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5 Fascinating, Lesser Known Shakespeare Facts to Share on the 400th Anniversary of His Death

22nd April 2016

According to the history books the world’s best known playwright – William Shakespeare – died on April 23, 1616, making this the centenary year of his passing.  Celebrations of his life and works have been ongoing across the world all year, from the halls of academia to the Bard’s birth – and death – place of Stratford-Upon-Avon.

At Oxford University, there was a weekend-long Shakespeare Jubilee earlier this year, which included readings and re-imaginings of his works as well as public tours of the the Painted Room that Shakespeare is thought to have stayed in.  Plays have been staged all over the country, featuring stars like David Tennant, Dominic West, Gemma Arterton and Toby Jones.

As almost everyone is required to study at least some Shakesphere at some point in their academic life many people think they know all about the man who, over the course of his 52 years (he actually died on his birthday) wrote at least 37 plays, 154 sonnets and an unknown number of poems. But do they really?  In celebration of this Shakespeare centenary and as an aid to help you impress with your knowledge should the subject come up – here are a few lesser known facts about England’s most celebrated playwright:

A Career Begins in Scandal

Anne Hathaway

Anne Hathaway

The first time William Shakespeare caused a bit of a stir – and quite a scandalous one at that – was when at the tender age of 18 he married the 26 year old Anne Hathaway. As if the age difference weren’t enough to raise a few eyebrows the fact that she was three to four months pregnant at the time raised even more.

William and Anne went on to have three children; Susanna, who was the child born some 6 months after their wedding, a son, Hamnet, who died in 1596, and another daughter, Judith. The couple’s only grandchild, Susanna’s daughter Elizabeth, died childless so, no matter what some have claimed, there are no direct descendants of the Bard and his muse.

He Could Act

As You Like It

As You Like It

Although Shakespeare is always thought of as a writer he did act as well, often in his own plays. It is known that he frequently played both the ghost in Hamlet and Adam in As You Like It and took on other roles as needed.

A Favorite of Two Royals

King James

King James

Although he is often referred to as an Elizabethan writer Shakespeare’s career spanned the reigns of two monarchs, the good Queen Bess and her successor James I, and it was James who was the playwright’s greater fan.  The King was an active patron of his work and often one of the first to see a new play.

He Was a Stylish Chap

Shakespeare Chandos Portrait

Shakespeare Chandos Portrait

As evidenced in the most famous depiction of him, a painting by John Taylor known as the ‘Chandos Potrait’, believed to have been painted sometime between between 1600 and 1610, Shakespeare was quite stylish, in a rather Bohemian way. He wore his hair long and an earring in his left ear all his life and as he grew more successful he was, contemporary accounts say, fond of following the latest fashions in clothing.

The Critics Weren’t Too Fond of Him

Christopher Marlowe

Christopher Marlowe

Although he is now revered, Shakespeare’s contemporaries weren’t too impressed by him or his work, at first anyway.  An early review of his work, penned by fellow writer Robert Greene in 1592, read as follows; “..there is an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tiger’s heart wrapped in a Player’s hide, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you: and being an absolute Johannes factotum, is in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country.”

Greene was known as a ‘university wit’ – a Cambridge man – and along with his fellow writers Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Nashe, were constantly critical of their rival, especially s they considered him undereducated and a pretender.  Jealous, perhaps, gents?

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