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The cause of death of William Shakespeare (1564-1616) at the age of 52 is unknown. You must remember that there are very few surviving records from the time period, and historians have pieced together what bits of information are known about The Bard--the greatest writer in the history of the English language. Shakespeare's exact birth date is also uncertain, although it appears that he may have died on his probable birthday--April 23.
Coincidentally or not, Shakespeare had just made his last will and testament four months before (on March 25). It was customary at the time to draw up one's will while on their deathbed, so it is speculated that Shakespeare had been ill for a month or more; his signature was recorded in "shaky" handwriting. One hint has been left behind concerning Shakespeare's death. According to a diary entry by the vicar of Stratford-upon-Avon,
"Shakespeare, Drayton and Ben Jonson had a merry meeting and it seems drank too hard for Shakespeare died of a fever there contracted."
Other speculation suggests that Shakespeare may have died from typhus, a new type of fever that was spreading through London at the time. Another guess is that he may have died from a cerebral hemorrhage or apoplexy. Shakespeare did leave behind one of history's most memorable self-epitaphs:
Good friend, for Jesus' sake forbear
To dig the dust enclosed here.
Blessed be the man that spares these stones,
And cursed be he that moves my bones.
Shakespeare's death is a mystery. Consequently, there are a number of theories about his death. Fifty years after Shakespeare's death, John Ward, a Stratford vicar and physician, claimed that Shakespeare, Michael Drayton, and Ben Jonson "had a merry meeting, and it seems drank too hard, for Shakespeare died of a fever there contracted."
Another theory is that Shakespeare died of a cerebral hemorrhage, something sudden. Evidence for this is that Shakespeare was revising his will and it seems possible that he had not finished revising it.
Shakespeare's death could also have been caused by typhus, influenza, alcoholism, heart attack, etc. Yet another theory is that Shakespeare died of some contagious disease - this would make sense if the claim that his grave was put 17 feet underground was true.
William Shakespeare is thought to have been born on April 23, 1564. He died on April 23, 1616, at the age of 52. He is buried in the chancel of Holy Trinity Church in Stratford, England, the same church at which he was baptized as an infant.
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