William Shakespeare died on 23 April 1616, his 52nd birthday. In truth, the exact date of Shakespeare’s death is not known, but assumed from a record of his burial two days later, 25 April 1616, at Holy Trinity Church. Stratford Upon Avon, where his grave remains.
When Shakespeare retired from London around 1610, he spent the remainder of his life in Stratford Upon Avon’s largest house – New House – which he had purchased as a family home in 1597. It is believed that Shakespeare’s death occurred in New House, where he would have been attended by his son-in-law, Dr John Hall, the local physician.
The cause of Shakespeare’s death is not known for sure, though there’s a commonly held theory that Shakespeare died after contracting a fever after a drinking binge with fellow playwrights Ben Jonson and Michael Drayton. The source of this theory is John Ward, the vicar of Holy Trinity Church in. In 1661, many years after Shakespeare’s death, the noted in his diary: “Shakespeare, Drayton, and Ben Jonson had a merry meeting, and it seems drank too hard; for Shakespeare died of a fever there contracted.” However, most historians agree that given Stratford-upon-Avon’s reputation for scandalous stories and rumors in the 17th century this an overblown anecdote with no base in fact.
More convincing is the theory that Shakespeare was sick for over a month before he died. The evidence comes from the fact that on 25 March 1616 (just 4 weeks before his death) Shakespeare dictated his will – in keeping with the 17th Century tradition of drawing up wills on one’s deathbed. This points to the fact that Shakespeare was aware his life was coming to an end. Some scholars also point to his signature on his will being somewhat shaky, giving evidence of his frailty at the time.
Despite all of the theories, the cause of Shakespeare’s death at the age of just 52 will likely remain a mystery. But living in Elizabethan England where the average life expectancy was just 35 years, Shakespeare died a grandfather after living a relatively long and healthy life.
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