Largely regarded as the world’s best dramatist and the greatest writer of all time, William Shakespeare was an English poet, playwright, and actor whose incredible work has long outlived him. It’s safe to say that William Shakespeare is known for his words, but what were his last?
William Shakespeare died in the privacy of his home and so his last words are unknown though the last words of his last play, The Tempest, speak volumes “As you from crimes would pardon’d be, let your indulgence set me free.” The cause of his death, though there are theories, is also unknown.
The tale of the life and death of William Shakespeare reads like an unfinished play. Unfortunately, little is known about The Bard’s demise, but what is known can be found in today’s article.
William Shakespeare’s Last Words
On 23 April 1616, William Shakespeare passed away at his home in Stratford-upon-Avon at the age of 52. His death was unexpected as just a month prior he described himself as “being in perfect health” while signing his will.
Nobody knows what William Shakespeare’s last words were, and few dare to speculate. In his play The Tempest, the lead character Prospero bids his career farewell, which many people interpret as Shakespeare’s way of bidding his own career goodbye as he retired to Stratford-upon-Avon shortly after finishing it.
A notable excerpt from the play is “Now I want Spirits to enforce, art to enchant, And my ending is despair, Unless I be relieved by prayer, Which pierces so that it assaults Mercy itself and frees all faults. As you from crimes would pardon’d be, Let your indulgence set me free.”
William Shakespeare’s Last Written Words
William Shakespeare’s last written words are that in his last will. This document has been analyzed for centuries and provides much insight into what William thought of his family, specifically his wife Anne Hathaway.
His will reads “In the name of God Amen. I William Shakespeare of Stratford upon Avon in the county of Warwickshire gent., in perfect health & memory God be praised, so make & ordain this my last will & testament in manner & form following. That is to say first, I commend my Soul into the hands of God my Creator, hoping & assuredly believing through the only merits of Jesus Christ my Saviour to be made partaker of life everlasting. And my body to the earth whereof it is made.”
As was customary in this time, Shakespeare left most of this wealth to his children and left his wife only “my second-best bed, with the furniture”. Traditions aside, many speculate that this was an act of unkindness to Anne.
William Shakespeare’s Death
Record-keeping was seriously lacking during Shakespeare’s time and his death, much like most of his life, is shrouded in mystery. No official cause of death has ever been ascertained though there are theories as to what brought about the playwright’s demise.
John Ward, the vicar at the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford wrote in his diary that “Shakespeare, Drayton, and Ben Johnson had a merry meeting and it seems drank too hard, for Shakespeare died of a fever there contracted”.
C. Martin Mitchell proposes a different theory in his biography on Dr. John Hall, William’s son-in-law who was supposedly the catalyst for William’s updating of his will. The biographer wrote of Shakespeare’s death “I have formed the opinion that it was more likely than not in the nature of a cerebral hemorrhage or apoplexy that quickly deepened and soon became fatal.”
Three reasons back his hypothesis. The first being that there William rushed to amend his will with such haste that it could not be copied before signing, the second being that a frontispiece of William suggested “marked thickening of the left temporal artery”, and the third being that the diagnosis was common in men that “had undergone such continuous mental and physical strain over a prolonged period.”
Another theory is that William passed away after contracting a disease. William’s brother-in-law died a week earlier, which leads people to believe that he had an infectious disease which he passed on to the poet.
What’s important to remember is that, at the time of his death, the world in which William lived was riddled with scurvy, plague, syphilis, smallpox, dysentery, and typhus. By today’s standards, passing away at 52 years of age is considered dying a young death but in Shakespeare’s time, the average Londoner only lived to see 35 years.