“Truth is truth. To the end of reckoning.” – William Shakespeare, Measure For Measure


There are many things we don’t know about Shakespeare. For some, this has thrown up a whole raft of conspiracy theories about whether the man from Stratford even was the Shakespeare we know today as the playwright of classics such as Hamlet, Romeo & Juliet and the Scottish Play (you know the one we mean). To date, there are over 70 different people being put forward as potential candidates for the title of “The Bard” (and counting).

Most of these theories began in the late 19th Century (before that it was never questioned) and come from the fact that there isn’t much written contemporary information about Shakespeare’s life on record. And while that is true (although new information is coming to light all the time from authenticated sources¹), we here at Shakespeare Republic tend to lean towards a much more mundane explanation for this lack of information, as suggested by several Shakespeare scholars and historians in general.

As the records do show, in 1666, fifty years after Shakespeare died, there was this little event called The Great Fire of London. Essentially, it burnt 436 acres of London², wiping out nearly every building north of the river Thames in the center of the city, including 13,200 houses, 87 parish churches, The Royal Exchange, Guildhall and St. Paul’s Cathedral, to name a few³. It couldn’t spread south of the river, because of an earlier a fire that took place in 1633 (17 years after Shakespeare’s death), which wiped out a large part of the north side of London Bridge (which was heavily built upon at the time, so giving that earlier fire plenty of fuel to burn). London Bridge hadn’t been rebuilt since then, so there was nothing left to feed the next, much bigger blaze 30 years later4.

Add to that, the fire that took the Globe Theatre unawares (part owned by Shakespeare) during a performance of Henry VIII (one of Shakespeare’s plays)5 and caused it to burn to the ground in 1613 on the south side of the Thames (three years before Shakespeare died and the year he returned to live in Stratford, not long after his iconic theatre was destroyed), and you can see how London wasn’t the safest place to keep paper records in the 17th Century for anyone. And why many records from that time for many people are nowhere to be found.

So, if you haven’t got ahead of us already with this information, the suggested reason why not many records exist documenting Shakespeare’s life in London is that The Great Fire of London burnt most of the evidence kept in official buildings – along with the buildings themselves. And if that fire didn’t do for the records, then the earlier fires most likely did, as they took place right where he lived and paid (or didn’t pay, as recently discovered records show) his taxes6. And we think that’s a pretty logical explanation. Boring, but logical.*

But whether that’s the reason his official footprint is light, or there really were at least a couple of dozen people at the time involved in a major conspiracy to hide who Shakespeare was (who also never left any written evidence – at all – that this was happening), onto what we do know about Shakespeare and the works attributed to him:

SHAKESPEARE FUN FACTS

A growing list of “things to know” to daze and amaze your family and friends!

NUMBER OF WORDS
INVENTED

3,000+

An estimated 3,000+ words were invented
or popularized by Shakespeare in his
works – such as “fashionable”, “countless”,
“sanctimonious”, “generous”, “obscene”,
“auspicious” and “road”.

NUMBER OF LANGUAGE
TRANSLATIONS

80+

Shakespeare has been translated from
English into over 80 languages worldwide
– from Chinese and Bengali to
Arabic and Albanian to Yakut and Zulu
… and Klingon!

NUMBER OF BOOKS
PUBLISHED & SOLD

2 BILLION

Conservative estimates put the total at
2 billion books sold worldwide –
which is equal all-time first place
with that other great English author,
Agatha Christie.

NUMBER OF INTERNET
PAGES

126 MILLION

There are over 126 million pages
referring to Shakespeare online,
according to Google. That’s
62 million more than Angelina
Jolie and Brad Pitt, 78 million
more than Elvis Presley and
79 million more than Marilyn Monroe.

SHAKESPEARE’S
OTHER PROFESSION

ACTOR

Shakespeare is also noted as an
actor in documents dated from 1592-1603.
He acted in his own plays, but
also those by Ben Jonson and others.
He therefore was one of the first
actor/writer/producers
of English theatre!

NUMBER OF
PLAYS WRITTEN

50+

There are 38 plays on record written
in full, or part, by Shakespeare.
But scholars estimate that
there are up to another 20 plays
that he wrote or contributed to
that have vanished without a
trace, including the “lost” play, Cardenio.

CURRENT SALE PRICE
OF A FIRST FOLIO

$6.16 MILLION

An original Shakespeare First Folio
was sold at auction at Christie’s in
New York in 2001 for $6.16 million
US dollars. In 2013, one of the
original First Folios was valued at
$15 million US dollars. It therefore
makes Shakespeare’s First Folio
one of the most valuable books
in the world.

SHAKESPEARE’S OTHER,
OTHER PROFESSION

REAL ESTATE

When Shakespeare died in 1616,
aged 52, he had become a respected
businessman in Stratford and
there were several large holdings
of land mentioned in his Will.
He was also a shareholder in
two theatres that were still
operating – The Globe (rebuilt in
1614) and The Blackfriars in London.

NUMBER OF WAYS TO
SPELL “SHAKESPEARE”

80+

In documents from the period,
the name “Shakespeare” is spelled
over 80 different ways, ranging
from “Shappere” to “Shaxberd.”
In the signatures that have
survived, William himself used
several variations or abbreviations
such as “Willm Shakp,” “Willm
Shakspere” and “William Shakspeare”.

NUMBER OF
WORDS WRITTEN

884,647

According to the Shakespeare
Folger Library (who hold 82 of the
surviving copies of the First Folio),
Shakespeare’s works tally up to an
overwhelming 884,647 words!
If you break this down, that works
out to be 36,000+ words per year of
his professional career – which is
equivalent to writing a novel every
2 years – for 24 years in a row.

NUMBER OF WORDS IN
SHAKESPEARE’S VOCABULARY

25,000+

Shakespeare’s vocabulary is
estimated to be as high as 25,000+
words! This is quite extraordinary,
when you consider he lived
400 years ago and the average
native English speaker today
has a 17,000 word vocabulary.

NUMBER OF
POEMS WRITTEN

158+

Shakespeare wrote a collection
of 154 poems, known as The Sonnets,
which were published (without
his permission) in 1609. Like many
16th Century playwrights, he began
as a poet, writing Venus and Adonis
and The Rape of Lucrece prior
to his first plays, and later contributing
to A Lover’s Complaint and
The Phoenix and the Turtle.


More facts will be added when they come to hand! Stay tuned …


1 Guardian Newspaper, “‘Shakespeare’s lost play’ no hoax, says expert”, Tuesday 16 March 2010
2 Museum of London, “What happened in the Great Fire of London?”
3 London Fire Brigade, “The Great Fire of London”
4 BBC History, “London After the Great Fire”
5 Wards Book Of Days, June 29th
6 The Sunday Times, “Bad Bard: a tax dodger and famine profiteer”, 31 March 2013
*Article written & researched by Sally McLean, Artistic Director