10 William Shakespeare Facts That Will Shock You
Photograph by ‘WikiImages‘ (2014) , pixabay
Apart from his vivid imagination and ability to bring tales of heartache, malevolence, bravery and beauty to the stage during the Elizabethan era, there is much more to this talented poet and playwright than first meets the eye. William Shakespeare born in Stratford-upon-Avon on 26th April 1564, wrote 38 plays and 154 sonnets, before passing away at the age of 52. But to truly understand who the man behind the words was, we must further dig into his past and reveal Shakespeare facts that will start to piece together this cryptic character. From his marriage to Anne Hathaway, to his children and early childhood, get ready to learn more about this iconic and remarkable historical figure.
To start to unpick the tapestry of tales that William Shakespeare created and played a starring role in during his 52 years, here are 10 William Shakespeare facts that will shock you. From doubts about his character, to curses and deaths taking place live on stage, get ready to explore this iconic historical figure that will make you think twice about William Shakespeare.
1: William Shakespeare Was Born Into Wealth
Being born to a local businessman and daughter of a landowner in England, William Shakespeare didn’t face the struggle that most people during this period of time had to go through. Instead of working from a child to make ends meet, William Shakespeare attended schools and learnt how to read and write. Perhaps this is why he was able to invest so much time into pursuing his passion for creativity and the arts. Without the fear of poverty looming over his shoulder, Shakespeare was able to let his mind wander and work on some of the most inspirational and moving plays to date. (1)
2: Shakespeare Almost Had A Child Out Of Wedlock
In 1582, when William Shakespeare was 18, he married Anne Hathaway, who was 6 months pregnant with his child. Willian Shakespeare’s wife was 8 years older than him when they exchanged vows, which was very strange for their era. Plus, at the time, having a baby without being married was considered a grave sin and single mothers would be brought before the church and punished. We can assume that William Shakespeare’s wife was pretty terrified at the prospect of becoming a single mother, so the couple married to ensure the child would be accepted and baptised without ridicule or consequences. This shotgun style wedding is thought to have been forced upon William Shakespeare’s family, but there is no clear evidence of this. In fact, since Anne was orphaned and was probably at home caring for siblings, it was probably Shakespeare that pursued her, and not the other way around. (1)
3: Poetry Helped Shakespeare Overcome The Plague
After gaining immense popularity in London, the bubonic plague swept through the capital and forced the theatres to shut for 78 months in a bid to prevent the spread of infection. To continue being creative during this Elizabethan lockdown, Shakespeare took to poetry and started publishing sonnets. There are also many subtle references to the plague throughout William Shakespeare plays such as in Romeo and Juliet, where Mercutio says ‘A plague on both your houses!’. (2)
4: Shakespeare Didn’t Live To Enjoy His Wealth
This interesting Shakespeare quote relates to his fame and popularity today, compared to his lifestyle when alive. Considered middle class, William Shakespeare was able to afford a comfortable lifestyle and purchased a second home in Stratford in 1597, but when you compare this modest wealth to what his work not fetches at auction, you’d be shocked. In fact, William Shakespeare’s First Folio fetched a staggering $10m at auction in New York. The 1623 book is rare, with only 235 copies in circulation. (3)
5: Accused Of High Treason
With dangerous ideas and conflict brought to life on stage, William Shakespeare could have easily been accused of high treason himself. Many of his English plays discussed the horrible punishments that were around at the time, such as in Macbeth, when husband and wife were accused of high treason and would have been hung and dismembered. Shakespeare’s play Richard II has considerable parallels to Elizabeth I and a scene was actually cut on several occasions to avoid any accusations of treason to the crown. The controversial scene of abdication shows Richard II resigning the throne, which could have been seen as an assault on the queen at the time. (4)
6: Father Of Three But His Name Was Lost
Many people forget that William Shakespeare was a father, and had three children with wife Anne. Named Susanna, Hamnet and Judith, his children gave him four grandchildren, but all direct descendants died without continuing the family name. Although Shakespeare had siblings, the family name has seemed to have vanished as time moved on. There are some people who have the last name Shakespeare, but their family tree doesn’t branch out to the English poet’s and playright’s direct family line. (5)
7: Should He Be Admired Or Questioned?
Another pretty unknown William Shakespeare fact is that there is a web of conspiracy theories against his success and talent. With some claiming he could barely sign his own name, to those who doubt his creative flare and good character. Where some admire him, others plant seeds of doubt about his abilities to write at all. Is William Shakespeare masquerading through history as an eloquent writer, when he’s no better than the rest of us? I guess we’ll never know! (6)
8: Summoned For GBH
A shocking Shakespeare fact is that he was once summoned for grievous bodily harm. Adding more evidence to the idea that Shakespeare may not have been quite the man we thought he was, William Shakespeare also meddled with tax dodging and perhaps racketeering. Legal records show that he failed to pay for rented rooms, dodged tax payments while investing in property, and even sued three men for insignificant sums of money. Was William Shakespeare in fact a villain in his own life story? (7)
9: The Play Not To Be Named
You may be familiar with Romeo and Juliet, Othello and even Hamlet, but there is one play that should never be said out loud. Macbeth, featuring witches, is thought to be cursed and legend has it that from the first performance in 1606, disaster struck. The actress Lady Macbeth suddenly died, leaving Shakespeare himself to take on the role. In other performances, props were switched from fake knifes to real daggers, leading to the murder of King Duncan live on stage, to the horror of spectators. Even in 1849 in New York, 20 deaths occurred and 100 injuries. From actors falling off stage to mysterious deaths, something strange is really going on. (8)
10: Was William Shakespeare Murdered?
Not exactly a Shakespeare fact but more speculation around his last hours on earth. The final years of England’s most famous writer are shrouded in mystery too! His death alone sparks up several conspiracy theories that range from him succumbing to a short illness and in particular syphilis, as well as the idea that he was murdered. Traditionally it’s thought that he passed away on his 52nd birthday in 1616, but other scholars claim that this is a myth. Like many tales of this remarkable historical figure, we are left to come to our own conclusions. (9)