Humanities › Literature How Did William Shakespeare Die? Share Flipboard Email Print flik47 / Getty Images Literature Shakespeare Shakespeare's Life and World Studying Tragedies Comedies Sonnets Best Sellers Classic Literature Plays & Drama Poetry Quotations Short Stories Children's Books By Lee Jamieson Theater Expert M.A., Theater Studies, Warwick University B.A., Drama and English, DeMontfort University Lee Jamieson, M.A., is a theater scholar and educator. He previously served as a theater studies lecturer at Stratford-upon Avon College in the United Kingdom. our editorial process Lee Jamieson Updated January 23, 2020 Unfortunately, no one will ever know the exact cause of Shakespeare's death. But there are some tantalizing facts that help us build a picture of what the most likely cause would have been. Here, we take a look at the last weeks of Shakespeare’s life, his burial and the Bard’s fear of what might happen to his remains. Too Young to Die Shakespeare died at just 52 years of age. If we take into account the fact that Shakespeare was a wealthy man by the end of his life, this is a relatively young age for him to die. Frustratingly, there is no record of the exact date of Shakespeare’s birth and death -- only of his baptism and burial. The parish register of Holy Trinity Church records record his baptism at three days old on April 26, 1564, and then his burial 52 years later on April 25, 1616. The final entry in the book states “Will Shakespeare Gent”, acknowledging his wealth and gentleman status. Rumors and conspiracy theories have filled the gap left by the absence of exact information. Did he catch syphilis from his time in the London brothels? Was he murdered? Was it the same man as the London-based playwright? We will never know for sure. Shakespeare’s Contracted Fever The diary of John Ward, a past vicar of Holy Trinity Church, records some scant details about Shakespeare’s death, although it was written some 50 years after the event. He recounts Shakespeare’s “merry meeting” of hard drinking with two literary London friends, Michael Drayton and Ben Jonson. He writes: “Shakespear Drayton and Ben Jhonson had a merry meeting and it seems drank too hard for Shakespear died of a feavour there contracted.” Certainly, there would have been a cause for celebration as Jonson would have just become poet laureate at that time and there is evidence to suggest that Shakespeare was ill for a few weeks between this “merry meeting” and his death. Some scholars suspect typhoid. It would have gone undiagnosed in Shakespeare’s time but would have brought on a fever and is contracted through unclean liquids. A possibility, perhaps -- but still pure conjecture. Shakespeare’s Burial Shakespeare was buried beneath the chancel floor of Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon. On his ledger stone is inscribed a stark warning to anyone wanting to move his bones: "Good friend, for Jesus' sake forebeare, To digg the dust enclosed heare; Bleste be the man that spares thes stones, And curst be he that moves my bones." But why did Shakespeare deem it necessary to place a curse on his grave to ward off gravediggers? One theory is Shakespeare’s fear of the charnel house; it was common practice at that time for the bones of the dead to be exhumed to make space for new graves. The exhumed remains were kept in the charnel house. At Holy Trinity Church, the charnel house was very close to Shakespeare’s final resting place. Shakespeare’s negative feelings about the charnel house crop up again and again in his plays. Here’s Juliet from Romeo and Juliet describing the horror of the charnel house: Or shut me nightly in a charnel-house,O'er-cover'd quite with dead men's rattling bones,With reeky shanks and yellow chapless skulls;Or bid me go into a new-made graveAnd hide me with a dead man in his shroud;Things that, to hear them told, have made me tremble; The idea of digging up one set of remains to make room for another may seem horrific today but was quite commonplace in Shakespeare’s lifetime. We see it in Hamlet when Hamlet stumbles across the sexton digging out the grave of Yorick. Hamlet famously holds the exhumed skull of his friend and says “Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him."