Shakespeare’s work is widely known but there is very little known about the man himself. The accounts of his life sometimes vary from one biographer to another. But even with what little we know, Shakespeare’s life was action packed. There never seems to be a dull moment – even after his death! (You’ll know what this sentence means after you are done reading the article). It turns out that one of the most brilliant, captivating and enthralling men was a very secretive one.
Did you know that some people believe that Shakespeare didn’t exist? And the role was shared by various men (and a woman). According to one conspiracy theory the masterpieces we think were written by Shakespeare were actually written by Edward De Vere, Earl of Oxford. The conspiracy theorists make a very good point here. They say how an ordinary ‘outside-the-courtroom’ person can describe details of proceedings in royal houses with that much accuracy. It is a good question to ask, it has to be said.
And here is another shocker: no confirmed portrait of Shakespeare exists. There are more than 75 different portraits attributed to being Shakespeare’s. No one knows which one is correct or if there is a correct one amongst the collection. So yeah basically, no one knows what Shakespeare looked like!
Here are 10 more baffling facts about Shakespeare’s life you didn’t know.
17. Shakespeare caused a plane crash 400 years after his death
4th October 1960, a plane crashed on the Boston Airport runway right after taking off. As soon as the plane left the ground to go into higher trajectory, it was met with a flack of 10,000 starlings. As soon as the plane crashed into the birds, some of them go to the engine and chocked it. The plane crashed and 62 people died that day – but what did Shakespeare had to do with it?
Starlings are not native to North America. There were artificially introduced when a Shakespeare fan imported “all the species of birds that were mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays”. He set the birds free at Central Park, New York. Some of the species didn’t survive but starlings surely did!
16. Hitler used Shakespeare’s play to get inspiration for a Nazi arena
After he committed suicide, it was discovered that in one of his sketchbooks. Adolf Hitler had drawn a sketch of Julius Caesar’s staging. The design created by Hitler around the Shakespeare’s portrayal had neo-classical architecture. The arena that was designed after it would hold Nazi rallies in the future at Nuremberg.
It is said that Hitler greatly admired the Roman Empire. (So this one is not on Bard of Avon, Hitler probably would’ve gone for a “Caesar setting” without the play). Many historians and researchers have verified the fact that Hitler enjoyed reading William Shakespeare. It is normal for a military dictator to enjoy works of a brilliant writer but you have to admit the thought of these two doesn’t really go together – isn’t it?
15. Shakespeare was not highly educated
Surprise surprise – when your parents or teachers say you won’t amount to anything great in life without studying hard, they certainly don’t know about William Shakespeare’s education. He did attend a school but he never went on to pursue higher education. Today it might seem like a shocker but back in the day, it was not very uncommon. Higher education was a privilege that only the elite of the country were accustomed to.
London’s education system is old, Oxford University started back in the 1200s. However, since Shakespeare’s times (16th century) were such that most people would go into family trades rather than finding jobs (the mass producing industrial boom won’t arrive for a few more centuries). Despite the fact that it was completely normal for Shakespeare not to pursue education, it is hard to put your head around it. Shakespeare only had the very basic education – nope, doesn’t feel right.
14. The Globe Theatre was burned down by Shakespeare
The Globe Theatre is a mecca for any theatre enthusiast. It is named so because of its round shape. It was considered an unusual building at the time it was created (which was during Shakespeare’s career), because it had the circular seating arrangement. Now days many theatres follow this trend. Many people think that all of Shakespeare’s plays were carried out in Globe Theatre. It would make a good fairytale but it is not true. Only a small proportion of his plays was carried out at Globe Theatre during his lifetime.
In 1613, during a rendition of act of Henry VIII, a live canon was fired as a prop. It was not expected to go off completely, it was modified to only make a blasting sound and give a lot of smoke. However when it was fired, the straw ceiling caught fire and the whole arena burned down. It was later re-constructed and stands proud even to this day.
13. Shakespeare had a controversial and scandalous marriage
If you think that celebrity marriages are a new phenomenon, think again. Scandals amongst famous people date back as long as the concept of famous people itself. These days it is expected for a celebrity to have a drug or affair scandal, but Shakespeare went miles above and beyond that. His marriage was controversial even by today’s standards.
He married a woman named Anne Hathaway (the actress you are thinking of isn’t a time traveler, this is some other Anne Hathaway we are talking about). Shakespeare was only 18 years old while Anne was 28. Men in those times were expected to marry younger women. And that’s not it, they had a child together; only six months into the marriage. A baby born out of wedlock, a teenage husband, a decade-older wife; that’s scandalous even by today’s standards!
What became of the marriage and the child? – Keep reading, you will find out.
12. Shakespeare invented new words in English language
Shakespeare’s writing style was so unique and his ideas so vast that English language in its current state won’t do. He had to invent new words to the English language. Many historians call him “Wordsmith”. He also had a desire to enhance and improve English language but his primary goal was to make his plays better.
Shakespeare invented more than 2,000 words. His most “famous inventions” include some of the most common words we know today. These include: ‘assassination’, ‘amazement’, ‘moonbeam’, ‘negotiate’ even the word ‘bedroom’ was invented by Shakespeare. Old English as it is called today, was very different from the English we know. Look at an excerpt from Chaucer’s Wife of Bath’s Prologue:
To chirche was myn housbonde born a morwe
With neighebores, that for hym maden sorwe,
And Jankyn, oure clerk, was oon of tho.
As help me God, whan that I saugh hym go
After the beere, me thoughte he hadde a paire
Of legges and of feet so clene and faire
Ian McKellen as King Lear/ PHOTO: Simon Farrell[/caption]
Researches and historians say that many monologues are missing from the original scripts. The characters have been modified to fit the more contemporary roles. It is possible that the original characters bore a striking resemblance to someone and were changed. One theory says, at one point the characters or script of these plays offended royalty or some high ranking official and were subsequently changed.
A nineteenth-century German engraving depicting Shakespeare as a family man surrounded by his children PHOTO: Wikipedia[/caption]
After his son Hamnet died, he moved to London from Stratford-upon-Avon. There is no evidence of any communication being carried out between Shakespeare and his wife Anne (who we mentioned earlier in the article). After Shakespeare died and his will was executed, he only left behind his “second favorite bed” for his wife. And there was no other mention of his wife in his will.
9. There are no original manuscripts of Shakespeare’s plays available
What I am about to tell you, might make you lose faith in literature. There is no agreement of scholars about ‘original’ manuscripts of Shakespeare. Shakespeare never created copies of his work. He only wrote down the lines of particular actors in the play and hand it to them. Each actor knew his part but there was no master copy. While it sounds strange but bear in mind that it was before the time of photocopiers. Each word had to be written carefully and was indeed a daunting task.
The more likely theory is that Shakespeare intentionally didn’t create master copies of his work. In order to protect them from being plagiarized. Playwrights in the 16th century were full of plagiarism, they would copy each other’s works and pass them as their own. The “complete” manuscripts come from actors who got together after the play and wrote out their copies into one entirety.
8. There are no living descendants of Shakespeare
One might take keen interest in Shakespeare’s ancestry. You might want to know about the decedents of Shakespeare; who might be great playwrights, novelists, poets, actors, directors… but that is wishful dreaming. No direct descendants of Shakespeare are alive today. Shakespeare and his wife Anne Hathaway had three children. Why then, the bloodline of Shakespeare discontinued?
Hamnet his only son died when he was 11, as you can expect there were no descendants of him. Shakespeare’s other two children had better luck. Susanna married and had a daughter. His daughter Elizabeth married twice but had no children of her own. Judith, the youngest of the siblings, married and had three children, all of them died unmarried and before Judith – so that was that.
Some people suggest he may have fathered illegitimate children, but let’s leave that debate for another time. Shall we?
7. Shakespeare could have been bi-sexual
The most debated aspect of Shakespeare’s life is his sexuality. Many people argue that his sonnets give us proof beyond doubt that he had homosexual tendencies. His sonnets are full of poetry that is largely romantic. Many of his sonnets are written to a man – unquestionably. Scholars call him “The Fair Youth”. Some scholars say the poetry Youth was symbolic and had different meaning. Others say he had homosexual relations with the Youth or desired him but never acted upon his feelings.
The identity of the Youth is not confirmed. Many believe him to be the Earl of Southampton. It is a fact that Shakespeare and the Earl were close friends. The Earl was a known homosexual or at least bi-sexual, some say.
6. Shakespeare could not spell very well
Shakespeare had an amazing command over the English language but not so much with the spellings. And his spellings were not marginally bad, they were awful. In one of his manuscripts, he has spelled the world “silence” as “scilens”. He goes onto spell that word in five different ways throughout the script. At one point he was known to misspell a word no one would: his own name! “Shakspere”, “Shakespere”, “Shappere” – these are all incorrect variations that he himself used.
There is a logical explanation for this. At that time, there was only one way to look up and learn spellings; dictionary. Many people didn’t have access to dictionaries and others didn’t bothered enough to proof read their written work with a dictionary open on the side. Naturally, people of those times chose to “spell with freedom”.
5. Shakespeare had an enormous vocabulary
Earlier we mentioned that Shakespeare created a lot of new English words. Apart from injecting new words and evolving the language, Shakespeare had a huge vocabulary of existing words in English. It is said that Shakespeare’s vocabulary was larger than most modern day English speaking people. Keep this in mind that in Shakespeare’s time there was no Google, no thesaurus, no Wikipedia and access to dictionaries was uncommon. Despite that handicap, Shakespeare’s estimated word usage is 30,000 words – a massive amount.
An average American of today knows between 10,000 and 15,000 words. You think that’s bad? – The number actually falls down when we count the words used in every day conversations. When conversing, most American use only 400 words in a day. This estimation includes both verbal and written communication.
4. Shakespeare’s tomb has never been moved
Since Europe has been home to many great people over millennial, there are tombs here that date back hundreds of years. In London for example, there are tombs that date back to 900 AD. These tombs have been moved to make space for urbanization. Many historical graves are not in their original places. But that’s not the case with Shakespeare’s grave.
William Shakespeare rests in peace on the same spot he was buried. His tomb is located at the Trinity Cathedral in his hometown Stratford-upon-Avon. The Church itself has been renovated many times but the tomb has never been disturbed. Shakespeare is buried right next to his wife Anne.
3. Shakespeare was not pro-establishment
Considering that he wrote for the Queen and King of England, most of his work was about monarchs, one might think that Shakespeare must have had a soft spot for the kingly establishment. That’s not the case – far from it in fact. Shakespeare may have written to entertain rich and affluent people, but he spent most of his time amongst “common” people rather than nobilities and royalties.
Shakespeare often spoke against the religious and social intolerance of the England society of the time. His work also represent the fact that he was not controlled by the social norms of the time. Born a Baptist, Shakespeare converted in Catholicism. The country was swinging from Protestantism to Catholicism, virtually every couple of years. Shakespeare didn’t care about that and stuck to whatever he felt was right.
2. Shakespeare sometimes wrote fanfiction
Fanfiction is the technique of writing stories that are based on characters that already exist (from someone else’s work). You borrow the traits of the character and build a story around it. The stories and events are not copied, just the traits of the character. Many people do not know that some of Shakespeare’s stories are based on fanfiction. In fact he is considered to be the first writer to introduce fanfiction.
Much of Shakespeare’s early writings are not original. He frequently borrows characters, sometimes from real life current events and would write a story around it. Did you know that Romeo and Juliet was originally an Italian love story, borrowed and converted into play by Shakespeare!
1. Shakespeare was a Rockstar of his time
Many famous artists were not recognized in their time. Their contributions were acknowledged later on. With Shakespeare, that is not the case. His style was sophisticated and you might think his plays were only for highly educated people but in reality, he appealed to everyone. Peasants and monarchs, all would flock to see Shakespeare. He became quite rich during his lifetime. Not only was he a great artist, he also had a sense of commercialism. He marketed himself and his work very well.
You would be surprised to know that Shakespeare’s script was more in tune with the common man rather than nobility. During his time he was considered to be the most popular playwright amongst the less educated. Shakespeare was considered as a vastly available man for masses.