This is as close to actually having the man himself as an item in the Trunk. Including his skeleton would be quite a challenge and enormously unlucky, as you will see. Shakespeare was baptised on 26 April 1564. This leather bound book records his coming into the world, but also his burial on 25 April 1616.
The Holy Trinity Church parish register, 1558-1776, holds names and the dates of thousands of births, deaths and marriages. Of its 330-odd pages, some have been marked with crosses by an enthusiast who could not overcome the temptation to highlight their discovery. The entries denote the birth and death of William Shakespeare.
Parish registers began in 1538, but most records were flimsy, disorganised and quickly damaged. By 1598 a new edict went out to have records transferred into more sturdy books and old records were discarded. A brief entry for 26 April 1564 reads, “William, son of John Shakespeare”. William was born in Stratford-upon-Avon to Mary Arden and John Shakespeare, a glover (attire for hands was big business in the 16th Century). The town was populated by around 1,500 people at the time. John Shakespeare served for a period as an alderman in Stratford, the equivalent of local council member or mayor. Despite holding this position, John Shakespeare was in debt. William attended school in Stratford and was on the path to becoming a school-master there, a steady career hoped to counter-balance his inherited debt. Should the Bard have laid his hands on a TARDIS, he would have had no trouble paying-off family dues. With every student who passes through the British education system studying Shakespeare, his signature alone is worth over $5 million on today’s antique market.
The register records Shakespeare’s birth and death, but also many occasions between. The baptism of his children Susanna, Hamnet and Judith are all recorded. So too is Hamnet’s death, aged 11. In all those pages it records the names of thousands of births, deaths and marriages between 1558 and 1776. In an entry following Shakespeare’s own baptism by only three months the register notes, “here began the plague”. His two elder siblings were among its victims.
Holy Trinity Church is also the resting place of Shakespeare’s bones, infamously cursed with his own words, “blest be the man that spares these stones, and cursed be he that moves my bones”. Restorations made to the church in 2008 heeded the warning and tailored plans to avoid disturbing the grave. However, scans of the grave made in 2016 suggest that the skull of the skeleton is missing. Archaeologists are yet to open the grave and check.
Much of this information was sourced from an amazing website, http://www.shakespearedocumented.org. If you’d like to view hundreds of other documents from Shakespeare’s life, I’d highly recommend it.
Richard Tames, Shakespeare’s London on Five Groats a Day (Melbourne: Thames and Hudson Australia, 2009).
Douglas Greenwood, Who’s Buried Where in England (London: Constable, 2006).
And for fun…