By tradition and guesswork, William Shakespeare is assumed to have been born on 23 April 1564, but what else do we know about the famous Bard? Here are 10 Shakespeare facts you (probably) didn’t know.
1 Double trouble
Twins appear in several of Shakespeare’s play – As You Like It, Twelfth Night, Comedy of Errors – but they may have been more than a fantastical and convenient plot device. His obsession may have sprung from the fact that he was the father of twins who arrived in January, 1585, and named Hamnet and Judith. Tragically, Hamnet Shakespeare died of unknown causes in August 1596.
2 What an upstart
Shakespeare is considered as one of the finest writers in the English language, his contemporaries were not always impressed. The first recorded reference to Shakespeare, written by theatre critic Robert Greene in 1592, was as an “upstart crow, beautified with our feathers”.
3 What was William up to?
Nobody knows what Shakespeare did between 1585 and 1592. He disappears from the historical record between 1585, when his twins’ baptism was recorded, and 1592, when the playwright Robert Greene denounced him as an “upstart crow”. The insult suggests he’d already made a name for himself. But what did the newly married father and future literary icon do during those seven “lost” years?
4 A familiar turn of phrase
Shakespeare’s plays feature the first written instances of hundreds of familiar terms. He is believed to have influenced the English language more than any other writer in history, coining terms and phrases that we still use such as “fashionable” (Troilus and Cressida), “sanctimonious” (Measure for Measure), “eyeball” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) and “lackluster” (As You Like It); and the expressions “foregone conclusion” (Othello), “in a pickle” (The Tempest), “wild goose chase” (Romeo and Juliet) and “one fell swoop” (Macbeth).
5 He was a terrible speller
We probably don’t spell Shakespeare’s name correctly – but neither did he. There are more than 80 variations recorded for the spelling of Shakespeare’s name. In the few original signatures that have survived, Shakespeare spelt his name “Willm Shaksp,” “William Shakespe,” “Wm Shakspe,” “William Shakspere,” ”Willm Shakspere,” and “William Shakspeare”. The one way it is never spelt is “William Shakespeare”.
6 An actor’s life
Few people realise that Shakespeare was also an actor who performed many of his own plays as well as those of other playwrights. There is evidence that he played the ghost in Hamlet and Adam in As You Like It. He have only started writing to provide his company with material!
7 Forever lost
A play called Cardenio, which was credited to Shakespeare and performed in his lifetime, is completely lost – there is no known record of its story anywhere.
8 A royal plot
William Arden, a relative of Shakespeare’s mother Mary Arden, was arrested for plotting against Queen Elizabeth I, imprisoned in the Tower of London and executed.
9 Will’s will
Shakespeare died on April 23 1616, aged 52, and left most of his real estate to his daughter Susanna. The only mention of his wife, Anne Hathaway, in his Last Will and Testament was to leave her his “second best bed”.
1o Final curse
Shakespeare is buried near the altar of Holy Trinity Church, where he was baptised, in Stratford-upon-Avon. The headstone over his tomb includes the following inscription, believed to be a curse written by Shakespeare himself:
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.
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