The Death of William Shakespeare: Date & Cause

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Megan Pryor

Megan has tutored extensively and has a Master of Fine Arts Degree in Fiction.

In this lesson, we will explore one of the biggest mysteries surrounding William Shakespeare: his death and what caused it. After a bit of context, we will discuss the facts and theories about the cause of Shakespeare's death.

William Shakespeare

You have probably heard about William Shakespeare. In case you haven't, William Shakespeare was a famous playwright who lived between the years 1564 and 1616. Two of his most famous plays are Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet. He also wrote many sonnets.

The exact date of his birth is unknown since records back then were not always well-kept, and what records did exist have been lost over the centuries that have passed. What we do know is this: William Shakespeare was born to a glover and the daughter of a well-to-do farmer, was baptized in 1564, grew up, married, had three children, started having his work produced in London in 1592, and eventually died in 1616, leaving a legacy that survives to this day.

William Shakespeare, English Playwright
A Picture Of William Shakespeare

While Shakespeare's unremarkable parentage could explain the lack of records about his birth, you might expect there to be better records concerning the death of a man who generated a reputation as being one of the greatest English language writers. This is not the case. The exact facts surrounding Shakespeare's death are unknown.

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William Shakespeare's Death

Just like with his birthday, Shakespeare's exact date of death is a mystery. It is commonly said that he died on April 23, 1616, but no record of his death exists, only a record of his funeral on April 25, 1616.

While no one knows what Shakespeare died of exactly, he was sick before his death. A month before his death, he signed a will leaving almost everything to his daughter Susanna. He specified in his will that she should leave his estate to her firstborn son. But neither Susanna nor Shakespeare's other daughter, Judith, had any sons.

Shakespeare's last surviving direct descendant was Elizabeth Hall, his granddaughter via Susanna and her husband, John Hall. Elizabeth died in 1670, at the age of 62, without having any children of her own.


No one knows for sure how Shakespeare died. Since he revised his will just before his death, it can be assumed that he knew he was about to die. What records we have suggest Shakespeare died from a fever, but whether that fever was from drinking too much alcohol or a disease such as typhus (which was rampant in 1616) is unknown.

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