William Shakespeare’s Skull Stolen

William Shakespeare

An investigation of William Shakespeare’s grave, using new technology, has confirmed historical rumors that his skull was stolen.

The new analysis of the grave of William Shakespeare was designed to coincide with the various events taking place around the world designed to mark the 400th anniversary of the death of the Elizabethan playwright.

Ever since a news report published in 1879, there has been speculation that trophy hunters took the skull from the writer’s grave. The grave was a different one than the place where Shakespeare’s body currently rests, and the skull is said to have been taken in 1794. The original grave was said to be relatively shallow and it presented an easier opportunity for grave diggers to target. The poet’s current resting place is Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon, England.

Through a desire not to disturb the current grave, historians have only had less-than-credible historical accounts to debate over if the story about the missing skull was true or not (some even dispute if it really is Shakespeare’s grave at all.) Now, thanks to advances in scanning equipment, a grave like Shakespeare’s can be scanned without breaking into it.

The method deployed for the scanning was ground-penetrating radar (GPR). This was the first ever archaeological probe of the site. The project was led by Kevin Colls of Staffordshire University. Speaking with the BBC, Dr. Colls said:

“We have Shakespeare’s burial with an odd disturbance at the head end and we have a story that suggests that at some point in history someone’s come in and taken the skull of Shakespeare.”

He added, perhaps with a hint of morbid enthusiasm:

“It’s very, very convincing to me that his skull isn’t at Holy Trinity at all.”

Another reason not to disturb the grave is because it carries a curse:

“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.”

There is also a sense of irony, given the famous skull holding scene from Shakespeare’s greatest play, Hamlet. Hamlet’s cry of “Alas, poor Yorick” could now be replaced with “Alas, poor Shakespeare.”

Details about the scanning of the grave will appear in a documentary titled Secret History: Shakespeare’s Tomb.

About the author

Tim Sandle

Dr. Tim Sandle is a chartered biologist and holds a first class honours degree in Applied Biology; a Masters degree in education; and has a doctorate from Keele University.