On this day in 1616—precisely four hundred and three years ago—the world’s greatest poet and playwright died in his home town of Stratford-on-Avon, England. While there is some mystery surrounding Shakespeare’s death, we do know (or think we know) a few things. He had returned to Stratford (and his family) after 20 years of working in London. His day of death may have also been his 53rd birthday (though we don’t know his precise birthdate, only the day of his baptism). And he was buried in the chancel of the Holy Trinity Church, whose then vicar, John Ward, was a fan of The Bard. The cause of Shakespeare’s death has been debated. The Reverend Ward wrote in his diary: “Shakespeare, Drayton and Ben Jonson had a merry meeting and it seems drank too hard—for Shakespeare died of a fever there contracted.” It turns out, there was an outbreak of the “new fever” (typhus) in 1616 which may have caused Shakespeare’s passing. Whatever the cause of death, this date marks an important turning-point in the canon of Western writing. For, on this day four centuries ago, the most prolific, important and influential English language writer was silenced. His work, however, has remained as significant as ever.
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