Read everything you need to know about Shakespeare’s death – what age he died, where he died, how he died, and what his last words were.
At what age did Shakespeare die?
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.
The last months of Shakespeare’s life were embroiled in scandal after his daughter Judith’s husband Thomas Quiney was brought before the church court at Holy Trinity. Thomas was made to do penance for getting another woman pregnant who then died in childbirth – a likely reason behind Shakespeare rewriting his will on 25 March 16167. Within weeks of writing his new will, Shakespeare was dead.
Where did Shakespeare’s death happen?
In 1610 Shakespeare left his working life in London and lived in retirement with his wife in Stratford-upon-Avon’s largest house – New House. 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.
How did Shakespeare die?
We don’t know the cause of Shakespeare’s death, but there is a theory that Shakespeare died after contracting a fever following 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, who wrote many years after Shakespeare’s death that “Shakespeare, Drayton, and Ben Jonson had a merry meeting, and it seems drank too hard; for Shakespeare died of a fever there contracted.” Most historians agree, however, 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.
A more convincing theory is 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 suggests Shakespeare could have been 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.
Did Shakespeare die poor?
Shakespeare died a wealthy man. His plays were very popular and his London theatres were booked out every day, ensuring a good income. At the end of his life, he owned several properties in London and Stratford. He left generous amounts of money to friends and relatives.
It is sometimes thought that he died poor because he left his second-best bed to his wife. It was a loving gesture because it was the custom to reserve the best bed for guests and to sleep in the second-best bed. That is where the couple slept together, where their children were conceived and born, and probably where Shakespeare died. He knew, too that his wife would be taken care of after his death, and would continue to live in the matrimonial home.
What were Shakespeare’s last words?
Nobody knows for sure what Shakespeare’s last words were, as he died in the privacy of his close family and there are no known reports of his death. However, in anticipation of his death, Shakespeare wrote a few words to be inscribed on his tomb, to ensure that once buried no-one would dig him up to move his body to somewhere else. Shakespeare’s epitaph reads:
Good friend for Jesus sake forbeare,
To dig the dust enclosed here.
Blessed be the man that spares these stones,
And cursed be he that moves my bones.