars believe that the spelling varied so widely because there were no set spelling rules in the 16th and 17th centuries. However, Shakespeare became the most commonly used spelling after 1593, and the rest is history.
His Wife Was Older — And Pregnant
William Shakespeare was 18 years old when he married 26-year-old Anne Hathaway, who was three months pregnant at the time (a scandal for 1582).
They married quickly and their daughter Susanna was born, with twins Judith and Hamnet following soon after. Not much else is known about their marriage, except that they likely spent more time apart than most couples.
No One Carried On His Name
Shakespeare’s only son, Hamnet, tragically died in 1596 at the age of 11. His daughter Susanna married Dr. John Hall several years later, and his daughter Judith married Thomas Quiney, giving Shakespeare a total of four grandchildren — none of whom carried on the Shakespeare name. (Although Judith did have a baby named Shakespeare Quiney, who died at 6 months old.)
His Acting Company Stole a Theater (Sort Of)
In 1598, William Shakespeare’s theater troupe, the Chamberlain’s Men, had been performing at the Globe Theatre (then named simply “the Theatre”). An actor in the company named Richard Burbage owned the theater, and was leasing the land where it stood.
When their lease expired, the landlord refused to renew. So the Chamberlain’s Men simply took Burbage’s theater apart and moved the entire load across the Thames River. They rebuilt the Theatre (now “the Globe Theatre”) in Southwark a few months later, where it would remain until it burned down in 1613 and was later rebuilt once again.
His Longest Written Word Was “Honorificabilitudinitatibus”
If you think Shakespearean verse can get confusing, you’ve met your match in Love’s Labor Lost. The Bard uses the word honorificabilitudinitatibus (Latin for “invincible state of honor”) in Act V, Scene 1:
COSTARD. O, they have liv'd long on the alms-basket of words. I
marvel thy master hath not eaten thee for a word, for thou
are not so long by the head as honorificabilitudinitatibus; thou
art easier swallowed than a flap-dragon.
He Wrote Poems Because of the Plague
London’s theatres were closed from 1592 to 1594 due to the plague. During this time, Shakespeare wrote the two works that would be reprinted most in his lifetime — the narrative poems Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece. He also likely began work on his sonnets during this time, though they wouldn’t be published until 1609.
He Popularized Over 1,000 Words and Phrases
Shakespeare’s tendency to bring common speech into his work made him popular with the masses, and his ability to use language in innovative ways has kept his work relevant for over 400 years.
He is credited with bringing over 1,000 words and phrases to the English written language, including sanctimonious, auspicious, and assassination. Some of these words were part of British vernacular at the time, and some were Shakespeare's own invention.
He Was Popular, but Not Always Well-Liked
His audiences loved his work, but Shakespeare’s fellow writers and literary critics did not always enjoy his writing. Notably, writer Robert Greene called Shakespeare an “upstart crow” and accused him of stealing from other works. Centuries later, Leo Tolstoy dismissed Shakespeare as “an insignificant, inartistic writer.”
Two of His Plays Are Lost Forever
Thirty-six of Shakespeare’s plays were published in a collection called the First Folio after he died — 18 of which didn’t appear in any other publication. But two plays mentioned in historical documents, Cardenio and Love’s Labour Won, don’t appear in this collection or any other collection. Historians are unsure if these plays were written and lost, or left unfinished by Shakespeare.
He Gave His Wife His “Second-Best Bed”
In Shakespeare’s last will and testament, he left most of his estate to his daughters, Susanna and Judith. He mentioned his wife, Anne, only once: to give her his “second-best bed.” While this sounds like a posthumous insult from a world-class insulter, it was meant to describe exactly which bed was meant for Anne. The “second-best bed” in a 17th-century household was typically the marital bed, while the “best bed” was meant for guests.
His Grave Is Cursed
The epitaph on William Shakespeare’s grave is one of the spookier things he wrote during his lifetime, as it laid a curse on whomever disturbed his body.
GOOD FREND FOR IESVS SAKE FORBEARE
TO DIGG THE DVST ENCLOASED HEARE
BLESTE BE Y MANY SPARES THES STONES
AND CVRST BE HE THAT MOVES MY BONES
Centuries later, Shakespeare's curse may be in effect, as archaeologists believe his skull is missing from his grave. (The ultimate coincidence for the writer of Hamlet — or perhaps not such a coincidence after all?)
He (Probably) Wrote All of His Plays
There has been much debate over the years as to whether William Shakespeare really wrote his body of work, or whether it was influenced (or even stolen) from other writers. Scholars known as Stratfordians believe that Shakespeare wrote the works attributed to him, while Anti-Stratfordians maintain that others wrote his plays (most notably, the Oxfordians, who believe that the Earl of Oxford is the real author).
There’s not enough evidence to definitively support opposing arguments, so historians tend to believe that Shakespeare really is the author.
He Has the Most Film Writing Credits in History
No matter how many successful screenplays you churn out, you’ll never beat Shakespeare. He has over 1600 writing credits to his name from film adaptations of his source material. In fact, Shakespeare continues to hold the Guinness World Record for film writing credits.
25 of Uranus’ Moons Are Named After Shakespearean Characters
Shakespeare’s influence extends beyond the planet Earth. Twenty-five of Uranus’ twenty-seven moons are named after Shakespearean characters, including Juliet and Mab from Romeo and Juliet, Desdemona from Othello, Titania, Oberon, and Puck from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Portia from The Merchant of Venice.