It's no secret that William Shakespeare (perhaps you've heard of him?) has been making our eyeballs pop out and our brainboxes expand with the sheer depth of his inventive genius for centuries now. Remember when he totally subverted worn-out tropes of romantic poetry, especially in Sonnet 130? Or his play "Winter's Tale," which contains the incredible stage direction "Exit, pursued by a bear" -- which is only equalled by a stage direction from his "Titus Andronicus," "Enter a messenger with two heads and a hand.”
To honor the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death, let's dig a little bit deeper than a handful of superlative quotes and accomplishments. Here are 400 times the Bard, directly or indirectly, has blown our minds. That's one quote, phrase, work, biographical fact, or otherwise excellent contribution to the world for each year of his untimely demise, starting with the three incredible literary moments above. Let's go!
"My tongue will tell the anger of my heart,
Or else my heart concealing it will break."
"There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries."
Individual snippets are great, but remember when the Bard wrote THESE?
“He jests at scars that never felt a wound.”
“Cry 'havoc!', and let slip the dogs of war!”
"Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once."
"These violent delights have violent ends
And in their triumph die, like fire and powder,
Which, as they kiss, consume."
It's not all poetry and drama, of course -- Shakespeare was also a human man:
A man who probably wore an earring, and might have indulged in smoking weed.
What else? Oh yeah...
The couple married when she was 26 and he was just 18.
They eventually had three kids.
Two of their kids were twins! (Twins also feature often in Shakespeare's plays.)
Shakespeare had one son, named Hamnet, who died at 11.
When he died, Shakespeare left Anne his second-best bed in the will.
While he lived, he was known as not just a playwright, but a prominent actor and a savvy businessman.
During his lifetime, the Bard actually survived multiple epidemics of the Bubonic Plague.
He began writing the sonnets in part because all the theaters were closed due to the spread of the disease, so there was no demand for new plays to perform.
Before his own father's death, Shakespeare obtained the family a coat of arms at considerable expense; it featured a falcon and a spear.
His spooky epitaph reads:
Good friend for Jesus' sake forbear,
To dig the dust enclosed here.
Blessed be the man that spares these stones,
And cursed be he that moves my bones.
For all that Shakespeare accomplished, he was not considered highly educated for his time and never attended university.
This is one reason many conspiracy theorists and scholars have speculated that other people (with better pedigrees) wrote Shakespeare's famous works, like these 5 crazy suggestions:
"Look like th' innocent flower,
But be the serpent under ’t."
“Men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love.””
"Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love."
“Jesters do oft prove prophets."”
"O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green-ey'd monster, which doth mock
The meat it feeds on."
“True hope is swift and flies with swallow’s wings."”
“Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.”
“I wasted time, and now doth time waste me.”
“What's past is prologue.””
"Moderate lamentation is the right of the dead, excessive grief the enemy to the living.”
Altogether, Shakespeare racked up so many unbelievable accomplishments that just tallying quotes and plays doesn't capture it. For example:
He made iambic pentameter a thing. Like, a thing even non-poets mostly know about.
He's the second most quoted writer in the English language!
His vocabulary was enormous for his time -- estimated at upwards of 17,000 words.
He put a vagina joke right in the title of the clever romantic comedy "Much Ado About Nothing." (Look it up.)
In the 19th century, Thomas Bowdler published a sanitized collected Shakespeare, so even ladies and children could benefit from his plays. (The dirty jokes won, in the end.)
His work has been translated into around 80 languages!
"Hamlet" and "Much Ado About Nothing" have actually been translated into Klingon.
Plus, Shakespearean plays have been translated into emoji-speak!
He's such a gold standard, Virginia Woolf used a theoretical "Shakespeare's sister" to demonstrate how hard life has been for women creators in her seminal essay A Room of One's Own.
He memes it up with us:
He sure seemed to know a lot about syphilis (but that may have been because he had it).
Remember when a historically accurate film was made about him that proved Shakespeare was devastatingly sexy?
The hilarious comic David Mitchell is slated to play him in an upcoming sitcom, "Upstart Crow," which we already know will be world-redefining (more or less).
He was kind of bad at signing his own name -- he didn't actually spell it "William Shakespeare" in any sample we have:
Shakespeare has been given a word for obsessive worship of him: "bardolatry."
His name has tons of apt anagrams, like “Hear me as I will speak,”
“I’ll make a wise phrase,”
and “I am a weakish speller.”
Most important of all: