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William Shakespeare: 10 facts about the Bard you probably didn't know

Is it possible we've been spelling his name wrong all along?

Olivia Blair
Friday 22 April 2016 15:45 BST
Shakespeare circa 1600
Shakespeare circa 1600 (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

This weekend marks the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare.

Shakespeare died on April 23 in 1616 at the age of 52 – a relatively old age to live to in those times.

Although Shakespeare is engrained in British culture and history and most people have either learnt about, read or watched his plays, there’s actually not much we know about the acclaimed playwright.

There’s even a time period dubbed the “lost years” of Shakespeare’s life – two time periods between leaving school and marrying his wife Anne Hathaway and the second being the seven year gap between his children being born and him establishing himself as a London playwright in 1592.

So what do we know? Take a look at the most interesting facts about the life of William Shakespeare, below:

Nobody actually knows when he was born

There’s no records giving an exact date of birth for Shakespeare, however, what is recorded is his christening on April 26 1564. Given that the traditional date to get christened in those days was a few days after birth, it’s very possible he might have also been born (as well as died) on April 23rd in which case he’d be 452 today – Happy birthday Shakespeare.

He married at a relatively young age

Shakespeare was 18 when he married Anne Hathaway, who was eight years his senior. The marriage of an elder woman would have been controversial at the time, especially considering she was pregnant. Their first child Susanna was born six months after they married.

One of his children died

After the birth of Susanna, Hathaway gave birth to twins – Judith and Hamnet – in 1585. Hamnet sadly died aged 11 in August 1596.

There are no direct descendants of Shakespeare alive today

Shakespeare’s eldest daughter Susanna had one child Elizabeth in 1608, Elizabeth later went on to marry twice but had no children by either husband, according to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

Shakespeare’s other daughter Judith married and had three sons. Sadly, all three of her sons died before they married anyone and had children of their own.

While there are no direct descendants, there may be descendants of the Bard’s sister Joan.

Shakespeare is still relevant

The ‘lost years’

No one is sure exactly what Shakespeare did in two time periods during his life where records seem to disappear (1578-1582 and 1585-1592), however multiple theories have been made. The SBT reports suggestions that he was a school teacher in his birthplace of Stratford-Upon-Avon, a butcher, a lawyer’s clerk, a soldier or even that he fled to London after poaching deers – this claim apparently has no evidence but has instead been fuelled by word of mouth

His dad was an ale taster

Shakespeare was one of eight children to John Shakespeare and Mary Arden. His father John had many jobs including being a glover, tanner of leathers and farmer. He also was elected “ale-taster of the borough”, according to Shakespeare Online, which essentially meant he sampled all the beer.

'Chandos portrait' painted circa 1610 (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Most of his family were illiterate

Despite Shakespeare’s eloquence and flair for the English language, it is believed most of his family were illiterate – as were many in those days. His parents are definitely believed to have been as his father signed his name with a mark. His wife and children also apparently couldn’t read or write either.

Everyday phrases

Aside from introducing an estimated 3,000 words into the English language, there are also everyday phrases the Bard coined that we still use today, 400 years later. The British Council report if it wasn’t for Shakespeare we wouldn’t be saying “heart of gold”, “wild goose chase”, “faint-hearted”, “break the ice” or “love is blind”.

Savvy businessman

While he is known for the 37 plays he wrote during his lifetime, Shakespeare was also a savvy businessman with a few properties to his name. These properties include New Place (which can still be visited today), a cottage and acres of farm land in Stratford-Upon-Avon and a gatehouse in London. He also had his eye on shares and was a shareholder in the Globe theatre and Blackfriars theatre, according to the SBT.

We might have been spelling his name wrong all along

Spellings of the playwright’s name vary in different records. The one we use today is the most common however his name was also printed as “Shappere” and “Shaxberd”. According to History.Com, the man himself never actually signed his name using the spelling we use today.

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