Facts and Foolish Things about Shakespeare

Although William Shakespeare apparently died in 1616 on this date (April 23rd), his words have remained timeless—partly because he was able to capture human emotions that are still relevant today.

We still use many of the expressions he coined in his plays such as “love is blind” from The Merchant of Venice, “break the ice” from The Taming of the Shrew, “be-all, end-all” from Macbeth and even going on  “a wild-goose chase” from Romeo and Juliet.

There are hundreds more that we are familiar with and often don’t realize they are credited to the Bard of Avon. Here are just a few:

  1. This above all: to thine own self be true,
    and it must follow, as the night the day,
    Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
    -Hamlet, Act I, Scene III

  2. Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once.”
    -Julius Caesar, Act II, Scene II

  3. “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
    by any other word would smell as sweet…”
    -Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene II

    4. “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.”
    -King Henry IV, Act III, Scene I

    5. “All that glitters is not gold.”
    -The Merchant of Venice, Act II, Scene VII

There are also some other things about William Shakespeare that you may not know and, in keeping with the “foolish things theme” of April, I offer them up to you here.

  • The Bard not only died on April 23rd, it is believed he was also born on that same day in 1564. He was only fifty-two at the time of his death.
  • His parents, William Shakespeare and Mary Arden were most probably illiterate, but they allowed William to attend Grammar School and he was able to study many subjects including Latin.
  • He married a pregnant woman (Anne Hathaway) who was older than he was. He was eighteen and she was twenty-six. Six months later, their daughter Susanna was born followed by twins, Hamnet (not Hamlet) and Judith, in February 1585. Little is known about William and Anne’s relationship other than they often lived apart. Their children were also illiterate, although Susanna could apparently scrawl her name.
  • In his will, Shakespeare left only his “second-best bed” to his wife—often a customary thing for men to leave their widows in those days! The “best-bed” was always the one reserved for company.
  • It is not known for sure what William Shakespeare died from but an acquaintance once wrote that he became ill after a night of heavy drinking with fellow playwright, Ben Jonson. Before he passed away, however, he managed to write the epitaph for his tomb in a Stratford Church which reads:

“Good friend, for Jesus’ sake forbeare, to dig the dust enclosed here. Blessed be the man that spares these stones, and cursed be he that moves my bones.”

It must have worked because Shakespeare’s remains have never been disturbed.

  • His plays were not published until after his death so although he died financially comfortable he was certainly not wealthy as he would have been today. And, most alarming of all, is the fact that many people considered him to be a fraud. They wondered how someone who had not attended college or travelled the world could be so worldly and eloquent with such incredible knowledge about international affairs, other countries and the royal court.

So was his name in point of fact merely used as a front by another author such as Francis Bacon or Christopher Marlowe? Historians are doubtful but believe he might well have collaborated with other playwrights. Whatever the truth is, William Shakespeare is definitely an enigma whose plays are studied worldwide and his words still revered four centuries after his death.