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?”
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COMMENTS (67)
  • anjar-kut
    3/30/2016 - 07:58 p.m.

    It's not that weird to think someone wanted Shakespeare's scull, I mean, he is one of the most well known writers of plays and stories. I guess it's sort of karma in a way, think about it, Shakespeare was know to hold a scull. Ironic how HIS scull was taken. I really do hope they find it, this is a very important piece of history!

  • victorp1-kut
    3/31/2016 - 08:08 a.m.

    NO ONE WOULD BE SO DUMB TO GET CURSED BY SHAKESPHERE HIM SELF

  • dylanp-knu
    3/31/2016 - 01:30 p.m.

    Meh. It'll show up someday. But... Nobody will know it's his. Check your attics for a skull!

  • johnlu-knu
    3/31/2016 - 01:35 p.m.

    That's weird, I guess that's just another thing we will have to live with. All kinds of things happen that we have yet to find out.

  • taylors-knu
    3/31/2016 - 01:52 p.m.

    The article was interesting. What i liked about it was how they write the article.

  • halens-knu
    3/31/2016 - 02:04 p.m.

    Who would want to steal a skull..... What is the point a stealing a skull there is nothing to do with It besides display.....

  • madelinew-1-bar
    4/01/2016 - 12:01 a.m.

    We will need to live with the mystery because the Holy Trinity vicar Patrick Taylor said that he didn't want to "disturb the grave."
    I found this article very interesting. I don't really understand what is so special about his skull and why someone would steal it.

  • sethg-2-bar
    4/01/2016 - 01:12 a.m.

    We will need to live with the mystery because those who disturb where Shakespear lives will be cursed. In the very last paragraph the headstone above Shakespeares stone says " Blessed be the man that spares these stones, And cursed be he that moves my bones." I found this article interesting because I love mysteries.

  • maxwellt-2-bar
    4/01/2016 - 01:34 a.m.

    Shakespeare himself said that "And cursed be he that moves my bones", so we should not disturb his grave unless we want to be cursed like King Tut.
    I liked this article because my class just finished Twelfth Night a while ago.

  • haileya-bru
    4/01/2016 - 03:24 p.m.

    We will need to live with this mystery because we do not want to disterb Shakespeare. The scientists think its best to leave Shakespeare's body they would like to leave it at peace. Because the scientists don't want to disterb the body we will never know if someone has stole Shakespeare's head.

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