Dear Kids, English Teachers, Librarians, Playgoers, and All Readers,
Sometime between April 23 and 26, the “Bard of Avon,” William Shakespeare, was born in 1564, in Stratford-upon-Avon, England.
The exact day of his birth is not known, but his baptism was recorded in the Parish Register of Holy Trinity Church in Stratford on Wednesday, April 26, 1564. Baptisms routinely took place then within three days of birth and always before the first Sunday after birth. As a result, many people around the world have come to celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday on April 23.
So, whatever the day, Happy 458th Birthday, Mr. Shakespeare!
I find it interesting that the playwright-poet died in 1616 on his birth date, April 23. His burial was recorded on April 25, 1616, in the same church in which he was baptized. His death at fifty-two-years-old was considered a grand age for an Elizabethan when the average life expectancy was in the early thirties. His monument, erected by his friends soon after his death, still stands in the chancel of Holy Trinity Church. The gravestone below it contains a “curse”: “. . . . Blest be the man that spares these stones,/And cursed be he that moves my bones.”
But what killed William Shakespeare?
According to shakespeare.org.uk, that remains a mystery to this day. Rumors, theories, and speculation are still rampant. Perhaps due to lack of medical knowledge, the cause of one’s death was not routinely recorded back then; neither was his, not even by his physician son-in-law, John Hall. One theory about his death that prevails is that Shakespeare died from an “apocryphal drinking bout.” The story goes that he died shortly after being visited by writer friends Ben Jonson and Michael Drayton, who had come up from London to party with him. But no one knows for certain.
What is known is that Shakespeare made a will in January of 1616, then revised it one month before his death. Did that mean he knew he was dying? Not necessarily. It was customary in England among people of means to prepare a will so as to get their worldly affairs in order.
It was also the custom for Protestant Christians like Shakespeare to prepare to meet one’s maker, to secure one’s soul through meditation on a glorious afterlife in Heaven. Being such a Christian man of culture, he would have eschewed a funeral of pomp and ceremony as part of his spiritual will. So, there is nothing known about his funeral details, which might have been by his design per the times.
Could another illness have caused his death? It’s possible. Shakespeare could have succumbed to an infection, a fever, the flu, or typhus, all of which were common causes of death in the area at that time.
So, get a clue, Readers. Shakespeare’s life and death remain wrapped in many mystery. Perhaps that’s as it should be, given his own words from his play Timon of Athens: “Degrees, observances, customs, and laws,/ Decline to your confounding contraries,/ And let confusion live!”