Shakespeare’s skull is missing! In this Monday, Sept. 21, 2009 file photo, Head Verger Jon Ormrod tends to the grave of William Shakespeare in the Chancel of Holy Trinity Church in Stratford Upon Avon, England. Archeologists who scanned the grave of William Shakespeare say they have made a startling discovery: His skull appears to be missing. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, file/Joerg Sarbach)
Shakespeare’s skull is missing!
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Archaeologists who scanned the grave of William Shakespeare say they have made a head-scratching discovery. His skull appears to be missing.

Researchers used ground-penetrating radar to explore the playwright's tomb. The tomb is in Stratford-upon-Avon's Holy Trinity Church. Staffordshire University archaeologist Kevin Colls led the study. He said they found "an odd disturbance at the head end." They also found evidence of repairs some time after the original burial.

He said the finding supports a claim first made in 1879. This claim has long been dismissed as a myth. The claim is that grave robbers stole the Bard's skull in the 18th century.

"It's very, very convincing to me that his skull isn't at Holy Trinity at all," Colls said.

Church records say Shakespeare was buried in his hometown church. The church is 100 miles (160 kilometers) northwest of London. Records say he was buried on April 25, 1616. That was two days after his death. He was 52 years old. His wife Anne Hathaway was later buried alongside him. His daughter and son-in-law were also buried alongside him.

Colls and geophysicist Erica Utsi found that the family members lie in shallow graves in the church chancel. They are not in a single vault. There are no traces of nails or other metal. This suggests they may have been buried in cloth shrouds rather than coffins.

The findings were aired in a documentary on Britain's Channel 4 television.

Colls said the findings would "undoubtedly spark discussion, scholarly debate and controversial theories." But, some Shakespeare scholars remained skeptical.

Michael Dobson is the director of the Shakespeare Institute at the University of Birmingham. He said the grave-robbing claim was first made in an 1879 short story.

"It's striking the piece of fiction imagines Shakespeare being buried quite shallow, and it turns out he was buried quite shallow," he said Thursday. "But it is still a piece of fiction."

A skull takes a starring role in Shakespeare's "Hamlet." In Hamlet, the Danish prince addresses the bony cranium of a man he once knew: "Alas, poor Yorick!"

But Dobson said it would have been unusual for anyone to want a writer's skull at the time of the alleged theft.

"There wasn't a huge fashion for robbing literary graves in the 18th century," he said.

Holy Trinity's vicar is Patrick Taylor. He was not convinced there is "sufficient evidence to conclude that his skull has been taken." He said there are no plans to disturb the grave to find out for sure.

"We shall have to live with the mystery of not knowing fully what lies beneath the stone," he said.

That may be a wise decision in light of the warning written on Shakespeare's gravestone:

"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."

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why will we need to “live with this mystery?”
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COMMENTS (18)
  • devinm-haw
    4/05/2016 - 08:10 a.m.

    We will have to live with this mystery because they do not want to check for sure to see if the head was really gone because it would be disrespectful to William Shakespeare to disturb his body.

  • avak-haw
    4/05/2016 - 08:16 a.m.

    We will have to live with this mystery because if they can't figure out why Shakespeare's skull is missing, then we will just have to live with it. We will have to "live with the mystery" unsolved!

  • thomask-haw
    4/05/2016 - 08:17 a.m.

    We will need to "live with this mystery" because they couldn`t find it out.

  • lauray-haw
    4/05/2016 - 08:18 a.m.

    Shakespear has his head stolen and nobody knows who stole it or if anyone stole it.

  • abbyk-haw
    4/05/2016 - 08:18 a.m.

    We will need to live with the mystery because the gravestone says:

    "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."

    The Colls and geophysicist don't want to be cursed.

  • sarahbellef-haw
    4/05/2016 - 08:20 a.m.

    We will need to "live with this mystery" because Shakespeare's skull is missing. I just think that this is totally wrong to steal Shakespeare's skull.

  • mallorya-haw
    4/05/2016 - 09:36 a.m.

    Whoever moved his skull is supposed to be cursed. Everybody wants to know if the person is or not.

  • georgiam-haw
    4/05/2016 - 09:37 a.m.

    We will need to live with the mystery because, there is a warning on Shakespeare's grave. It says that "be cursed he who moves my bones" that means that whoever digs up Shakespeare will be cursed.

  • harryg-haw
    4/05/2016 - 09:37 a.m.

    We will need to live with the mystery because Shakespeare's gravestone is supposed to curse the person
    that removes the stone!!!!!Also his family and the church probably would not allow them to disturb his GRAVE.

  • maxv-haw
    4/05/2016 - 09:39 a.m.

    We will need to live with this mystery because there is not sufficient evidence.

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