A Life of William Shakespeare

By Joseph Quincy Adams | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXV
DEATH AND BURIAL

SHORTLY after the marriage of Judith, Shakespeare was seized with an illness that was to prove fatal. According to the Reverend John Ward, Vicar of Stratford, the attack was induced by a convivial bout held with the two eminent poets Michael Drayton and Ben Jonson: "Shakespeare, Drayton, and Ben Jonson had a merry meeting," writes Ward, "and, it seems, drank too hard, for Shakespeare died of a fever there contracted." We have no reason to reject this story.1 Drayton was a frequent visitor in Stratford, Jonson was notoriously fond of the cup, and the creator of Falstaff, as is well attested by early writers and tradition alike, was convivial in his disposition. Moreover, if, as has been suggested, Shakespeare was suffering from chronic Bright's disease, the nature of which was then imperfectly understood, we could explain why an indiscretion of this particular kind might provoke a fatal attack.2

The meeting described by Ward must have taken place early in March, 1616. On the twenty-fifth of that

____________________
1
Ward, who was a university graduate, could readily verify the story at the mouths of Shakespeare's two nephews then living as his parishioners at the Henley Street home, from Shakespeare's niece, Elizabeth Hall, or from many old residents of the village.
2
It has been customary to attribute Shakespeare's death to the supposed unsanitary conditions of Chapel Lane. But the bits of evidence upon which this hypothesis is based (cited by Halliwell-Phillipps, Outlines, ii, 141-42), relate to a much earlier period; and, as Halliwell-Phillipps admits, "The only later notices of the state of the lane in the poet's time which have been discovered relate to a pigsty which John Rogers, the vicar, had commenced to erect about the year 1613." It is significant that when Rogers began to erect this pigsty, the inhabitants at once lodged complaint, and the Town Council promptly forbade it, in spite of the pleadings of the vicar.

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