10 Ways To Be a Shakespeare Expert


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Painting of Shakespeare and his family
Item Title: 
Shakespeare with his family, at Stratford, reciting the tragedy of Hamlet [graphic] / engraved for the Eclectic by Perine & Giles.
Item Call Number: 
ART File S527.4 no.31 part 1 (size XS)
Item Creator: 
Perine, George Edward, 1837-1885, printmaker
Item Date: 
New York : [s.n., mid to late 19th century]

Want to impress your teachers and parents? Here are 10 interesting facts about Shakespeare's life and work. You'll sound like an expert in no time!

1.  Nobody knows Shakespeare's actual birthday. Scholars think he was born on April 23, 1564, three days before his baptism was recorded at a church in Stratford, England. Strangely enough, his death in 1616 also occurred on April 23.

2.  As far as we know, he never went beyond grammar school, probably finishing in his early to mid-teens. In those days, grammar school was way more advanced than now: Students learned Latin, math and religion; they read classical literature and studied using a hornbook (paper glued to a piece of wood and covered with clear animal horn).

3.  Shakespeare applied to the College of Heralds for a coat of arms for his father. A coat of arms was a symbol of higher rank in British society. The Shakespeare family's coat of arms has a spear in the middle and a falcon on top. Shakespeare inherited the coat of arms when his father died and was then permitted to call himself a gentleman.

4.  Shakespeare and his wife, Anne Hathaway, had three children: Susanna and twins Judith and Hamnet. The twins were named after neighbors who named their son William. Although Hamnet died at age 11, his name lives on: It was sometimes written as Hamlet, the title of one of his father's greatest characters and plays. Shakespeare's last descendant, a granddaughter, died in 1670.

5.  "Shakespeare" was spelled 80 different ways, including "Shaxpere" and "Shaxberd."

6.  Shakespeare is the most translated author ever. His work is read in at least 80 languages, including Chinese, Italian, Armenian, Bengali, Tagalog, Uzbek and Krio (spoken by freed slaves in Sierra Leone).

7.  Shakespeare is thought to have written 39 plays. About half were printed in small booklets before his death. But some of his most famous works, including Macbeth and Julius Caesar, were not printed in his lifetime. They would not have been handed down to us had not two men in Shakespeare's acting company—John Heminge and Henry Condell— printed 36 of his plays in a book called the First Folio. When the book was published in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare's death, it sold for 1 British pound (several hundred dollars in today's money). One sold in 2006 for nearly $5 million.

8.  While most people regularly use about 2,000 words, Shakespeare used more than 25,000 in his writing.

9.  If you do a Google search on "Shakespeare," you get more than 125 million results.

10.  Did Shakespeare really write Shakespeare? Some people think that other authors wrote the works credited to him. This is a debate that likely will continue.

At the Folger, we support all research questions. However, we haven't seen any research yet that would make us believe anyone but Shakespeare, the man from Stratford, wrote the plays and poems that carry his name.

Originally appeared in "10 Ways To Be Or Not To Be A Shakespeare Expert" in the Washington Post by Ellen Edwards, with Georgianna Ziegler, Head of Reference at Folger Shakespeare Library.