Shakespeare’s Death, and Death in Shakespeare, 400 Years Later

William Shakespeare is said to have died 400 years ago today, on April 23rd, 1616, at the age of 52,  having written about death many times and in many ways, as the chart below makes clear.

As Jim Neson, the artistic director of the Irondale Ensemble Project, pointed out to me in my story of the 400th anniversary for DC Theatre Scene, death was ever-present in the England of Shakespeare’s time; one in three children died before the age of 10;Shakespeare’s only son Hamnet died in 1596 at the age of eleven. “Certainly it crept into his writing and world view. Is there a more profound meditation on the subject than the soliloquy “To be or not to be” or a the last few lines of the 7 Ages of Man speech?  Henry V begins shortly after the death of a successful king and its ramifications, the central plot device of Julius Caesar is an assassination that triggers a civil war, Rosalind in As You like It is banished from the court “on pain of death” and Hamlet’s attempt to avenge the murder of his father ends with the entire royal family dead and the kingdom about to be taken over by a foreign power.”


Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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