Interested in Willam Shakespeare facts? Below you can read seven quick facts about Shakespeare, or delve deeper into our longer selection of interesting facts about the great man and his life.
Jump to section: Shakespeare’s life, Shakespeare’s era, Shakespeare’s works, Fun Shakespeare facts
Bear in mind that very little in the way of hard facts is actually known about Shakespeare’s life (unlike facts about Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, which are fairly well documented), but we’ve researched long and hard to come up with this huge – and unique – selection of verifiable Shakespeare facts.
7 Quick William Shakespeare Facts…
- Parents: John Shakespeare & Mary Shakespeare (nee Arden).
- Born: Generally accepted as 23 April 1564, as he was baptised 26 April 1564.
- Hometown: Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England.
- Wife: Anne Hathaway.
- Children: Susanna, Hamnet & Judith
- Works: 37 plays (at least), 154 sonnets, many poems.
- Died: Shakespeare died on 23 April 1616 and was buried at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Facts About Shakespeare’s Life
8. Shakespeare’s father made gloves for a living
Shakespeare’s parents were John and Mary Shakespeare (nee Arden). John came to Stratford upon Avon from Snitterfield before 1532 as an apprentice glover and tanner of leathers. He prospered and began to deal in farm products and wool before being elected to a multitude of civic positions.
9. Shakespeare was born 23rd April 1564
There is documentary proof that Shakespeare was baptised on 26th April 1564, and scholars believe that, in keeping with the traditions of the time, he would have been baptised when he was three days old, meaning Shakespeare was probably born on April 23rd. However, as Shakespeare was born under the old Julian calendar, what was April 23rd during Shakespeare’s life would actually be May 3rd according to today’s Gregorian calendar.
10. Shakespeare had seven siblings
Shakespeare had seven siblings: Joan (b 1558, only lived 2 months); Margaret (b 1562); Gilbert (b 1566); another Joan (b 1569); Anne (b 1571); Richard (b 1574) and Edmund (b 1580). Read more about Shakespeare’s family.
11. Shakespeare married an older, pregnant lady at 18
Shakespeare married his wife Anne Hathaway when he was 18. She was 26 and three months pregnant with Shakespeare’s child when they married. Their first child Susanna was born six months after the wedding.
12. Shakespeare had three children
Shakespeare and 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. Read more about Shakespeare’s family.
13. Shakespeare moved to London as a young man
Shakespeare left Stratford upon Avon – likely in the late 1580s – and went to London. The first record of William Shakespeare in London is of him living in Bishopsgate in 1596 (see our post on where Shakespeare lived in London). The address is unknown, though is thought to be in the vicinity of Leadenhall Street and St Mary Avenue.
14. Shakespeare was an actor, as well as a writer
Few people realise that apart from writing his numerous plays and sonnets, 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.
15. Shakespeare wore a gold hoop earing
It’s likely that Shakespeare wore a gold hoop earring in his left ear – a creative, bohemian look in the Elizabethan & Jacobean eras. This style is evidenced in the Chandos portrait, one of the most famous depictions of Shakespeare.
16. Shakespeare became very wealthy
During his lifetime Shakespeare became a very wealthy man with a large property portfolio. He was a brilliant businessman – forming a joint-stock company with his actors meaning he took a share in the company’s profits, as well as earning a fee for each play he wrote.
17. Shakespeare lived between London and Stratford
Shakespeare lived a double life. By the seventeenth century, he had become a famous playwright in London but in his hometown of Stratford upon Avon, where his wife and children were, and which he visited frequently, he was a well-known and highly respected businessman and property owner.
18. Shakespeare’s Stratford home was called ‘New Place’
Shakespeare’s family home in Stratford upon Avon was called New Place. The house stood on the corner of Chapel Street and Chapel Lane, and was the largest house in the town at that time.
19. Shakespeare performed before both Queen Elizabeth I and King James I
During his life William Shakespeare and his theatre company performed before both Queen Elizabeth I and, later, James I, who was an enthusiastic patron of his work.
20. Shakespeare was a favourite of King James I
Shakespeare had close connections with King James I. The King made the actors of Shakespeare’s company ‘Grooms of Chamber’, in response to which Shakespeare changed the company’s name from the ‘Lord Chamberlain’s Men’ to the ‘King’s Men’. The new title made Shakespeare a favourite with the King and in much demand for Court performances.
21. Shakespeare had his own family coat of arms
Sometime after his unsuccessful application to become a gentleman, William Shakespeare took his father to the College of Arms to secure their own Shakespeare family crest. The crest was a yellow spear on a yellow shield, with the Latin inscription “Non Sans Droict”, or “Not without Right”.
22. Shakespeare left his wife his “second best best”
On his death, Shakespeare made several gifts to various people but left his property to his daughter, Susanna. The only mention of his wife in Shakespeare’s own will is: “I gyve unto my wief my second best bed with the furniture”. The “furniture” was the bedclothes for the bed.
23. Shakespeare died on his birthday
William Shakespeare’s burial at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford upon Avon is documented as happening on 25th April 1616. In keeping with traditions of the time it’s likely he would have been buried two days after his death, meaning Shakespeare likely died 23rd April 1616 – his 52nd birthday.
24. Shakespeare put a curse on his grave
Shakespeare penned a curse for his grave, daring anyone to move his body from that final resting place. His epitaph was:
Good friend for Jesus’ sake forbear,
To dig the dust enclosed here:
Blest be the man that spares these stones,
And curst be he that moves my bones.
Though it was customary to dig up the bones from previous graves to make room for others, the remains in Shakespeare’s grave are still undisturbed.
25. Shakespeare was a Catholic
Although Catholicism was effectively illegal in Shakespeare’s lifetime, the Anglican Archdeacon, Richard Davies of Lichfield, who had known him wrote some time after Shakespeare’s death that he had been a Catholic.
Facts About Shakespeare’s Era
26. Shakespeare was both an Elizabethan and Jacobean
Shakespeare is most often referred to as an Elizabethan playwright, but as most of his most popular plays were written after Elizabeth’s death he was actually more of a Jacobean writer. His later plays also show the distinct characteristics of Jacobean drama.
27. There was no such thing as copyright
Copyright didn’t exist in William Shakespeare’s time, as a result of which there was a thriving trade in copied plays. To help counter this, actors got their lines only once the play was in progress – often in the form of cue acting where someone backstage whispered them to the person shortly before he was supposed to deliver them.
28. Waves of plague closed all theatres
An outbreak of the plague in Europe resulted in all London theatres being closed between 1592 and 1594. As there was no demand for plays during this time, Shakespeare began to write poetry, completing his first batch of sonnets in 1593, aged 29.
29. Females were not allowed to perform on stage
It was illegal for women and girls to perform in the theatre in Shakespeare’s lifetime so all the female parts were written for boys. The text of some plays like Hamlet and Antony and Cleopatra refer to that. It was only much later, during the Restoration, that the first woman appeared on the English stage.
30. The Globe Theatre burned down
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre came to a premature end on 29th June 1613 after a cannon shot set fire to the thatched roof during a performance of Henry VIII. Within two hours the theatre was burnt to the ground, to be rebuilt the following year. (See our article on interesting facts on The Globe Theatre.)
31. Writing by candlelight didn’t happen
Candles were very expensive in Shakespeare’s time so they were used only for emergencies, for a short time. Most writers wrote in the daytime and socialised in the evenings. There is no reason to think that William Shakespeare was any different from his contemporaries.
Facts About Shakespeare’s Works
32. Shakespeare was incredibly productive
During his life, William Shakespeare wrote at least 37 plays, 154 sonnets, and a number of poems! that we know of. In addition, there are a number of “lost plays” and plays that Shakespeare collaborated on. This means Shakespeare wrote an average of 1.5 plays a year since he first started writing in 1589.
33. Shakespeare is bested only by the bible for quotes
According to the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, William Shakespeare wrote close to a tenth of the most quoted lines ever written or spoken in English. What’s more, according to the Literature Encyclopaedia, Shakespeare is the second most quoted English writer after the writers of the bible (read our selection of Shakespeare’s best quotes).
34. There are 13 suicides in Shakespeare’s plays
Suicide occurs an unlucky thirteen times in Shakespeare’s plays, with three suicides occurring in both Antony & Cleopatra and Julius Caesar, and two suicides in Romeo and Juliet.
35. Two of Shakespeare’s plays are written completely in verse
Only two of Shakespeare’s plays are written entirely in verse: they are Richard II and King John. Many of the plays have half of the text in prose.
36. Shakespeare wrote at least two plays that have been lost
It’s certain that Shakespeare wrote at least two plays that have been lost – titled Cardenio, and Love’s Labour’s Won. It’s likely that Shakespeare wrote many more plays that have been lost.
37. Shakespeare’s longest play is three times longer than his shortest
Shakespeare’s shortest play, The Comedy of Errors contains just 1,770 lines and is only a third of the length of his longest, Hamlet, which takes four hours to perform.
38. Two Shakespeare plays are available in Klingon
Two of Shakespeare’s plays, Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing, have been translated into Klingon. The Klingon Language Institute plans to translate more! (If you’re into quirky William Shakespeare facts check out our list of 23 things you never knew about Shakespeare.)
39. Shakespeare wrote his final play aged 49
Shakespeare’s last play – The Two Noble Kinsmen – is reckoned to have been written in 1613 when he was 49 years old.
40. There’s a conspiracy that Shakespeare didn’t write his plays
Some scholars have maintained that Shakespeare did not write the plays attributed to him, with at least fifty writers having been suggested as the “real” author. However, the evidence for Shakespeare’s having written the plays is very strong.
41. Shakespeare was a great collaborator
In Elizabethan theatre circles it was common for writers to collaborate on writing plays. Towards the end of his career, Shakespeare worked with other writers on plays that have been credited to those writers. Other writers also worked on plays that are credited to Shakespeare. We know for certain that Timon of Athens was a collaboration with Thomas Middleton; Pericles with George Wilkins; and The Two Noble Kinsmen with John Fletcher.
42. Shakespeare was never published in his lifetime
Shakespeare’s plays were never actually published during his lifetime. They are known today only because two of his fellow actors – John Hemminges and Henry Condell – recorded and published 36 of them posthumously under the name ‘The First Folio’, which is the source of all William Shakespeare books published.
Fun Shakespeare Facts
43. Shakespeare got panned by critics in his time
Although Shakespeare is almost universally considered as one of the finest writers in the English language, his contemporaries were not always as impressed. The first recorded reference to Shakespeare, written by theatre critic Robert Greene in 1592, was as an “upstart crow, beautified with our feathers”.
44. The first purchase by the National Portrait Gallery was a Shakespeare portrait
The National Portrait Gallery in London’s first acquisition in 1856 was the ‘Chandos’ portrait of Shakespeare, attributed to the artist John Taylor. It’s now considered the only representation of the writer that has any real claim to having been painted from life. (See a gallery of Shakespeare portraits.)
45. Shakespeare’s relative was executed for plotting against the queen
One of Shakespeare’s relatives on his mother’s side, William Arden, was arrested for plotting against Queen Elizabeth I, imprisoned in the Tower of London and executed.
46. Did you know…
‘William Shakespeare’ is an anagram of ‘I am a weakish speller’.
47. The bible contains a hidden message to Shakespeare (maybe!)
In the King James Bible the 46th word of Psalm 46 is ‘shake’ and the 46th word from the end of the same Psalm is ‘spear’. Some think this was a hidden birthday message to the Bard, as the King James Bible was published in 1611 – the year of Shakespeare’s 46th birthday.
48. Uranus’ moons are named after Shakespeare characters
The moons of Uranus were originally named in 1852 after magical spirits from English literature. The International Astronomy Union subsequently developed the convention to name all further moons of Uranus (of which there are 27) after characters in Shakespeare’s plays or Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock.
49. Starlings exist in the USA because of Shakespeare
The United States has Shakespeare to thank for its estimated 200 million starlings. In 1890 an American bardolator, Eugene Schiffelin, embarked on a project to import each species of bird mentioned in Shakespeare’s works that were absent from the US. Part of this project involved releasing two flocks of 60 starlings in New York’s Central Park.
50. Abraham Lincoln and his assassin were both bang into Shakespeare
The American President Abraham Lincoln was a great lover of Shakespeare’s plays and frequently recited from them to his friends. His assassin, John Wilkes Booth was a famous Shakespearean actor.
51. Shakespeare was John Keats’ creative muse
Rumour has it that poet John Keats was so influenced by Shakespeare that he kept a bust of the Bard beside him while he wrote, hoping that Shakespeare would spark his creativity.
52. The RSC perform to half a million people each year
The Royal Shakespeare Company sells more than half a million tickets a year for Shakespeare productions at their theatres in Stratford-on-Avon, London, and Newcastle – introducing an estimated 50,000 people to a live Shakespeare performance for the first time each year.
53. Shakespeare’s name was spelled at least 80 ways
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”. There are no records of him ever having spelt it “William Shakespeare”, as we know him today.
54. Shakespeare’s grave now shows him holding a quill
Shakespeare’s original grave marker showed him holding a bag of grain. Citizens of Stratford replaced the bag with a quill in 1747.
55. Shakespeare introduced 3,000 words to the English language
Shakespeare has been credited by the Oxford English Dictionary with introducing almost 3,000 words to the English language. Estimations of his vocabulary range from 17,000 to a dizzying 29,000 words – at least double the number of words used by the average conversationalist.
56. Shakespeare used 7,000 words just once each in his works
According to Shakespeare professor Louis Marder, “Shakespeare was so facile in employing words that he was able to use over 7,000 of them – more than occur in the whole King James Version of the Bible – only once and never again.”
Congratulations on making it all the way through these William Shakespeare facts!
Are you still in need of even more facts about Shakespeare? If so, check out our list of 23 things you never knew about Shakespeare. And if these extra William Shakespeare facts aren’t enough for you to understand the Bard and his life, check out our complete biography of Shakespeare, or this Shakespeare timeline.
What do you think of these Shakespeare facts – any that surprise you, or that you didn’t know? Or perhaps you’d like to share your own facts about William Shakespeare. Please let us know in the comments section below!
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