William Shakespeare’s words have lived on, but the Bard has long been dead. However, new reports revealed that the famous playwright’s head is missing from his grave and possibly stolen by 18th-century robbers looking for the key to Shakespeare’s genius.
Study Discovers the Loss of Shakespeare’s Head
Trophy hunters whisking away Shakespeare’s head is a story that has long circulated, but an archaeological investigation recently used non-invasive ground-penetrating radar (GPR) to study Shakespeare’s resting place at the Holy Trinity church in Stratford-on-Avon and supported the claim.
Through the technology, archaeologists found that the skull of the world’s most celebrated playwright indeed appeared to be missing from the shallow grave.
“We came across this very odd, strange thing at the head end,” Kevin Colls, archaeologist and team leader, explained. “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.”
He added that there was “a very strange brick structure” cutting across the head end of the grave, supporting a report in the Argosy magazine back in 1879 saying that Shakespeare’s skull was stolen in 1794.
Although the scan of Shakespeare’s grave supported the reports of his skull being taken, the evidence remains inconclusive. The vicar of Holy Trinity, the Rev Patrick Taylor, acknowledged the knowledge gained from the recent study but he is not convinced that the robbery did take place.
Taylor said, “We intend to continue to respect the sanctity of his grave, in accordance with Shakespeare’s wishes, and not allow it to be disturbed. We shall have to live with the mystery of not knowing fully what lies beneath the stone.”
Robbers Looking for the Secrets of Genius
Perhaps one of the things that gave credence to the rumors was the fact that trophy hunters were more common in the past.
“Grave-robbing was a big thing in the 17th and 18th century,” Colls explained. “People wanted the skull of famous people so they could potentially analyse it and see what made them a genius.”
Aside from Shakespeare, there have been several rumors of other famous people having parts of their bodies stolen post-mortem including Benito Mussolini’s brain reportedly being auctioned off. Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s skull has also been grabbed by a grave digger like other great composers Ludwig van Beethoven and Joseph Haydn. French Emperor Napoléon Bonaparte’s penis was also cut off by the doctor performing the autopsy and handed to a priest.