10 Fascinating Facts about William Shakespeare by Brian Scott

10 Fascinating Facts about William Shakespeare
Few figures in history have had a lasting effect the way William Shakespeare has. Simply stating the man's name is enough to make a connection to literature, drama, and the written word as a creative tool rather than just a means of communication. But even with a legacy as robust and celebrated as time has awarded William Shakespeare, other trivial facts make this historical giant even more of an enigmatic character.
Fact #1
William Shakespeare is more famousFact #1: Google lists 83 million pages when you search for the name "William Shakespeare." Of course, this figure is not totally accurate, but it does present a statistical curiosity of Shakespeare's popularity around the world. This surpasses the returns on searches for literary heavyweights like Ernest Hemingway (11 million) and H.P. Lovecraft (3 million), and even contemporary darlings of the writing world like Stephenie Meyer (4 million) and JK Rowling (6 million).

Fact #2
William Shakespeare celebrates his birthday twice in AprilFact #2: Shakespeare's date of birth is a matter of dispute, as was the case of many people at the time. Historians apply two dates: April 23, the day that he died in 1616, and April 26, the day of his baptism. Using his date of death as his birth date in 1564 is one of pure convenience on behalf of the Shakespeare estate, finding it much easier to use a single date for celebrating his life than they have on record.
Fact #3
The epitaph on Shakespeare's headstoneFact #3: The epitaph on Shakespeare's headstone reads as follows:

Good frend for Jesus sake forebeare,
To digg þe dust encloased heare.
Blese be þe man þat spares þes stones,
And curst be he þat moves my bones.

The robbing of graves was a well-established criminal enterprise in the 17th century, and the warning of this curse was put in place so his body might not be disturbed. This did not, however, stop the exhumation of his body in 2011 in an attempt by researchers to determine his true cause of death.
Fact #4
Fact #4: Though illegal in 16th century England, William Shakespeare was posthumously outed as a follower of the Catholic faith by Richard Davies, an Anglican Archdeacon and noted acquaintance of the famed writer.
Fact #5
Fact #5: Shakespeare frequently used slang specific to his hometown of Stratford in many of his works. This created a great deal of confusion with the wealthy Londoners who could afford to see his shows. When he used the word "gallow," for example, he referred to forcefully shoving or pushing someone, not the method of execution and public shaming. Sometimes he would incorporate words that seemingly had no meaning outside Stratford like "geck," which referred to a dullard, or simply an idiot.
Shakespearian Slang
Shakespeare coined hundreds of slang words and phrases during his career, a handful of which we still use to this day. Most, however, are outdated because of bias and ambiguity. (Image: Brian Scott)
Fact #6
Fact #6: Shakespeare was known for writing hastily and wherever he could find a moment to put a pen to paper, which resulted in many lost original pages of his work. Even with the boom of printing across Europe and England at the time, he never had an original manuscript sent to print for mass distribution. Historians believed he wanted to maintain the illusion of his plays living on only as performances for the stage and never to be enjoyed as books. Ironically, seven years after his death, friends and actors published many of his works into collected volumes. They claimed it was to preserve the work and memory of a man so great that time deserved to keep him alive.
Shakespeare's writing style
The above image is a manuscript written by Shakespeare. I have enlarged a portion of the document to showcase his "ink to paper" writing style. (Image: Brian Scott)

Fact #7:
Fact #7: Shakespeare was known for not heavily editing his work and was often found backstage at his shows writing lines to be inserted as the play was being performed. This was, and still is, a highly unorthodox approach to writing any medium, and his rivals and colleagues took notice. Ben Jonson, a fellow playwright, said that Shakespeare "Never blotted out a line."
Fact #8
Fact #8: The famous Globe theater was built as a result of circumstance. While Shakespeare was known to have many of his great works performed there, most of early notable works were performed by Lord Chamberlain's Men, an acting group he founded, in another theater. In 1597 a lease dispute over land forced that theater to close. Many came to Shakespeare's side and helped to raise funds to build a new theater near the Thames River. This theater would become known as The Globe. It stood until 1613 when a performance of Henry VIII caused a fire, then was rebuilt the following year and housed many plays until the 1640's when the Puritans shut it down. In January of 2014, only a few hundred feet from the original location, Shakespeare's Globe stands as a perfect recreation of the theater so closely affiliated with famous playwright.
an illustrative rendering of The Globe theatre
The above image is an illustrative rendering of The Globe theater.
 Fact #9
Fact #9: Between 1592 and 1594, Shakespeare took to writing sonnets and poems rather than plays. The result of this may not have been sole artistic pursuit; at the time of the plague spreading across Europe, many theaters were closed and the desire for new plays were low. With a two-year sabbatical from his primary career, Shakespeare filled the time by creating famous verses like Fear No More (Act IV, Scene 2 from Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Cymbeline) and A Fairy Song (from Shakespeare's play, A Midsummer Night's Dream).
A Fairy Song (from Shakespeare's play
Fact #10
Fact #10: Most of Shakespeare's life is a great deal of debate amongst theatrical and literary scholars. The man that he was, the private life he led, and the works he had written are subject to much gossip, rumor and misinformation. Most of his history, outside of his body of work, is an amalgam of sorts, collected from stories told by second or third hand accounts.

I hope you enjoyed this article as much as I loved writing it!

Read my other articles on Shakespeare:
- Brian Scott