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20 Things You (Probably) Didn't Know About William Shakespeare

20 Things You (Probably) Didn't Know About William Shakespeare

20 Things You (Probably) Didn't Know About William Shakespeare
18 December 2013

The greatest writer to have ever lived, the man whose work has been shot and staged more times than anybody could count, and scourge of GCSE students everywhere, William Shakespeare's plays are the most widely known in history but there is very little actually known about him.

Here are 20 things you may not know about Ol' Will.

(Images: AllStar, Rex)


There is no firm evidence for the date of Shakespeare's birth, but it is celebrated on April 23, Saint George's Day. He died on April 23, 1616.


Shakespeare's wife, Anne Hathaway (no, not the one pictured), was eight years his senior. They married when Shakespeare was 18 and Hathaway, who was around three months pregnant, 26.


Far from being a penniless artist, Shakespeare's plays made him an enormously wealthy man. In 1597, aged around 33, he bought the second largest house in Stratford.


Although he had three children, Shakespeare has no direct descendents living today. His bloodline ended with the death of his granddaughter Elizabeth in 1670.


Shakespeare has been played on-screen by Rafe Spall (Anonymous), Joseph Fiennes (Shakespeare In Love), Patrick Stewart (Gnomeo and Juliet), Tim Curry (Will Shakespeare) and Colin Firth (Blackadder: Back and Forth).


Though it's possible it's not his earliest, Shakespeare's first recorded play is Richard III.


There are thought to be at least two lost Shakespeare plays: Cardenio, which is believed to be a reworking of Don Quixote, and Love's Labours Won, about which nothing but the title is known.


The questioning of whether or not Shakespeare actually wrote the plays is a relatively modern thing. The question, which is widely dismissed, was only raised about 230 years after Shakespeare's death when biographers questioned how a man from humble origins could be so poetic.


Phrases in modern usage that saw their first appearance in Shakespeare plays include 'sanctimonious' (Measure For Measure), 'foregone conclusion' (Othello), 'wild goose chase' (Romeo and Juliet), 'eyeball' (A Midsummer Night's Dream), 'in a pickle' (The Tempest) and 'one fell swoop' (Macbeth).


Shakespeare's grave, in the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-Upon-Avon, carries a curse. It reads: "Good friend, for Jesus' sake forbear, To dig the dust enclosed here. Blessed be the man that spares these stones, And cursed be he that moves my bones"


It's entirely possible that we're all spelling his name completely wrong. Recorded spellings of his name range from Shakspere to Shappere to Shaxberd. He never spelled his own name Shakespeare.


Shakespeare wrote at least 37 plays over the space of approximately 24 years. So he was producing over 1.5 plays per year.


Among the roles that Shakespeare is known to have played as an actor are The Ghost in Hamlet and Adam in As You Like It.


Shakespeare is generally identified as an Elizabethan playwright, but the majority of his most popular works were produced after the death of Elizabeth I, making him technically more a Jacobean playwright.


Shakespeare's longest play is Hamlet, which takes around four hours to perform in full. His shortest is A Comedy Of Errors, which takes about 80 minutes.


Though he set plays in Denmark, Italy and France, among others, it's very unlikely that Shakespeare ever left England. His geography was shown to be somewhat lacking when he gave Bohemia a sea coast in The Winter's Tale. That country, now part of the Czech Republic, is landlocked.


Shakespeare was very successful in his lifetime but not revered until after his death. His bestselling work when he was alive was the erotic poem Venus and Adonis.


In 2001, a copy of The First Folio, collating 36 of Shakespeare's plays, was sold at auction for £3.73 million.


There were no portraits of Shakespeare painted in his lifetime, so all existing portraits are at least partly guesswork. The most popular portrait, seen on the title page of the first folio, was drawn by Martin Droeshout, who was only 15 when Shakespeare died.


Though records for any part of Shakespeare's life are meager, there is a point in his life between 1585 and 1592 in which there is absolutely no record of where he was or what he was up to. These are known as his "lost years".