In the last few years of his life, Shakespeare wrote only in collaboration with John Fletcher – his last play written alone was The Tempest in 1611. Shakespeare moved back to Stratford in 1613, although he still travelled to London from time to time.
He was 52 years old at the time of his death, and his controversial will left most of his things to his elder daughter Susanna – and his second-best bed to his wife, Anne Hathaway. His other daughter, Judith, was also a beneficiary.
Shakespeare was buried in the chancel of Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon. A monument placed by his family adorns the wall nearest his grave, featuring a bust that depicts Shakespeare posed in the act of writing. Each year on his claimed birthday, a new quill pen is placed in the writing hand of the bust.
It’s an iconic image, symbolising madness, decadence and a corrupt lust for power. But did it actually happen?
In all probability, it didn’t. For a start, the fiddle would not be invented for another thousand years – Nero played the lyre. And according to Tacitus, Nero not only wasn’t in Rome when the fire occurred, but raced back to organise the relief efforts and funded a large portion of the reconstruction of the city from his own purse. Hardly a picture of a depraved monster, is it?
The fire is believed to have started near the Circus Maximus. It burned for seven days and five nights – on the fifth day, it was nearly quelled before flaring up with renewed strength. Of the city’s 14 districts, seven were damaged and three destroyed outright.
Call him Odysseus or Ulysses, there’s never been any denying his cunning or his pride – and this particular incident in his legend displays both to full advantage.
It so happened that Ulysses’ ship was on course to pass by the island of sirens – horrible monsters who used their bewitching song to lure sailors to their deaths (they ate them, and not in the good way). Ulysses decided that he wanted to be the first man to hear their song and live.
This is how he did it: he commanded his men to tie him to the mast, then to stop their ears with wax, and to neither remove the wax nor let him loose until such time as the island was out of sight. His plan worked to perfection, and he remains the only man to have heard the sirens sing and lived to tell the tale.