Beth Miller’s new companion to the works of Shakespeare takes a fresh look at Britain’s best-loved bard. In our guest post this month, Beth shares ten things she discovered while researching…
1. One of the things we think we definitely know about Shakespeare is that he was born and died on the same date, 23rd April, 52 years apart. Except we don’t actually know that for sure! His birth and death dates are just sensible guesses, based on the dates he was baptised and buried.
2. He got married at 18, three years under the age of consent, probably because Anne Hathaway, his 26-year-old bride, was three months pregnant.
3. The greatest success of his career while he was alive was the long poem, Venus and Adonis. Little-known today, it was a massive hit in its time, possibly because of its racy tone, and the vast amount of kissing it describes.
4. His most bloodily violent play is Titus Andronicus, which features numerous atrocities and fourteen deaths, including two people being baked into a pie which is then eaten by their unwitting mother. At a Globe production in 2014, many audience members fainted, including the theatre reviewer of the Independent (she nonetheless gave it a good review).
5. The phrase ‘what the dickens’ comes from Shakespeare (in the play The Merry Wives of Windsor), and has nothing to do with Charles Dickens! ‘Dickens’ is a euphemism for devil.
6. The Guinness Book of Records lists Shakespeare as the most-filmed author of all time – not bad going for someone who died almost 300 years before film came along. The IMDb (the Internet Movie Database) gives Shakespeare credits on 1,190 films and TV series, streets ahead of the second most-credited author (Charles ‘Nothing to do with what the’ Dickens with 368).
7. Shakespeare mentions his wife, Anne, only once in his will: ‘I give unto my wife my second best bed.’ It’s still a matter of hot debate as to whether this was an insult (fancy leaving her just the lousy second-best bed), or romantic (it could have been the marital bed). We actually have no idea if their marriage was happy or not.
8. As Will and Anne’s grandchildren had no children themselves, Shakespeare’s line died out in 1670. There are, however, numerous descendants of his sister Joan still around today.
9. Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29, which begins, ‘When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes/ I all alone beweep my outcast state’ has captured the imagination of many modern creative types. It’s been turned into a song by Rufus Wainwright, quoted in Star Trek: The Next Generation, and was read out to Julia Roberts by Richard Gere in Pretty Woman.
10. Shakespeare’s longest play is Hamlet, the shortest is The Comedy of Errors. You can fit two-and-a-bit Errors into one Hamlet.
Beth Miller’s new book, For the Love of Shakespeare, has just been published by Summersdale, an odd-couple companion to her earlier book with them, For The Love of The Archers (2015). She has also written two novels: When We Were Sisters (2014) and The Good Neighbour (2015), both published by Ebury Press (Random House). She is currently writing her third novel, and spends the rest of the time teaching writing and book-coaching.
Author photo © Katie Vandyke.