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Shakespeare's Death

Facts about Shakespeare's Death

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William Shakespeare died on 23 April 1616, his 52nd birthday (Shakespeare was born on 23 April 1564). In truth, the exact date is not known as only a record of his burial two days later has survived.

When Shakespeare retired from London around 1610, he spent the last few years of his life in New Place – Stratford-upon-Avon’s largest house which he purchased in 1597. It is believed that Shakespeare’s death occurred in this house and would have been attended by his son-in-law, Dr John Hall, the town physician.

New Place is no longer standing, but the site of the house has been preserved by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and is open to visitors.

The Cause of Shakespeare’s Death

The cause of death is not known, but some scholars believe that he was sick for over a month before he died. On March 25 1616, Shakespeare signed his dictated will with a “shaky” signature, evidence of his frailty at the time. Also, it was customary in the early seventeenth century to draw up your will on your deathbed, so Shakespeare must have been acutely aware that his life was coming to an end.

In 1661, many years after his death, the vicar of Stratford-upon-Avon noted in his diary: “Shakespeare, Drayton, and Ben Jonson had a merry meeting, and it seems drank too hard; for Shakespeare died of a fever there contracted.” With Stratford-upon-Avon’s reputation for scandalous stories and rumors in the seventeenth century, it is difficult to authenticate this story – even if it was written by a vicar. For example, there have been other observations about Shakespeare’s character that seemingly contradict this: Richard Davies, archdeacon of Lichfield, reported, “He died a papist.”

Shakespeare’s Burial

The Stratford Parish Register records Shakespeare’s burial on the 25 April, 1616. As a local gentleman, he was buried inside Holy Trinity Church beneath a stone slab engraved with his epitaph:

Good friend, for Jesus' sake forbear
To dig the dust enclosed here.
Blessed be the man that spares these stones,
And cursed be he that moves my bones.

To this day, Holy Trinity Church remains an important place of interest for Shakespeare enthusiasts as it marks the beginning and end of the Bard’s life. Shakespeare was both baptized and buried at the church.

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