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20 Interesting William Shakespeare Fun Facts You Didn't Know

Beano Team
Last Updated:  February 16th 2022

To read or not to read these 20 incredible Shakespeare facts? To read, or course! Find out all about England's national playwright and the Bard of Avon, William Shakespeare! Learn about his incredible life, his talent for inventing words, and the REAL reason he left his wife such a weird item in his will. If you enjoyed these interesting Shakespeare facts, we've got more weird and wonderful facts on, including these cool random facts, these crazy history facts, and for Disney fans, these Mary Poppins facts!

1. He Was From Stratford Upon Avon

William Shakespeare was born in Stratford Upon Avon, Warwickshire, England. At the time of Shakespeare's birth, it was a market town with lots of traders. Shakespeare's own father, John, had lots of trades throughout his life, including glover, corn trader, moneylender, ale taster and even Mayor of the town at one point.

2. He Was Born In 1564

Shakespeare was born in April, 1564. We don't know the exact date, as in those days birth dates weren't registered. Instead, the day you were baptised would have been recorded - in this case, the 26th of April. Shakespeare was born in Tudor England, during the reign of Elizabeth I, often descirbed as a 'Golden Age' for arts and culture. As a boy from a lower middle class family, it would have been unusual for William to make a living as a writer, making his success even more impressive.

3. He Got Married When He Was 18

Records show that Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway, 26, when he was just 18 years old. Anne was already pregnant, suggesting that the marriage might have been a hasty one - in those days it was frowned upon to have a baby unless you were married. Anne and William stayed together until their deaths, although William was often away.

4. He Had Some Mystery Years

The years 1585-1592 are 'missing' from Shakespeare life; basically, we don't know what he was up to. There have been lots of exciting speculations that he was hanging out at court, travelling the world or already acting on the stage. The truth is probably a bit less exciting - it's likely he was teaching, studying law or had just gone into hiding after being caught poaching on a local aristocrat's estate.

5. He Invented Loads of Words

There are literally hundreds of words either invented by or first recorded by Shakespeare, including loads we still use today. In fact, there's too many to list here! Shakespeare also invented lots of popular phrases, including 'Break the ice', 'As luck would have it' 'Cruel to be kind' 'Green-eyed monster' and 'The world is my oyster'. And there are dozens more! The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust has a whole page of them here!

6. He Never Left England

Shakespeare's plays are set all over the place; Italy, France, Denmark, Scotland and Greece to name a few, but there is no evidence that Shakespeare ever left England. It's true we don't know what he was doing during his 'Mystery years', but given that some of the geography in his places is a little dodgy, it's safe to say he definitely didn't visit every location he ever wrote about. Many of his plays were based on existing folk stories, so he probably just used the locations he was given.

7. Shakespeare Spelt His Own Name Lots of Different Ways

Nowadays we have something called 'standardised spelling', which basically just means that words generally only have one correct spelling. In Shakespeare's time however, spelling was yet to be regulated, and people pretty much spelt things how they wanted, how they sounded or how they thought it should be. Shakespeare was no different and in fact spelt his own name several different ways! There's even a whole Wikipedia page about it! These included abbreviations like 'Willm Shakp', and other spellings like 'Shakespear', 'William Shaksper' and 'William Shakspeare'. Good thing we decided to go with 'Shakespeare' in the end!

8. He Wrote 39 Plays

There's no exact and definite number of plays that Shakespeare wrote, as some of them have been lost to time, but the number comes out at about 39. His plays can generally be divided into three categories - Comedies, Tragedies and Histories. Comedies tend to have happy endings, tragedies sad endings, and histories are about real people that existed, like Julius Caesar and Henry V.

9. And Hundreds of Poems

Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets alone, as well as several other poems. The sonnets were mostly love poems and contain some of the most famous lines in verse, such as 'Shall I compare thee to a summers day?'. Some of his poems, such as Lucrece are nearly two thousand lines long!

10. Christopher Marlowe Was His Nemesis

Nemesis makes it sound more exciting than it was - in truth the two were rivals. Both were playwrights in Elizabethan London, and therefore competed for patrons (Rich people to give them money) and audiences. Marlowe and Shakespeare were also thought to collaborate on some plays, including some of Shakespeare's history plays. Sadly, Marlowe was killed in a pub fight, putting an end to any possible future collaborations.

11. He Was A Favourite of The King

After Elizabeth I died in 1603, the throne was taken by Scottish monarch James VI (or I of England). James considered himself a bit of a brainiac, and even wrote books himself. He was a big fan of the arts, and a patron of Shaekspeares acting company, which became known as 'The Kings Men'. He was also fascinated by witchcraft and demonology, even writing a book on the subject, and loved Scottish history, so it's so surprise that Shakespeare's Macbeth appealed to him so much! Scholars think it very likely that Shakespeare wrote the play with the King in mind, wanting to impress the new monarch and hopefully get a bit more cash.

12. He Was An Actor As Well As a Writer

In Tudor times, writers would usually double up as actors and appear in their own plays too. Shakespeare acted in many of his own plays as well as others, and he likely got into acting before he actually ever got a play produced. Writers tended to write for one specific troupe of actors, so Shakespeare was probably not only an actor but a director, stage manager and maybe even costume designer!

13. He Had Three Children

Shakespeare and his wife Anne had three children; Susanna, Judith and Hamnet. Sadly, only Judith and Susanna survived to adulthood, and today no direct descendent of Shakespeare survives, as his grandchildren has no children. Both girls were probably illiterate, as were most people of the time.

14. He Might Have Died On His Birthday

Shakespeare died on April 23rd, 1616, and since we don't know exactly when his birthday was, there's a very good chance he died on it! Not exactly the best way to celebrate! Shakespeare was only 52 when he died, but that's not surprising; many people in the 17th century died before they reached old age, mostly of diseases that are very preventable today. Who knows how many more plays he could have written?

15. The Second Best Bed is Actually a Nice Present

If you know one random fact about Shakespeare, it's probably that he left his wife the 'second best bed' in his will. Lots of people think that was a bit mean of him - why not the first best bed? Well, actually, the second best bed would have been the bed they slept in - the 'best' one being kept for guests. What's more, beds were valuable and expensive in those times, and a good quality one would have been rare. So, Shakespeare actually gave his wife a nice and very valuable present!

16. You Can Still Visit His House

Shakespeare's home is now a visitor attraction in Stratford Upon Avon. His birthplace is still standing, pretty remarkable since it's about 500 years old! You can also visit Anne Hathaway's cottage, as well as the place where the house he built for his family used to stand.

17. He's A Record Breaker

William Shakespeare has broken a lot of impressive records as a writer. Not only has he been translated into hundreds of languages, he is still the best selling playwright of all time. He's also the most filmed author, with hundreds of TV and film adaptations of his works having been made. Well done William!

18. You Can Visit The Globe

Although the original Globe Theatre, home of Shakespeare's acting company, is now gone, a replica has been built in its place on the Southbank in London. The Globe was destroyed in a fire years ago, mainly because it was made mostly of wood and straw, which aren't a good combination. The replica Globe is made of the same materials but a lot more fire safe, and features a Jacobean style stage, authentic seating and even a standing area, just like there would have been in Shakespeare's time! The Globe puts on Shakespeare's plays regularly, so if you want you can view a play almost exactly like his original audiences would have!

19. His Grave Is Cursed

It's not surprising that someone like Shakespeare liked a bit of theatrics. On his gravestone, Shakespeare has written a warning to any grave robbers or treasure seekers looking to pick up a souvenir from the famous man's resting place; 'Good friend, for Jesus’ sake forbeare, / To dig the dust enclosed here. Blessed be the man that spares these stones, / And cursed be he that moves my bones.' Spooky! It looks like it's worked though, as no one's disturbed him yet!

20. Some People Think He Didn't Write His Works

Some scholars have decided that Shakespeare's plays are just too good for one tradesman's son to have written. They speculate that Shakespeare was actually a cover for an aristocrat, or a group of aristocrat writing together who didn't want their names to be public. In truth, this theory is little more than class snobbery - rich and educated men just couldn't understand how someone like Shakespeare could have the intelligence and artistic talent to pen his works. But we have lots of evidence to suggest that he did just that!