Shakespeare is arguably one of the most famous playwrights, poets, and writers the world has ever known. Hundreds of English words and phrases we use today come from Shakespearean English and many the playwright coined himself.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Where Is William Shakespeare’s Grave?
- What Does Shakespeare’s Grave Look Like?
- Memorials for Shakespeare Around the World
There’s a lot of mystery surrounding the true identity of the Bard and even some questions about his final resting place but we do have a few pieces of the puzzle. Whether you’re looking for answers to history or you simply enjoy the mystery, we suggest reading a few of Shakespeare’s thoughts on death, perusing Shakespeare’s will, and then visiting his final resting place.
Where Is William Shakespeare’s Grave?
As with many famous gravesites, William Shakespeare’s grave is accessible to fans, aspiring authors, history buffs, and the dedicated tourist who lists the grave as a must-see item on their travel bucket list.
If you want to see Shakespeare’s grave, you’ll need to travel to the middle of England, just an hour north of London. If you’re traveling, you’ll find that the location is quite handy since most flights around the world to England are direct to London.
From London, you’ll travel an hour north to the county of Warwickshire to the town of Stratford-upon-Avon. Not only is this the town where Shakespeare is buried, but you’ll also find loads of history about the famous playwright since this is also where he was born.
Once there, navigate to the Holy Trinity Churchyard, and you’ll find the nameless grave of William Shakespeare, the grave of his wife Anne Hathaway, his son-in-law, and other members of the family.
Or will you? There’s an ongoing debate about the actual location of William Shakespeare’s grave. Some theories place his grave in the wall, just behind an elaborate monument erected to him which bears his name, an epitaph, and his dates. After all, why would the most famous Bard of all time be placed into a nameless grave bearing only an amusing ditty about not digging up the bones inside?
Other issues that contribute to the ongoing controversy include a radar scan conducted of the grave in advance of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. The scan showed several things leaving significant doubt as to the whereabouts of Shakespeare’s bones.
First, the scan revealed that there were no pieces of metal, such as nails for a coffin, inside the grave. Second, there was no trace of a coffin. Third, though scientists mention that the skull looks to be missing, there is no mention at all of finding the rest of him, either.
While the nameless grave remains the favored burial place of the Bard, there is an elaborate wall monument that bears a bust of his image, an epitaph, and his dates. Some scholars are wondering if the monument is much more and, in fact, the playwright’s actual final resting place.
What Does Shakespeare’s Grave Look Like?
If you’re looking for the in-ground tomb popularly believed to be Shakespeare’s grave, you can find it inside the Holy Trinity church. Since there is no inscription, the church has placed a plaque on the grave to note that it belongs to William Shakespeare. The only inscription on top of the stone, supposedly written by Shakespeare himself, reads,
“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.”
It’s thought that Shakespeare knew about and highly disapproved of the practice of recycling burial spaces inside the church building.
But what if he was, in fact, buried in the wall? The monument that contains a full-color bust of the Bard, a Latin epitaph, an English poem, and his dates is elaborate, expensive, and calls passers-by to pay the Bard respect. The poem on the wall monument reads,
“Stay Passenger, why goest thou by so fast?
Read if thou canst, whom envious Death hath plast
Within this monument Shakspeare: with whom
Quick nature died: whose name doth deck this tomb
Far more than cost: [since] all that he hath writ
Leaves living art, but page to serve his wit.”
Some scholars note that the poem says Shakespeare is “within this monument,” leading to the belief that Shakespeare received an in-wall burial. It could also be reasoned that the floor burial space was placed there to distract from his real resting place and keep graverobbers from vandalizing the wall of the church.
What Happened During Shakespeare’s Burial and Funeral?
Shakespeare passed away on April 23, 1616, at 52 years old. Though young by today’s standards, in Shakespeare’s England, most considered it a major feat to live to 60. It was the time of typhus, plague, fevers, and a myriad of other issues that caused disease and, often, early death.
The cause of Shakespeare’s death is unknown and will likely remain as much of a mystery as his real identity and final resting place. His burial and funeral also contain a level of mystery.
What we know is this: He died on April 23, 1616, and was buried on April 25, 1616. There are no records of memorial gatherings in London or anywhere else in England. The theatrical group which he led appears to have continued on without taking any time off, and there is no mention of his passing from fellow playwrights or actors. There weren’t any recorded tributes or public displays of mourning from the grateful townspeople or king who adored his plays and poetry.
Shakespeare’s funeral is assumed to have been a quiet affair with his family and perhaps a close friend or two in attendance. It was certainly not the grand affair everyone today would expect. Even his final resting place was relatively obscure since he was buried in his hometown church, not Westminster Abbey where the likes of Chaucer and other great writers were laid to rest.
Memorials for Shakespeare Around the World
Thanks to Shakespeare’s widespread fame and influence, you can find memorials to the famous Bard around the world. Here are a few we recommend visiting.
Poet’s Corner, Westminster Abbey
While many of the great poets and writers of the time were buried in Westminster Abbey, Shakespeare was buried at his hometown church. As Shakespeare’s reputation grew, however, his absence from Westminster Abbey became more noticeable.
William Kent, an English architect, designed a statue of Shakespeare and had it installed in Poet’s Corner in 1740. The statue rests among some of the greatest English writers and poets of all time.
New Place, Stratford, England
New Place was Shakespeare’s final residence before he passed away. Today, the site where the house used to stand is host to a memorial park and tourist destination. A museum is located in his son-in-law’s house that remains on the property. Sadly, New Place was demolished by the new owner after he became tired of endless visitors who wanted to pay homage to the late Bard by visiting his last known residence.
Shakespeare Statue, Central Park, New York City
If you plan to visit Central Park in New York City, wander around long enough and you’ll find a statue of William Shakespeare. While the statue itself is worth visiting, its history makes it even more fascinating.
The statue was commissioned in 1864 for the celebration of three hundred years since Shakespeare’s birth. Funds for the statue were raised by putting on Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. What’s most interesting about the play itself is that it was performed by John Wilkes Booth, the very same Booth who assassinated Abraham Lincoln.
Sydney Shakespeare Memorial, Sydney, Australia
This beautiful statue features Shakespeare on a pedestal surrounded by five of his most famous characters including Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Portia, and Falstaff.
The statue can be found in Shakespeare Place, between Mitchell Library at the State Library of New South Wales and the Royal Botanic Gardens.
Shakespeare Memorial, Logan Circle, Philadelphia
Though this particular memorial doesn’t depict Shakespeare himself, it references both the tragedies and comedies Shakespeare was so famous for creating. The statue features the jester Touchstone from Shakespeare’s play As You Like It, and Hamlet from the play of the same name. Touchstone represents comedy while Hamlet represents tragedy.
The bottom of the statue features the opening lines from the “All the world’s a stage” speech from the play As You Like It.
Shakespeare Statue, Lincoln Park, Chicago, Illinois
A larger-than-life-size statue of Shakespeare graces Lincoln Park showing Shakespeare in what would have been period costume. While most statues have the Bard dressed in theater costume, this is one of the few statues that might provide insight into life and dress in the days of Shakespearean England.
The pedestal is much lower than most statues, providing the observer an up-close view of the famous playwright. But why is the pedestal so low? In the dedication speech, the sculptor stated, “Shakespeare needs nothing of bronze. His monument is England, America, and the whole of Saxondom. He placed us upon a pedestal, but one cannot place him on one, for he belongs among the people whom he so dearly loved.”
Shakespeare’s Bust, Verona, Italy
If you’re not looking for this one, you might miss it. Go to Verona’s city gate and there, you’ll find a diminutive bust of Shakespeare. The bust is accompanied by a plaque with lines from Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet. The lines quoted appropriately state, “There is no world without Verona walls.”
Remembering the Bard
Shakespeare is one of the most prominent influences on the English language, even influencing the way we use language today. Visiting his grave, his hometown, and his memorials around the world can help to show you just how influential he really was.
- Donaldson, Ian. “Why was Shakespeare’s Death Such a Non-Event?” Arts and Culture, The Conversation, 14 November 2016. Theconversation.com
- Miller, Ben. “Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon Grave.” Archaeology, Culture24, 23 March 2016. Culture24.org.uk
- “William Shakespeare.” Memorial, Find a Grave, 31 December 2000. findagrave.com