Grave of William Shakespeare

Mysteries of the Bard

20 Fascinating Facts About Shakespeare

The life and literary legacy of William Shakespeare is shrouded in mysteries that have intrigued scholars, artists, and audiences for over 400 years. Though he penned some of the most widely read works of all time, much about the circumstances of Shakespeare’s life remains uncertain or unknown. From the missing years of his early adulthood to speculation about his religious beliefs, even seemingly mundane details like his exact birth date and physical appearance are hotly debated.

This enduring enigma seems fitting for a writer of such imaginative genius. Much like the richly layered characters and plot twists that fill his legendary plays and sonnets, Shakespeare’s life is wrapped in complex riddles and loose ends that hint at secrets we may never fully unravel. Nevertheless, these intriguing uncertainties present an opportunity to reflect on the many fascinating facets of Shakespeare and his unparalleled literary achievements.

Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies

by William Shakespeare

In this spirit, here are 20 unusual facts and mysteries that provide intriguing glimpses into Shakespeare the man, the myth and the literary giant whose artistry has stood the test of time. While they may raise more questions than answers, these surprising details about England’s greatest dramatist ultimately underscore why he remains relevant centuries after his death. From potential scandals and lost history to strange bequests and posthumous mysteries, these snippets help color our image of Shakespeare beyond the stark black and white of an early engraving. So much about this iconic figure remains to be discovered; but like hunting for clues in one of his comedies or dramas, uncovering the curiosities of Shakespeare’s life only adds to the thrill of appreciating his enduring genius and cultural significance.

  1. No Original Manuscripts Survive

None of Shakespeare’s original handwritten manuscripts have survived to the present day. Everything we know about his plays and poems comes from published editions, promptbooks, and compilations.

  1. Those Mysterious “Lost Years”

There is a period from 1585 to 1592 where no records about Shakespeare exist – these years are known as his “lost years.” Scholars still speculate about what he was up to during this time.

  1. What’s in a Name?

Shakespeare’s name was spelled over 80 different ways during his lifetime, including common variations like “Shappere” and “Shaxberd.” He himself seemed to prefer “Willm Shakspere.”

  1. An Unusual Bequest

In his will, Shakespeare famously left his wife Anne Hathaway his “second-best bed.” No one knows the story behind this strange-sounding bequest.

  1. Star Actor

In addition to being a playwright, Shakespeare was a gifted actor who performed many roles in his own plays and others during the Elizabethan era.

  1. Just Bought the Place

Shakespeare’s large home in Stratford-upon-Avon was called New Place, but he didn’t build the house himself – he purchased the already constructed mansion in 1597.

  1. Shareholder Status

As a shareholder in the famous Globe Theatre, Shakespeare part-owned the playhouse where many of his works were first performed.

  1. Savvy Real Estate Investor

In addition to his Globe shares, Shakespeare made the savvy purchase of a gatehouse by the Blackfriars Theatre in 1613 to expand his real estate holdings and opportunities.

  1. Birthday Mystery

No record of Shakespeare’s birth exists. We only know the date of his baptism on April 26, 1564. His actual birth date remains uncertain.

  1. Cursed Resting Place

The epitaph over Shakespeare’s grave ends with a curse for anyone who dares move his bones, reading: “Blest be the man that spares these stones, And curs’d be he that moves my bones.”

  1. Word Nerd

Shakespeare is credited with inventing over 1,700 common English words and phrases, expanding the vocabulary of English more than any other writer.

  1. Dubious Portraits

The only portrait of Shakespeare created during his lifetime is the dubious “Chandos Portrait.” Other famous images, like the engraving in the First Folio, were done postmortem.

  1. Earring Statement

In the “Chandos” portrait, Shakespeare sports a simple gold hoop earring—an unusual fashion accessory for playwrights of his day.

  1. Mysterious Schooling

No records confirm where Shakespeare went to school as a child or what type of education he received. Stratford’s grammar school is the likeliest option.

  1. Quickie Wedding

Shakespeare was only 18 when he married Anne Hathaway, who was eight years older and three months pregnant. Scholars still debate this abrupt marriage.

  1. Secret Catholic?

Some scholars believe Shakespeare was secretly Catholic and incorporated hidden critiques of Protestantism in his plays, but this is contested.

  1. Moonstruck

In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare penned the first known reference in English to the moon being made of green cheese – an idea already prevalent at the time.

  1. Business-Minded Bard

Shakespeare showed real business acumen as both a shareholder in the Globe Theatre and purchaser of the Blackfriars gatehouse at a time when playwrights rarely invested.

  1. Print Problems

Before the authoritative First Folio, some of Shakespeare’s plays circulated in unauthorized, error-riddled small editions called quartos, complicating scholarly analysis.

  1. Group Effort

Many of Shakespeare’s later plays like Timon of Athens and Henry VIII are now believed to have been collaborations with other playwrights, a common practice during his era.

Whether you find these tidbits about the Bard amusing, intriguing or insightful, they prove one thing is certain: Shakespeare still has secrets yet to reveal, even 400 years after his death! The literary genius and his works continue to fascinate scholars, artists and audiences alike.

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