BBC REPORT ON WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE'S 400 YEAR ANNIVERSARY
Where, When & How Did William Shakespeare Die? 200,000 Google His Cause Of Death
SHAKESPEARE'S DEATH is as much of a mystery as his life. Was it syphilis, typhoid, influenza, alcohol or drug abuse that caused his death, or a combination of elements? By Ben Arogundade. [Apr.26.2016]
WHEN, WHERE AND HOW did English playwright William Shakespeare die? According to Google, who collate and publish global monthly search statistics, approximately 17,849 internet-users type this collection of queries into their digital devices each month — that adds up to over 200,000 searches per year globally.
SHAKESPEARE: WHEN, WHERE & HOW DID HE DIE?
So, when, where and how did Shakespeare die? A limited number of facts are known. We know, for example that he died in Stratford-upon-Avon, on April 23, 1616 — his 53rd birthday — and his burial was recorded in the register of the Holy Trinity Church, Stratford. Five years previously, Shakespeare had returned home to Stratford after almost 20 years in London. He was taken seriously ill in the first weeks of 1616 — so much so that on January 18 he issued instructions for the drawing up of his will, which, after various delays, was finally completed on March 25. The exact nature of Shakespeare’s illness, and subsequent death, remains the subject of much speculation. Here are the hypotheses currently debated by scholars:
This is a sexually transmitted disease, the onset of which may occur years or even decades after initial infection, and which was a known killer in Shakespeare’s time. An analysis of his final signatures suggests that he may have been suffering from dystonia in his arm — an involuntary muscle contraction often linked to syphilis. This may explain why Shakespeare retired from playwriting in his later years.
William Shakespeare’s house, New Place, was situated next to a small stream, which in those days were known carriers of typhoid — a contagious bacterial disease transmitted by the ingestion of food or water contaminated with the faeces of an infected person. It is common in areas of poor sanitation, and with limited access to clean water. The fact that Shakespeare suffered severe fevers for weeks before his death is consistent with typhoid.
There was an epidemic of this viral infection — commonly referred to as flu — during the winter of 1615 and 1616, which Shakespeare could have caught. A doctor at the time noted that fevers had been “especially prevalent in Stratford,” during that period.
There is a reference, reported by the Stratford vicar of the time, to a “merry meeting” between Shakespeare and fellow playwright Ben Jonson, in which they “drank too hard, for Shakespeare died of a fever there contracted.”
The idea that Shakespeare could have indulged in drug abuse is a hot topic amongst scholars. In 2001 traces of cocaine and marijuana were discovered in early 17th-century clay tobacco pipes found near Shakespeare’s home and within the garden of his home. Although there is no proof that they belonged to him, they suggest the culture of drug use within his hometown, which he would have been aware of.
Ultimately, perhaps the question of when, where and how William Shakespeare’s died is a combination of some of the aforementioned possibilities, as is often the case. Certainly, the speed of his burial — two days after his death — suggest that Shakespeare died of a contagious disease, and that there was concern about it spreading.
The only way to know the truth about whether he died as a result of drug or alcohol abuse or an infectious disease would be to exhume his remains. But, fearful of what might have happened to them after his death, the Bard famously had a curse engraved upon his tomb:
Good frend for Jesus sake forebeare,
To digg the dust encloased heare;
Bleste be the man that spares thes stones,
And curst be he that moves my bones.
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE'S SKULL
But if getting inside William Shakespeare's grave to find out the exact cause of his death is problematic, perhaps we can find out by analysing it from above. In March 2016, a team of archaeologists and geophysicists from Staffordshire University, led by Kevin Colls, used high tech ground-penetrating radar (GPR) to look into the Bard's grave. To their surprise they found that Shakespeare's skull was missing. Their finding gives credence to an 1879 report in The Argosy magazine that stated that Shakespeare's skull had been stolen from his shallow grave, which was barely a metre deep.
The team were the first ever to be allowed permission to undertake the non-invasive archaeological investigation. Perhaps soon, further scans may reveal crucial information about exactly how Shakespeare died. “With projects like this, you never really know what you might find,” said Colls.
Ben Arogundade's book, 'The Shakespeare Mashup', is out now.
MYSTERY MAN: When, where and how did William Shakespeare die? The details are sketchy, who only adds to the enigma of England's renowned playwright. Five theories on his death are currently debated by Shakespeare scholars.
Beauty History & Culture by Ben Arogundade, Author of 'Black Beauty'.
DEATH OF A GENIUS: The grave of William Shakespeare, at the Holy Trinity Church, Stratford, Warwickshire. Not all the facts about when, where and how Shakespeare died are known to us. The most elusive details concern the exact circumstances of his death, which Shakespeare scholars debate to this day.
*WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE'S DEATH ACCORDING TO GOOGLE SEARCH
The number of people worldwide who Google the phrase, “Shakespeare syphilis” each month.
The number of people worldwide who Google the phrase, “Shakespeare drugs” each month.
The number of people worldwide who Google the phrase, “Shakespeare alcohol” each month.
The number of people worldwide who Google the question, “When, where and how did Shakespeare die?” each month.
*All figures for “William Shakespeare's Death According to Google Search”, supplied by Google. Stats include global totals for laptop and desktop computers and mobile devices.
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