Shakespeare’s Unexplained Death

Shakespeare died on 23 April 1616, in his hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon at the age of fifty-two. It occurred within a month of signing his will, a document in which he described himself as being “in perfect health & memorie, god be praysed”. This was probably a typical phrase and did not necessarily mean he was not already suffering from symptoms of an illness which would later prove fatal.
However there are no contemporary sources that explain how or why he died.

We know that the last months of his life were troubles by scandal (see here). His daughter Judith’s husband, Thomas Quiney, was brought before the Bawdy Court at Holy Trinity Church, just two months after the wedding. . He was found guilty of getting pregnant another woman called Margaret Wheeler, who had died in childbirth with her baby.
This is a likely reason that prompted Shakespeare to rewrite his will on 25 March 1616, bequeathing the bulk of his large estate to his elder daughter Susanna and her male heirs. A few weeks after writing this new will, Shakespeare died.

His death occurred on or near his birthday (the exact date of his birth remains unknown) and this may have been the source of a later legend.
After about fifty years, John Ward, the vicar of Stratford-upon-Avon renowned for his diary in which he also recorded anecdotes about William Shakespeare, he wrote “Shakespear Drayton and Ben Jhonson had a merry meeting and it seems drank too hard for Shakespear died of a feavour there contracted.”
The “merry meeting” refers to an alleged night of heavy drinking with writers Michael Drayton and Ben Jonson, and it is the only source to support this theory about Shakespeare’s death.
According to this hypothesis , William Shakespeare, the greatest genius of English literature, died as a direct result of getting drunk with his friends!

There is another key question: was the Bard’s death sudden and unexpected, or the result of a longer illness?
Those who believe in the “sudden death” theory quote some lines of a contemporary poet, James Mabbe, as testimony. He wrote this lyrical tribute suggesting an abrupt demise:
We wondered, Shakespeare, that thou went’st so soon
From the world’s stage to the grave’s tiring room.”

Another theory, on the contrary, holds that Shakespeare wrote the will because he was ill and aware that the end was imminent.
But what might the illness have been? Shakespeare’s time was full of infectious diseases, including bubonic plague, or typhus caused by poor sanitation. It has even been speculated that Shakespeare was suffering from tertiary syphilis, the sexually transmitted disease widespread in London at the time. Another writer argued instead that it was caused by a cerebral haemorrhage or apoplexy. According to him Shakespeare’s Droeshout portrait, the engravind on frontispiece of the First Folio, suggests a “marked thickening of the left temporal artery”, a sign of atheroma and atherosclerosis.
Apoplexy was quite common in men under continuous mental and physical strain as an actor-manager-dramatist could be. Actor and theatrical entrepreneur Richard Burbage, who shared the same theatrical life, died of such a attack within twenty-four hours in 1619. In his will, William Shakespeare left his friend Burbage a token remembrance. London’s grief over Richard Burbage’s death was so profound that it almost overshadowed the official mourning for Queen Anne’s death ten days earlier.

Others have gone even further: they claim that Shakespeare was murdered by Protestant agents because he was a secret Catholic

Shakespeare morì il 23 aprile 1616, nella sua città natale di Stratford-upon-Avon, all’età di cinquantadue anni. Capitò entro un mese dalla firma del suo testamento, un documento che in cui si dichiarava “in perfetta salute e memoria, ringraziando Dio”. Questa era probabilmente una frase tipica e non significava necessariamente che non stesse già soffrendo i sintomi di una malattia che in seguito si sarebbe rivelata fatale.
Tuttavia non ci sono fonti contemporanee che spieghino come o perché sia morto.

Sappiamo che gli ultimi mesi della sua vita furono travagliati da scandali (vedi qui). Il marito di sua figlia Judith, Thomas Quiney, fu condotto davanti al Tribunale davanti alla Bawdy Court (il tribunale per le oscenità) della Holy Trinity Church, solo due mesi dopo il matrimonio. Fu riconosciuto colpevole di aver messo incinta un’altra donna di nome Margaret Wheeler, morta di parto con il suo bambino.
Questa è una probabile ragione che ha spinto Shakespeare a riscrivere il suo testamento il 25 marzo 1616, lasciando in eredità la maggior parte delle sue proprietà alla figlia maggiore Susanna e ai suoi eredi maschi. Poche settimane dopo aver stilato questo nuovo testamento, Shakespeare morì.

La sua morte avvenne il giorno del suo compleanno o in prossimità di quello (la data esatta della sua nascita rimane sconosciuta) e questa potrebbe essere stata la fonte di una leggenda successiva.
Circa cinquant’anni dopo, John Ward, il vicario di Stratford-upon-Avon famoso per il suo diario in cui annotò aneddoti anche su William Shakespeare, scrisse “Shakespeare Drayton e Ben Jhonson ebbero un incontro allegro e sembra che abbiano bevuto troppo perché Shakespeare morì di una febbre ivi contratta”.
Quell’ “incontro allegro” si riferisce a una presunta notte di forti bevute con gli scrittori Michael Drayton e Ben Jonson, ed è l’unica fonte a sostegno di questa teoria sulla morte di Shakespeare.

Secondo questa ipotesi, William Shakespeare, il più grande genio della letteratura inglese, sarebbe morto per essersi ubriacato pesantemente con i suoi amici!

C’è un’altra importante domanda: la morte del Bardo è stata improvvisa e inaspettata o il risultato di una malattia più lunga?

Chi crede nella teoria della “morte improvvisa” cita come testimonianza alcuni versi di un poeta contemporaneo, James Mabbe, che la lasciato questo tributo lirico in cui si suggerisce una morte improvvisa:
Ci meravigliammo, Shakespeare, che te ne fossi andato così presto…
Dal palcoscenico del mondo alla stanza riservata al cambio dei costumi del sepolcro”.


Un’altra teoria, al contrario, sostiene che Shakespeare abbia scritto il testamento perché era malato e consapevole che la fine era imminente.
Ma quale potrebbe essere stata la malattia? Il tempo di Shakespeare era pieno di malattie infettive, tra cui la peste bubbonica o il tifo che era causato dalle pessime condizioni igienico-sanitarie. Si è persino ipotizzato che Shakespeare fosse affetto da sifilide terziaria, la malattia a trasmissione sessuale diffusa a Londra in quel momento. Un altro scrittore sostenne invece che la morte fu causata da emorragia cerebrale o apoplessia. Secondo lui il ritratto Droeshout di Shakespeare, l’incisione che si trova sul frontespizio del Primo Folio, suggerisce un “marcato ispessimento dell’arteria temporale sinistra”, segno di ateroma e aterosclerosi
L’apoplessia era abbastanza comune in uomini sottoposti a continui sforzi mentali e fisici come poteva esserlo un attore-direttore-drammaturgo. L’attore e impresario teatrale Richard Burbage morì di un tale attacco nel giro di ventiquattr’ore nel 1619.
Nel suo testamento, William Shakespeare lasciò all’amico Burbage un ricordo simbolico. Il dolore di Londra per la morte di Richard Burbage fu così profondo che quasi oscurò il lutto ufficiale per la morte della regina Anna, avvenuta dieci giorni prima

Altri sono andati anche oltre: sostengono che Shakespeare fu assassinato da agenti protestanti perché era segretamente cattolico.

68 thoughts on “Shakespeare’s Unexplained Death

  1. it’s interesting because there seems to be ambiguity about pretty much every asp[ect of his life. Although I suppose, at the time, you could say that about anyone. It’s strange though, because he was a celebrity at the time, so you’d have thought it would be recorded.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. 201 / 5000
      Risultati della traduzione
      You’re so right, it’s strange that there are a lot of loose ends about his life.
      Just think that the life of our great Dante Alighieri abounds with an infinity of information, even though he lived about three centuries before Shakespeare.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Ho quasi finito, perché altrimenti il mio blog diventerebbe monotematico e annoierebbe. Magari in futuro mi potrei dedicare al nostro Michelangelo Florio che potrebbe celarsi sotto il cognome inglesizzato della madre Crollalanza –> Shakespear in inglese

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Paola ho letto il tuo sfogo e la motivazione della chiusura dei commenti. Sono d’accordo con te ma ho una richiesta da farti. Potresti almeno lasciare il tasto dei like, così ti lasciamo un segno del nostro passaggio?!?💜

      Like

      1. Although, I grew up in a small rural town and we always joked that the rumour of what we did was making the rounds before we even did it. People like to gossip. Staying private these days is a full time job. 😊

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Ah, the plot thickens! Shakespeare’s life, death and genius remain such a mystery. Sometimes I wonder if those lady “editors” of his wrote more than corrections because his life and his genius don’t seem to match up. I don’t know the true answer to this puzzle but the intrigue is there and is palpable! Thank you Luisa for sharing all your posts on Shakespeare recently, they’ve all been truly fascinating! Love and light, Deborah.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear Deborah, there are so many unanswered questions about him.
      Little is known about his life, he left no manuscripts, his six signatures may not have been made by him but by a scribe, his family was illiterate and there are also doubts concerning his literacy….
      Dickens was right to say that he trembled every time something new surfaced about that genius
      Thanks for your great comment

      Liked by 1 person

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