Happy Shakespeare Day everyone! What is Shakespeare Day? Well, April 23rd marks the day that William Shakespeare was born (though this is also been disputed to the point no one knows for sure) but it’s also actuality the day he died as well. This year has a special significance and it marks 450 years since he was born, so there are many big celebrations all over Britain – not just today but all year. Here are a few factoids you may not know about the Bard.
1. Shakespeare was prolific – his complete works consist of 884,647 words. Wow! When you consider they were all handwritten – you can imagine the sore wrists!
2. Shakespeare not only loved creating stories but he also created words that didn’t exist yet in the English language. In fact he coined over 500 words. A few examples: schoolboy, lackluster, never-ending, madcap, day’s work, etc. See a much larger list here.
3. He wrote 39 plays but only 38 have survived to the modern era. The lost play? Cardenio. The content of the play is not known, but it was likely to have been based on an episode in Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote involving the character Cardenio, a young man who has been driven mad and lives in the Sierra Morena.
4. His longest play was 4,042 lines (Hamlet) and his shorted play was 1,787 (The Comedy of Errors).
5. There are no surviving Shakespeare heirs. Shakespeare and his wife Anne Hathaway had three children together – a son, Hamnet, who died in 1596, and two daughters, Susanna and Judith. His only granddaughter Elizabeth – daughter of Susanna – died childless in 1670. Shakespeare therefore has no descendants.
6. He was an Actor’s Writer. Shakespeare’s profession was acting. He is listed in documents of 1592, 1598 and 1603 as an actor. We know that he acted in a Ben Jonson play and also in his own plays but it’s thought that, as a very busy man, writing, managing the theatre and commuting between London and his home in Stratford where is family was, he didn’t undertake big parts. There is evidence that he played the ghost in Hamlet and Adam in As You Like It.
7. He never went beyond grammar school, probably finishing in his early to mid-teens. In those days, grammar school was way more advanced than now: Students learned Latin, math and religion; they read classical literature and studied using a hornbook (paper glued to a piece of wood and covered with clear animal horn).
8. Shakespeare is the most translated author ever. His work is read in at least 80 languages, including Klingon, Chinese, Italian, Armenian, Bengali, Tagalog, Uzbek and Krio (spoken by freed slaves in Sierra Leone).
9. There is a portion of his life we know nothing about. To the dismay of his biographers, Shakespeare disappears from the historical record between 1585, when his twins’ baptism was recorded, and 1592, when the playwright Robert Greene denounced him in a pamphlet as an “upstart crow.” The insult suggests he’d already made a name for himself on the London stage by then. What did the newly married father and future literary icon do during those seven “lost” years? Historians have speculated that he worked as a schoolteacher, studied law, traveled across continental Europe or joined an acting troupe that was passing through Stratford.
10. We’re probably not spelling his name correctly. When you look at his own signatures from his life and from contemporaries who wrote about him – the name spelled differently more than 80 times.
11. The epitaph on his grave has a curse in it to deter grave robbers: ‘Good frend for Iesvs sake forbeare, To digg the dvst encloased heare. Bleste be ye man yt spares thes stones, And cvrst be he yt moves my bones.’ He is buried at the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Here’s a short bio about the Bard:
What’s your favorite Shakespeare play? Let us know in the comments!