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Welcome to Episode #66 of That Shakespeare Life, the podcast that takes you behind the curtain and into the life of William Shakespeare. 

When William Shakespeare died in Stratford Upon Avon England in 1616, the world lost an incredible soul that would far outlast his 52 years. But how did the greatest playwright die? And why was he not buried alongside other great playwrights of his stature at Westminster Abbey? Here to take us back to 1616 and walk us through the myths, the legend and the facts about Shakespeare’s death is our guest Darren Freebury Jones.

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Dr Darren Freebury-Jones is Lecturer in Shakespeare Studies (International – USA) at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. His role involves building and developing relationships with schools, universities, and organizations in the USA through regular teaching tours; working on the Trust’s online educational resources; as well as lecturing at the Shakespeare Centre. Darren’s research interests include early modern attribution studies, digital approaches to examining drama, and intertextuality. His doctoral thesis examined Thomas Kyd’s influence on Shakespeare’s early work and he is one of the editors for the first edition of Kyd’s collected works since 1901.  He has also investigated the boundaries of John Marston’s dramatic corpus as part of the Oxford Marston project. His recent and forthcoming work on the plays of authors such as Shakespeare, Kyd, Lyly, Marlowe, Peele, Nashe, Marston, Dekker, Fletcher, and others can be found in a range of peer-reviewed journals.

In this episode, I’ll be asking Darren about :

  • Was 52 considered an old age for early modern England, or did William Shakespeare die young? 

  • Why do some historians believe the bard died of pneumonia?

  • Did Shakespeare have a lavish funeral?

    … and more!

Good friends, go in, and taste some wine with me; 
And we, like friends, will straightway go together.

Julius Caesar, II.2

When I was in Stratford Upon Avon, England, for the 2019 Shakespeare Film Festival (Where my film Romeo and Juliet in 3 Minutes won it its’ category! Whoop!) I made a point to stop by The Bell Inn because of this legend associated with the pub, and in this video I show you what it looks like from the outside.
The film which won at this festival is now available on Amazon Prime, which you can watch here.

William Shakespeare died in 1616

William Shakespeare was born, and died on St. George’s Day, April 23. He died on April 23, 1616.  There are conflicting reports about how old an older person really was for the 16th century. William was 52 years old, which if you estimate the average life to be 30-40 years in the 16-17th century, that seems substantial, but both Ben Jonson and William’s sister, Joan, outlived the bard by close to 20 years.

No matter how we estimate his death in terms of very old or very young, the legend surrounding his death has been entertaining for centuries. While no one knowns for usre hwat killed William Shakespeare, it is said that he was out drinking with Ben Jonson the day he died, and that overcome with illness he succumbed to pneumonia and died as a result of his experience walking home drunk from the pub. That story has very likely been embellished, if there’s any truth to it all (which is doubtful) but you can visit the pub which claims they were the spot where this carousing went down at The Bell Inn in Stratford Upon Avon, just a short distance from the house where Shakespeare did, verifiably, die at New Place in Stratford Upon Avon.


Your brother he shall go along with me.


Alls Well That Ends Well, III.6

Grave of Edmond Shakespeare (d.1607) in Southwark Cathedral, Stratford Upon Avon, England. Source

Shakespeare died at New Place 

When William Shakespeare passed away, he was most likely attended by his son in law, John Hall, who while not a practicing physician, was something of a medical doctor in the town. He had a medicinal herb garden at his home (and you can see a replica of that in the town today). While New Place has since been torn down, you can visit the site of Shakespeare’s death by visiting New Place’s grounds and substantial gardens. We speak with Glyn Jones about the gardens at New Place (including John Hall’s medicinal garden) inside this episode of That Shakespeare Life.

Interestingly, Shakespeare seems to have either known he was going to die or have sufficiently incensed at the behavior of his other son in law to quickly make changes, but a month before he died, the bard updated his will to entirely remove Thomas Quiney from any inheritance whatever. Remarkably, and in an unusual move, Judith Quiney, Shakespeare’s daughter, was mentioned by name and specifically so that her husband (who would be excommunicated for his affair) would be entirely removed from any benefit after the death of William Shakespeare. 


My shroud of white, stuck all with yew, 
O, prepare it! 
My part of death, no one so true 
Did share it. 
Not a flower, not a flower sweet 
On my black coffin let there be strown; 
Not a friend, not a friend greet 
My poor corpse, where my bones shall be thrown: 
A thousand thousand sighs to save, 
Lay me, O, where 
Sad true lover never find my grave, 
To weep there!


Twelfth Night, II.4

Picture of me in front of Shakespeare’s Grave at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford Upon Avon. Read about that trip here.

Shakespeare Not Buried in a Coffin

In the 16th century, and early 17th century, being buried in a coffin was just starting to become common practice. More traditionally, individuals would have been buried in a shroud alone. Records indicate William Shakespeare was not buried in a coffin, but instead was buried in simply a shroud. While it’s decent to think he would have had a funeral, there were no arrangements for a service mentioned in his will. Instead, money was given for the purpose of mourning rings for his good friends, and it’s reasonable to think such items might have been given at a funeral service. However, we do not currently have records of Shakespeare ever having had a funeral.

The Castle in Saint Alban’s, Somerset 
Hath made the wizard famous in his death

Richard Plantagenet The Younger

Henry VI Part 2, V.2

Shakespeare’s funerary monument. This is one of many depictions of Shakespeare currently in existence. Hear it’s history inside this episode of That Shakespeare Life.

Shakespeare’s Funeral 

William Shakespeare may not have had a funeral, but he is certainly well remembered. His daughter Susanna commissioned a massive funerary monument to be hung above his grave inside the chapel at Holy Trinity Church. It is considered to have been done to be a lifelike interpretation of the bard when it was originally completed, but subsequent vandalism which has occurred to the statue since it was created lead many modern historians to believe the depiction is  now a caricature at best.  

The Shakespeares were obviously a very prominent family in the town, as their family are laid to rest along the front of the chapel in a row, with William Shakespeare leading off on the far right of the line of family members. William Shakespeare specifically asked to be buried in Stratford Upon Avon, and that seems to be fitting for the life he lived, as his heart and love belonged to the small town in all respects. The bard must have anticipated the desires of some people, like William Bass, who would later suggest the bard belonged interred at Westminster Abbey alongside other great poets of England, and to prevent such movement, Shakespeare placed a curse upon his grave warning anyone against moving his bones.


Books Darren Recommends:

David Bevington (editor of the Complete Works shown above and recommended in today’s episode by Darren Freebury Jones) is a guest of That Shakespeare Life. Join that conversation here.

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