Lovers of the Bard definitely do have a place to pay their respects to the great man. In fact, there’s no dispute over exactly where William Shakespeare is buried. His body lies in a small, historic church, in his hometown. But his head? That’s a different matter altogether. For, while the great writer’s body is buried in the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon, his head isn’t attached to it. And nobody knows quite where it is.
While Shakespeare famously left his native Stratford to find fame and fortune in London, as was the custom of the time, he returned to his home town in later life. Certainly, he didn’t retire in the proper sense of the word. From 1608 onwards, he would regularly go into London to stage one of his plays or for social reasons. Indeed, he was still a relatively young man when he moved back to the Midlands, and he was only 52 – and, in his own words, “In perfect health” – when he died in April of 1616.
There was no question of where Shakespeare was to be buried. Though his theater was in London, he was a son of Stratford. So, two days after his passing, he was buried in the Holy Trinity, right in the center of the historic town. Notably, a huge stone slab was placed above his resting place. On it was inscribed a curse, leveled at anyone who dare disturb his bones. Ever since then, any cleaning or restorations carried out to the church have been careful to ensure that the Bard’s warning from beyond the grave is heeded. Even a 2016 investigation by researchers from Staffordshire University took extra care. It was this team, carrying out the first-ever scan of the grave, who uncovered the grisly secret: someone, at some point, had stolen Shakespeare’s head.
The discovery served to confirm legends printed back in 1879. Back then, it was alleged that graverobbers had broken into the shallow tomb and taken the head. No reason was given for the macabre act. Some historians believe that the skull could even have been taken before the initial burial, perhaps by a grieving friend or relative. After all, taking body parts for mementos was not unheard of at this time. Or could it be true that Shakespeare was a secret Catholic and that a member of the faith took his skull to bury it according to their traditions?
The 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death once again brought the mystery to the fore. Scientists and researchers are no closer to finding out what happened to the head. And some are even starting to question whether it’s missing. Could scans simply have missed it? Both professional and amateur sleuths are still busy trying to solve the puzzle. But, for many people in Stratford, the Bard should be left to rest in peace once and for all – head or no head.