Art Works Blog

Did you know....? Happy Birthday William Shakespeare edition

April 23 marks the 449th birthday of the English poet and playwright William Shakespeare. To celebrate, we’ve rounded up several little known facts about the "Bard of Avon." Think we missed a fanciful factoid? Add to the comments below.

In Shakespeare’s famous words, “…some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” Based on the facts below, it seems his legacy may be a result of all three.

Did you know Shakespeare married an older woman? Shakespeare was just 17 when he married 26-year-old Anne Hathaway. Hathaway was three months pregnant at the time of their nuptials. Their first child, Hamnet, was born only six months after the wedding. The Shakespeares went on to have two additional daughters, Susanna and Judith.

Did you know of Shakespeare’s four sisters, only one lived into adulthood? Shakespeare, born in 1564, was the third child of his parents John and Mary. His two older siblings, Joan (1558) and Margaret (1562), died at a very young age. Shakespeare’s immediately younger sibling, also named Joan after his deceased sister, lived to be 77, keeping a close relationship with her famous brother all her life. His fourth sister, Anne (1571), was the victim of the Black Death and died at the age of eight when Shakespeare was a teenager. All of Shakespeare’s brothers---Gilbert (1566), Richard (1574), and Edmund (1580)---lived well into adulthood.

Did you know that Shakespeare was a serious multi-tasker? Shakespeare wrote in As You Like It: “All the world ‘s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts.” Taking a cue from his writing, the playwright was already famous in London by the 17th century but his various occupations didn’t stop there. Shakespeare was also an entrepreneur and property owner in his hometown of Stratford. His wife Anne and their children remained in Stratford and, as a result, he visited frequently to conduct business. All the while, Shakespeare was writing, authoring 37 plays and 154 sonnets by the time of his death at 52. Shakespeare began writing in 1589, so this averages approximately 1.5 plays each year. In addition, Shakespeare was busy running an acting company and a theater.

Did you know that Shakespeare’s name may not really be Shakespeare? Scholars have tracked down original documents showing Shakespeare’s signature---or should we say signatures. No two documents and their corresponding signatures are spelled alike and range from Shakespe to Shakspe to Shakspere to Shakespear. In all, researchers have identified more than 80 different spellings of the poet’s last name.

Did you know that Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London used advertisements? Built in 1599 along the south bank of the River Thames, the Globe Theatre was (and still is) an icon of London’s waterfront. In order to encourage potential ticket holders to patronize the theater, color-coded flags were hung outside to advertise the type of play to be performed:  red flags meant a historical play; white flags denoted a comical show; and black flags were for a tragedy. The straightforward advertising must have worked. When the Globe Theatre burnt down in 1613, a product of special effects gone amuck, it was quickly rebuilt on the same exact spot within the next year.

Want to learn more about the prolific poet and playwright? Visit our Shakespeare in American communities website for educational resources and to find out about grant opportunities.

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