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 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 at the age of 52. His wife, Anne Hathaway, daughter and son-in-law were later buried alongside him.

Colls and geophysicist Erica Utsi found the family members lie in shallow graves in the church chancel, rather than in a single vault. There are no traces of nails or other metal, suggesting 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 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 (15)
  • Steve0620-yyca
    3/29/2016 - 08:20 p.m.

    I think that it is strange that someone would steal the skull of William Shakespeare. The skull was found to be missing when archaeologists scanned the grave of William Shakespeare. Some people thought that the skull was stolen but it is not proven. There were no traces of metal found near the graves of his family.
    I think that we will need to "live with this mystery" because people have not found the reason for the disappearance of Shakespeare's skull and until then people won't know.

  • shaelyng-ver
    3/30/2016 - 08:48 a.m.

    It would madden me to not be able to do the investigation and actually find out if his head was taken.

  • kaleahd-knu
    3/30/2016 - 01:47 p.m.

    If we live with that mystery it would be interesting knowing if his skull is actually missing or not. Especially because Shakespeare is/was so famous.

  • karliw-1-bar
    3/30/2016 - 07:43 p.m.

    The scientists and Shakespeare avids working on the case of William Shakespeare's missing skull will have to "live with this mystery" because there is no completely logical way to solve it. The only piece of what some could consider possible evidence is a short story of fiction and a grave inscription. Most on the case suspect that the playwright's absent cranium has to do with the short story that tells of the Bard's skull being stolen by grave robbers in the 18th century. It was later uncovered that fictional evidence about the location of Shakespeare's grave was written in the smae year as the myth: 1879. 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."

  • genevieveb-6-bar
    3/30/2016 - 09:14 p.m.

    The world needs to "live with this mystery" because, since the skull is suspected to have been taken centuries ago, it is nearly impossible to discover who stole the poet's head. In the article's beginning, it is stated that,"The claim is that the Bard's skull was stolen by grave robbers in the 18th century" (paragraph 3). The skull was estimated to have been taken in the 1700's, so by now, the head would most likely be disintegrated or gotten rid of. Due to the period of nearly three centuries passing, the Earth will need to "live with this mystery" because scholars and investigators probably won't find the skull or the relatives of the skull thief.

    I found this article interesting because I think it's strange that someone would steal Shakespeare's skull during the 1700's, a time when the Renaissance took place and people did not have to thieve as often to survive.

  • alexanderc-6-bar
    3/31/2016 - 09:41 p.m.

    The world needs to "live with this mystery" because, since the skull is suspected to have been taken centuries ago, it is nearly impossible to discover who stole the poet's head. In the article's beginning, it is stated that,"The claim is that the Bard's skull was stolen by grave robbers in the 18th century" (paragraph 3). The skull was estimated to have been taken in the 1700's, so by now, the head would most likely be disintegrated or gotten rid of. Due to the period of nearly three centuries passing, the Earth will need to "live with this mystery" because scholars and investigators probably won't find the skull or the relatives of the skull thief.

    I found this article interesting because I think it's strange that someone would steal Shakespeare's skull during the 1700's, a time when the Renaissance took place and people did not have to thieve as often to survive.

  • angelinat-3-bar
    3/31/2016 - 11:29 p.m.

    We need to live with this mystery because Shakespeare's plays and poems are still very popular today. The article says, "Researchers used ground-penetrating radar to explore the playwright's tomb." This shows that people sincerely care about Shakespeare and are willing to go to great lengths to get answers to this mystery. I was interested in this article because we have been learning about Shakespeare in class. I was surprised by this article because I did not thin someone could steal his skull and get away with it.

  • seans-2-bar
    4/01/2016 - 01:05 a.m.

    These archaeologists made the decision that they would refrain from disturbing the Bard's tomb. This leads us with a withstanding mystery of whether the skull is removed or not. Therefore we must "live with this mystery ", or until further evidence is uncovered... I find this ironic as many actors in Shakespeare are portrayed holding craniums.

  • calebb-nic
    4/07/2016 - 12:26 p.m.

    We will have to live with this mystery because no one wants to dig the grave up. Also Shakespeare's was buried in a shallow grave. Finally on his grave it says that whoever moves his bones will be cursed.

  • laurenh-612-
    4/08/2016 - 08:49 a.m.

    Simply because wherever the skull is, whoever it may be with, they will probably never admit that the skull is where it is. So, we will have to deal with Shakespeare's skull being away and simply remember him for his other things.

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