Ten Fun Facts About Shakespeare


Some will see echoes of the true life story of Leopold and Loeb in Micah Nemerever’s book These Violent Delights, though the author himself is quoted as saying their story is only one of many influences. Perhaps another influence was Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the quintessential story of star crossed lovers, from which he took the title of the book:

“These violent delights have violent ends

And in their triumph die, like fire and powder

Which, as they kiss, consume”

While I found Walter Russell Mead’s God and Gold didn’t quite add up, the scope of Mead’s sourcing, from literature to dry academic and economic journals is certainly impressive. He even managed four references to Shakespeare, though no quotes from him.

Here then, inspired by my recent reading of these two books, are 10 Fun Facts About William Shakespeare:

  1. The Greatest Of All Time, or Not So Much? - Though Shakespeare is often acclaimed as the “greatest playwright ever” within the English speaking world, he doesn’t get the same respect or recognition outside of it. As Mead quotes Napoleon - “I have read [Shakespeare]. There is nothing that comes anywhere near Corneille and Racine.”
  2. Three Globes - Shakespeare’s plays were originally performed in the Globe Theatre, which was owned cooperatively by the actors of his company (the Lord Chamberlain’s Men). The original Globe, built in 1599, went up in flames in 1613 when a theatrical cannon misfired and caught the roof on fire during a staging of Henry VIII. Shakespeare’s company then rebuilt on the same site, opening a second Globe the following year. That theatre, along with all London theatres, was closed down in 1642, and pulled down by 1645 - actions taken under Puritan rule brought about by the English Civil War. Over three hundred years later, in 1997 a reconstruction of the Globe, based on the best available evidence of the original structure, was opened 750 feet from the site of the original theatre.
  3. And the Blackfriars - Though the Globe may be best known today as “Shakespeare’s theatre”, there was another theater performing his works in his day. The Blackfriars was organized by Richard Burbage of the Globe company. In 1608, Burbage formed The King's Men, a company of player/owners for the Blackfriars. During the winter months, The King’s Men produced plays by Shakespeare and others at the Blackfriars.  Like the Globe, the Blackfriars was forced to close in 1642. It was demolished in 1655.
  4. Best of the Best - In 2008 The London Telegraph surveyed 300 actors, writers, directors and producers on Shakespeare. Hamlet was voted his best play, with The Taming of the Shrew voted worst. Iago from Othello was voted Best Villain.
  5. International Man of Mystery - Despite the fame of Shakespeare’s plays, very little is documented about Shakespeare the man. He is believed to have been born on April 23rd, 1564, and to have died on his birthday 52 years later. At 18 he married Anne Hathaway, 8 years his elder. From 1585 to 1591 there is no record of him at all. In 1592 his plays began to be produced and his fame quickly grew, leading to the staging of his plays not only at the Globe but in the royal courts of Scotland and England. He died in 1616.
  6. Romeo and Juliet Not the First Time - Shakespeare’s treatment of the star crossed lovers is not the first tale of the doomed pair. Romeo and Juliet is his adaptation for the stage of a story by Luigi da Porto. Da Porto’s story was some 60 years old at the time and would have likely been familiar to the play’s original audiences.
  7. Hamlet Not The Last Time - Hamlet, like many of Shakespeare’s plays, has been the inspiration for music, opera and modern movies. West Side Story is a retelling of Romeo and Juliet, while The Lion King is a retelling of Hamlet. Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho was inspired by Orson Welles’ Chimes at Midnight, which in turn was inspired by Shakespeare’s character of Falstaff. Even that most famous “B” movie Forbidden Planet is loosely based on The Tempest.
  8. One Fell Swoop - Shakespeare’s writing includes many words and phrases, still in use today, that he is thought to have originated. These include “one fell swoop” from MacBeth, “wild goose chase” from Romeo and Juliet, “foregone conclusion” from Othello, and many others. The Oxford English Dictionary credits Shakespeare with introducing 3000 words to English.
  9. “For in That Sleep of Death, What Dreams May Come” - William and his wife Anne are buried in the Holy Trinity Church at Stratford upon Avon. Aware of the possible perils of his fame, Shakespeare apparently dreamt that thieves might wish to dig up his bones to sell for profit. So he penned a curse which is inscribed into his gravestone. It reads (in modern English): “Good friend, for Jesus sake forebear, to dig the dust enclosed here. Blessed be the man that spares these stones, and cursed be he that moves my bones.”
  10. “I Shall Not Look Upon His Like Again” - In 1621 a bust of Shakespeare was commissioned by his son-in-law. The bust, made while his wife Anne was still alive, is thought by many to be a good likeness of him.