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The Odd Disappearance of William Shakespeare’s skull

The apparent disappearance of William Shakespeare’s skull has intrigued the public for years. Shakespeare was a great playwright who was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in the United Kingdom in April 1564. He was regarded as the greatest writer in the English language. Shakespeare was a diverse character and was a poet, playwright and actor. From the 20th century Shakespeare was known as the Bard of Avon. He was considered the national poet of England. He married Anne Hathaway and his children were named Hamnet Shakespeare, Susanna Hall and Judith Quiney. Shakespeare died in 1616 in his home town from unknown causes although rumour has it that he had drank too much and developed a fever. His grave in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon, England has always attracted many visitors.

There are many extraordinary tales and stories about grave robbers digging up the great playwright’s grave.Grave-robbing was popular in the 17th and 18th century. Graves were dug up for medical reasons such as dissection. In Shakespeare’s case, people surmised that grave robbers wanted to dig up his grave so they could study his brain to understand why he was such a genius. A publication called Argosy magazine in 1879 stated that a man named Dr Frank Chambers apparently decimated his grave in 1794 and beheaded Shakespeare for a bet, later selling the skull for the grand sum of 300 British pounds which equates to roughly 56000 in today’s money. Other stories mention that Dr Frank Chambers returned the head because he wasn’t paid for stealing it. These stories were never proven.

Many people over the years have wanted to dig Shakespeare’s grave up to prove or disprove some of the stories that have circulated throughout the years. There were stories that Shakespeare was buried standing up and that he was buried 17ft under the ground so he would not be disturbed. His grave was said to be much shorter than his wife’s and his grave was the only grave that didn’t carry a name. Shakespeare had specifically mentioned before his death that he in no way wanted his body to be disturbed after he was buried. He had inscribed the stone at his grave

"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."

In 2010, an archaeologist called Collis asked if he could use ground breaking radar to identify if there was anything unusual about Shakespeare’s grave. This was in preparation for a documentary about Shakespeare which was to be broadcast by Channel 4. The Holy Trinity Church finally agreed. Collis and his team observed that the grave had been disturbed. The excavation showed that the part of the grave where Shakespeare’s head should have been looked as if there was no skull at all. Material in the grave was not as it should be. Shakespeare appeared to be buried 3 feet deep and was wrapped in material. Collis was convinced that Shakespeare’s skull had indeed been removed. This has never been proven. The curious case of Shakespeare’s missing skull will continue to fascinate for years to come. It remains an unsolved mystery and researchers and archaeologists will continue to seek the truth.



Lynsey Patterson is an Irish writer based in the Northern Territory. Originally from Northern Ireland, Lynsey has been published in "Mslexia" and many other publications. Lynsey is fascinated by mysteries in history. Lynsey writes fiction, non fiction, poetry and is working on a diverse collection of children's picture books.

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