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 myth. The claim is that the Bard's skull was stolen by grave robbers 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, daughter and son-in-law were later 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.

Colls said the findings, which were featured in a documentary airing Saturday on Britain's Channel 4 television, would "undoubtedly spark discussion, scholarly debate and controversial theories" - but some Shakespeare scholars remained skeptical.

Michael Dobson, director of the Shakespeare Institute at the University of Birmingham, 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 which 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, Patrick Taylor, said he was not convinced there is "sufficient evidence to conclude that his skull has been taken." And 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 inscribed 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?”
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (99)
  • gregb-pay
    3/29/2016 - 09:41 a.m.

    "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."

  • kaideno-kut
    3/29/2016 - 12:11 p.m.

    I can't believe someone would actually steel someone's skull from their grave. If I were those people I would want to find out if it were really gone or not. I really cant' believe their actually not going to check.

  • ben0424-yyca-byo
    3/29/2016 - 08:34 p.m.

    It is strange for people to take William Shakespeare's skull. I don't think that there were ever any reports of missing skulls, beside William Shakespeare's. We can never know who did this, because it was probably done in the 18th century. It would be good for the skull to be found again though.
    Critical Thinking Question Answer: We need to "live with this mystery," because we can't find out who took William Shakespeare's skull. It was probably done in the 18th century, so we don't know who did it.

  • william1108-yyca
    3/29/2016 - 09:36 p.m.

    I never knew that William Shakespeare's skull was missing and I also never knew that it happened that long ago. But now that I have read this article I now know that it happened long time ago because I have read this amazing article. And also I wonder since it was in the 1879's I wonder if the skull is still missing or if it was found. Maybe one day I will maybe if I want to go to the library and then I will look up more about Shakespeare's life and if they had found they skull or not.

  • danielb-knu
    3/30/2016 - 01:35 p.m.

    What are the odds that his skull is in a pawnshop somewhere?

  • ethana-knu
    3/30/2016 - 01:38 p.m.

    Oh no his skull is missing well that fine

  • caitlyns1-knu
    3/30/2016 - 01:39 p.m.

    Although it states on his tomb how if a person moved his bones they would be cursed, I am really curious about his skull being there or not. I also think it would be disrespectful to look so maybe this is left better as a mystery.

  • travism-knu
    3/30/2016 - 01:42 p.m.

    Just open the tomb without touching him and see.

  • sonyas1-knu
    3/30/2016 - 01:48 p.m.

    We have to live with this mystery because the only people who actually know what happened in detail would be the actual thief or thieves. But since the robbery happened in the 18th century there's no way of knowing exactly what happened or even where the head could possibly be. Possible clues could lead up to the source or who the villainous thief is but we'll never fully comprehend or understand why they stole the head. I'm sure that though his head is missing Shakespeare would feel fulfilled with the drama and publicity that still surrounds him today.

  • timh-knu
    3/30/2016 - 01:49 p.m.

    It seems odd that anyone would want to take Shakespeare's head if they know they'll be cursed. I think either his head is still there or it is gone due to some sort of erosion or maybe even an animal that happened to dig it up.

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