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Most Common Questions About Shakespeare

1) How did Shakespeare die?
Although the answer remains a mystery, there are some fascinating and highly plausible theories surrounding Shakespeare's demise.

2) What happened to Shakespeare's children?
William and his wife, Anne, had three children, and we know many interesting details about the lives of two of them.

3) What did Shakespeare look like?
There are several portraits and miniatures of Shakespeare, but are any considered accurate representations of the Bard?

4) Are Shakespeare’s works written in Old English?
Even with modernized spelling, some of Shakespeare's passages leave people scratching their heads. Is Shakespeare hard to understand because he was writing in Old English?

5) Was Shakespeare anti-Semitic?
The character of Shylock, the Jewish money-lender who requests a pound of flesh as collateral in The Merchant of Venice, prompts many to wonder about the perception of Jews in Elizabethan England.

6) Was Shakespeare gay?
Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets, apparently not intended for publication. The majority of these sonnets address the poet's love for a young man. There is no historical evidence to indicate Shakespeare was bisexual or homosexual; he was a married man with three children. However, the poet's intense romantic feelings for the young man in the sonnets have led some to believe Shakespeare was having a homosexual affair.

But is the speaker of the sonnets expressing Shakespeare's personal feelings? Does the young man belong solely to the realm of fantasy, as do Falstaff and the Three Witches? Since we do not know the answers, critics often choose to refer to the speaker of the sonnets as simply "the poet", to illustrate that he is a character, and not necessarily William Shakespeare. For much more on this topic, please see the commentary for Sonnet 20 and Sonnet 75.

7) How many plays did Shakespeare write?
We are sure that Shakespeare wrote at least thirty-seven plays over a period of about twenty years, but many believe several more plays should be included in the body of his work. So why can't scholars agree?

8) Did Shakespeare perform in any of his own plays?
We will never know for sure exactly how many roles Shakespeare played, although we do have some general information. We know that Shakespeare began his career on the stage by 1592, because there is a surviving document - a scathing deathbed attack on Shakespeare by Robert Greene.

Scholars believe Shakespeare might have played the title role in Edward I (a play by Edward Peele) in 1593. It is also assumed that Shakespeare played many roles in a variety of his own plays, including Macbeth (King Duncan), As You Like It (Adam), Henry IV (King Henry), and Hamlet (the Ghost of Hamlet's father). Nicholas Rowe, Shakespeare's first biographer, mentioned that Shakespeare's role as "the Ghost in his own Hamlet" was "the top of his performance."

The editors of the First Folio list all of the actors who had performed in Shakespeare's plays, and Shakespeare himself tops the list.

9) Where is Shakespeare buried?
People are constantly curious to know what is written on Shakespeare’s gravestone, and they are always surprised to learn it is a curse.

10) Did Shakespeare really write the works attributed to him?
It is hard for us to believe that a boy from the small town of Stratford could emerge as England's greatest writer. He is a giant among men, and therefore we look to the recordings of history to reveal his thoughts and actions. Unfortunately, some of our most basic questions about the Bard remain unanswered, and so we feel compelled to construct theories to fit our grandiose conceptions of the man.

How to cite this article:

Mabillard, Amanda. Most Common Questions About Shakespeare Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2000. (date when you accessed the information) < >.

Related Resources

Shakespeare's Contemporaries: Top Five Greatest
 Shakespeare's Audience
 Four Periods of Shakespeare's Life
 Worst Diseases in Shakespeare's London
 Daily Life in Shakespeare's London

 Preface to The First Folio
 Publishing in Elizabethan England
 What did Shakespeare drink?
 What did Shakespeare look like?

 Shakespeare's Language
 Words Shakespeare Invented
 Shakespeare's Lasting Impact
 Shakespeare's Reputation in Elizabethan England
 Shakespeare's Impact on Other Writers

 Quotations About William Shakespeare
 Shakespeare's Ancestry
 Shakespeare's Parents
 Shakespeare's Birth

 Shakespeare's Siblings
 Shakespeare's Education
 Shakespeare's Boss: The Master of Revels