Shakespeare's DeathHow did William Shakespeare die?

Expert Answers
linda-allen eNotes educator| Certified Educator

According to, Shakespeare died at the age of 52 in April of 1616. He was buried on the 23rd, and written on his tombstone are these lines:

Good friend for Jesus sake forbeare,
To dig the dust enclosed here.
Blessed be the man that spares these stones,
And cursed be he that moves my bones

The cause of his death is a mystery. However, according to, a contemporary wrote in his diary that "Shakespeare, Drayton, and Ben Jonson had a merry meeting and it seems drank too hard for Shakespeare died of a fever there contracted." I don't know of any fever that can be contracted from consumption of copious amounts of alcoholic beverages. It is possible that the fever he contracted was typhus, since there was a serious outbreak of the disease in 1616.

ms-mcgregor eNotes educator| Certified Educator

No one really knows what killed William Shakespeare. Speculation that he knew death was near is evidenced by the rewriting of his will four weeks before his death. So, whether it was a fever, typhus or simply a combination of the effects of getting older, one source points out," We do know, however, that in a world where plague, syphilis, typhus, scurvy, tuberculosis, smallpox, malaria, dysentery and toothaches shortened a Londoner’s life expectancy to 35 years, Shakespeare fared quite well, leading a relatively long and healthy life."( We should feel fortunate that he lived so long and left us with such wonderful literature--unless, of course, one believes Shakespeare was really someone else---but I guess that's the topic for another discussion group.

sullymonster eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is only partly related to this topic, but I just found out that Bill Bryson - famed travel author of the bestselling A Walk in the Woods - has written a book detailing the life of Shakespeare.  I'm a little behind the times, as it was printed about a year ago, but I had heard no word of it.  I checked it out from the library this weekend and am eager to delve into it.  Maybe he'll have more info on Shakespeare's death!

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think Ann Hathaway finally managed to kill him off! No, as other editors have said we do not know for sure but it is clear that the life of a "player" in London at the time had many dangers and risks, and so in a sense we are lucky to have had so much of Shakespeare - he could have easily had a premature ending, such as Marlowe did.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

My guess is that Shakespeare must have lived fast and hard.  Even if he did not spend time in the bottle, he was so prolific that he must have spent a lot of time working and writing, with late nights and long hours.  I'm suprised he lived to 52.

amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Not a bad way to go...drinking with pals and having a few months to reconsider your will...typhus would be no fun, but I'm sure he felt somewhat relieved knowing that he had given his "second best bed" to the right person!


kwoo1213 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I just saw a program about Shakespeare's death and burial and it was fascinating.  It was on PBS, I think. 

drumphan | Student

It is also possible that Shakespeare had been ill for a while, perhaps as early as two or three years before his death (which is around the time that he retired as a playwright). According to this page on eNotes (How did Shakespeare die?), the Bard rewrote his will twice in the months leading up to his death--a pretty good sign that he knew he was seriously ill.