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23 Things You Didn’t Know About William Shakespeare

The Bard would have been 450 today. Here’s some stuff you might not know, via NoSweatShakespeare.com

1. According to the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, Shakespeare wrote close to a tenth of the most quoted lines ever written or spoken in English.

What’s more, according to the Literary Encyclopaedia, Shakespeare is the second most quoted English writer after the writers of the Bible.

2. Shakespeare has been credited by the Oxford English Dictionary with introducing almost 3,000 words to the English language.

Estimations of his vocabulary range from 17,000 to a dizzying 29,000 words – at least double the number of words used by the average conversationalist.

3. According to Shakespeare professor Louis Marder, “Shakespeare was so facile in employing words that he was able to use over 7,000 of them – more than occur in the whole King James Version of the Bible – only once and never again.”

4. William Shakespeare would have been considered a very controversial figure when he married a much older woman who was pregnant with their child.

Anne Hathaway (not the actress) was 26 years old when William married her at the age of 18. She duly gave birth to Susannah six months after the wedding.

5. Shakespeare never published his plays.

They are known today only because two of his fellow actors – John Hemminges and Henry Condell – recorded and published 36 of them posthumously under the name The First Folio, which is the source of all Shakespeare books published.

6. Copyright didn’t exist in Shakespeare’s time, so there was a thriving trade in copied plays.

To help counter this, actors got their lines only once the play was in progress, often in the form of cue acting where someone backstage whispered them to the person shortly before he was supposed to deliver them.

7. Aside from writing 37 plays and composing 154 sonnets, Shakespeare was also an established actor.

He performed in many of his own plays as well as those of his contemporaries, such as Ben Jonson.

8. Amongst the 80 languages Shakespeare’s works have been translated into, the most obscure must be the constructed language of Klingon.

Hamlet and Much Ado about Nothing have both been translated as part of the Klingon Shakespeare Restoration Project by the Klingon Language Institute.

9. The United States has Shakespeare to thank for its estimated 200 million starlings.

Stephen Marche / How Shakespeare Changed Everything / Via brainpickings.org

In 1890 an American bardolator, Eugene Schiffelin, embarked on a project to import each species of bird mentioned in Shakespeare’s works that was absent from the US. Part of this project involved releasing two flocks of 60 starlings in New York’s Central Park.

10. “William Shakespeare” is an anagram of “I am a weakish speller”, “I’ll make a wise phrase”, “Lame Swahili speaker” and “Hear me as I will speak”.

11. The UK National Portrait Gallery’s inaugural portrait was of William Shakespeare.

The National Portrait Gallery’s first acquisition in 1856 was the ‘Chandos’ portrait of Shakespeare, attributed to the artist John Taylor. It’s now considered the only representation of the writer that has any real claim to having been painted from life.

12. The moons of Uranus are named after Shakespearean characters.

The moons were originally named in 1852 after magical spirits from English literature. The International Astronomy Union subsequently developed the convention to name all further moons of Uranus (of which there are 27) after characters in Shakespeare’s plays or Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock.

13. Shakespeare had close connections with King James I.

The King made the actors of Shakespeare’s company ‘Grooms of Chamber’, in response Shakespeare changed the company’s name from the ‘Lord Chamberlain’s Men’ to the ‘King’s Men’. The new title made Shakespeare a favourite with the King and in much demand for Court performances.

14. Sometime after his unsuccessful application to become a gentleman, Shakespeare took his father to the College of Arms to secure their own family crest.

The crest was a yellow spear on a yellow shield, with the Latin inscription “Non Sans Droict”, or “Not without Right”.

15. Unlike most artists of his time, Shakespeare died a very wealthy man with a large property portfolio.

He was a brilliant businessman – forming a joint-stock company with his actors meaning he took a share in the company’s profits, as well as earning a fee for each play he wrote.

16. Shakespeare placed a curse on his grave in Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon in the form of a poem etched on his tombstone.

Though this undoubtedly helped his bones to remain untouched since his death, in 1747 Stratford citizens replaced the original bag of grain grave marker with a quill.

17. Although Shakespeare is almost universally considered as one of the finest writers in the English language, his contemporaries were not always as impressed.

The first recorded reference to Shakespeare, written by theatre critic Robert Greene in 1592, was as an “upstart crow, beautified with our feathers”.

18. A play called The History of Cardenio, which was credited to Shakespeare and performed in his lifetime, has been completely lost.

In 2010 it was claimed that a surviving copy of The History of Cardenio had been found, and that a deal is in the works for James Franco to play Cardenio.

19. In the King James Bible the 46th word of Psalm 46 is ‘shake’ and the 46th word from the end of the same Psalm is ‘spear’.

Some think this was a hidden birthday message to the Bard, as the King James Bible was published in 1611 – the year of Shakespeare’s 46th birthday.

20. There are more than 80 variations recorded for the spelling of Shakespeare’s name.

In the few original signatures that have survived, Shakespeare spelt his name “Willm Shaksp,” “William Shakespe,” “Wm Shakspe,” “William Shakspere,” ”Willm Shakspere,” and “William Shakspeare”. There are no records of him ever having spelt it “William Shakespeare”, as we know him today.

21. The original Globe Theatre came to a premature end in 1613 during a performance of Henry VIII, when a cannon set light to the thatched roof.

Within two hours the theatre was burnt to the ground. It was rebuilt in 1614.

22. The Royal Shakespeare Company sells more than half a million tickets a year for Shakespeare productions at their theatres in Stratford-on-Avon, London and Newcastle.

23. Nobody knows Shakespeare’s true birthday. It’s celebrated on April 23 – three days before his baptism, which was recorded on April 26, 1564.

However, as Shakespeare was born under the old Julian calendar, what was April 23 during Shakespeare’s life would actually be May 3 according to today’s Gregorian calendar.

Whatever, who’s counting? Happy Birthday Shaky!

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