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Happy 400th Deathday (Maybe) to William Shakespeare!

Photo of William Shakespeare

The famous First Folio of Shakespeare’s works, 1623. Engraving by Martin Droeshout.

William Shakespeare, the Immortal Bard, proved all too mortal on this day 400 years ago. Or close to this day: he died on or about April 23, 1616.

The exact day of Shakespeare’s death isn’t known. What we do know is that his funeral was held on April 25th, 1616, in Stratford-Upon-Avon. People worked backwards from that. As it happens, April 23rd has also been named as his birthdate in a similar way: he was baptized on April 26, 1564, and since people figured he must have been born a few days before that, April 23rd became his accepted date of birth.

That’s why these days people say that Shakespeare was born and died on April 23rd, because that’s tidy, and tidy is fun.

Photo of William Shakespeare

Paul Hehn

Naturally, Shakespeare being mysterious ol’ Shakespeare, we also don’t know what he died of.  Some say that he died after a heavy bout of drinking with his playwright chums Ben Jonson and Michael Drayton. People said the same thing about the death of Alexander the Great. (About the drinking, that is, not that he was hanging out with theater people.)

The difference is that in Alexander’s case the drinking bout may actually have been true, while in Shakespeare’s case the signs point the other way. Most notably, the playwright made out his will a few weeks before his demise, and in the old days a will was something you did on your deathbed. His signature was said to be shaky and frail-looking.

Google Doodle for Shakespeare on the 400th anniversary of his death. This doodle appeared on the Google front page on April 23rd, 2016.

The modern-day “proof” that Shakespeare died on April 23rd is that this Google Doodle was published in his honor on April 23 in 2016. Surely Google wouldn’t steer us wrong?

See our biography of William Shakespeare »

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