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Shakespeare's Later Life

Shakespeare retired in about 1611. His retirement was not entirely without controversy. He was drawn into a legal quarrel regarding the enclosure of common lands. Enclosure enabled land to be converted to pasture for sheep, but removed it as a resource for the poor. Shakespeare had a financial interest in the land, and to the chagrin of some, he took a neutral position, making sure only that his own income from the land was protected.

In the last few weeks of Shakespeare's life, the man who was to marry his younger daughter Judith a tavern-keeper named Thomas Quiney was charged in the local church court with "fornication." A woman named Margaret Wheeler had given birth to a child and claimed it was Quiney's; she and the child both died soon after. Quiney was thereafter disgraced, and Shakespeare revised his will to ensure that Judith's interest in his estate was protected from possible malfeasance on Quiney's part.

Shakespeare died on April 23, 1616 at the age of 51. He remained married to Anne until his death and was survived by his two daughters, Susannah and Judith. Susannah married Dr John Hall. Although Susannah and Judith both had children, none of them had any offspring and as such there are no direct descendants of the poet and playwright alive today.

Shakespeare is buried in the chancel of Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon. He was granted the honour of burial in the chancel not on account of his fame as a playwright, but for purchasing a share of the tithe of the church for 440 (a considerable sum of money at the time). A bust of him placed by his family on the wall nearest his grave shows him posed as writing. Each year on his claimed birthday, a new quill pen is placed in the writing hand of the bust.

It was common in his time for graves in the chancel of the church to later be emptied with the contents removed to a nearby charnel house as more room was needed. Possibly fearing that his body would be removed, he was considered to have written an epitaph on his tombstone:

Good friend, for Jesus' sake forbear,

To dig the dust enclosed here.

Blest be the man that spares these stones,

But cursed be he that moves my bones.

Popular legend claims that unpublished works by Shakespeare may lie inside his tomb, but no one has ever verified these claims, perhaps for fear of the curse included in the quoted epitaph.

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