Happy four-hundredth anniversary of Shakespeare’s death! Researchers for an upcoming documentary on the Bard just discovered that his skull’s not in his grave. Whoops?
The Guardian reports that the documentary crew, working for Channel 4, got permission to check out the playwright’s burial site. In so doing, they ended up confirming a long-running rumor: Shakespeare’s skull is MIA!
Back in 1879, the Argosy magazine reported that the Bard’s skull had been stolen — but that rumor never got confirmed, even in the past 137 years. The main reason why no one checked earlier appears to be basic human decency (fair enough), and maybe a small dose of superstition. Shakespeare’s headstone bears an ominous warning: “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.”
Anyway, Channel 4’s investigation didn’t involve any shovels, so hopefully they’ll manage to avoid the curse. Instead, the archeologists involved in researching the documentary used non-invasive ground-penetrating radar to check out the Bard’s remains.
The archeologist who headed up the investigation, Kevin Colls, told the Guardian:
We came across this very odd, strange thing at the head end. It was very obvious, within all the data we were getting, that there was something different going on at that particular spot. We have concluded it is signs of disturbance, of material being dug out and put back again …
Grave-robbing was a big thing in the 17th and 18th century. People wanted the skull of famous people so they could potentially analyze it and see what made them a genius. It is no surprise to me that Shakespeare’s remains were a target.
The use of radar, and the reluctance to do anything further (e.g. actual digging), explains why we don’t have any other clues about what could have happened to the skull. The radar check doesn’t 100% prove that the skull is missing, but it definitely shows signs of a disturbance, so it seems fair to assume that somebody messed around with the Bard’s remains at some point. Like the inscription says, though, that person has now been forever “cursed” and definitely deserves to get haunted by Shakespeare’s eloquent ghost!
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