“And cursed be he that moves my bones”

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

British researchers have carried out radar scan on the famous dramatist William Shakespeare’s grave which is located in the English town of Stratford upon Avon. The procedure coincides with the 400th anniversary of the great poet’s death.

Scanning of the vaults was conducted with the purpose of examining the graves of Shakespeare and his family. According to historical sources, next to the poet are buried the remains of his wife, Ann, his daughter, Susanna and the first husband of his granddaughter Elizabeth.

However, there is a version that Shakespeare’s grave could be empty. Scientists are hoping that the scanning of the grave might help them lift the veil of mystery shrouding the life and death of Shakespeare. The researchers promise to publish the results of the scan in a couple of weeks.

Shakespeare’s grave has never been tampered with probably because of the epitaph written on the tomb:

“Good friend for Jesus sake forbeare, To dig the dust enclosed here, Blessed be the man that spares these stones, And cursed be he that moves my bones.”

That epitaph is considered to be written by Shakespeare himself – he was really afraid of the possible desecration of his grave.

Fear of exhumation

According to some researchers, Shakespeare suffered from phobia of exhumation, which affected his work. He described similar episodes in “Hamlet”, “Romeo and Juliet” and “Richard III”. According to Shakespearean scholars, the dramatist related to the rare type of people who were afraid of their own graves being desecrated more than death itself.

According to historical data, the practice of extracting burial remains was widespread in Medieval England. Due to lack of free space, the remains were often taken out and carried in the so-called premises for bones.

The epitaph as a message to the descendants

Some researchers believe that the epitaph was not written by Shakespeare, but by another local poet since the verses were written very badly and do not match the style of the famous poet. However, historical records have justified the inscription.

In 1694, William Hall who subsequently became the prebendary in the Holy Trinity church, wrote to the famous expert of Anglo-Saxon literature, Edward Thwaites the following: “The poet who wanted his bones to remain intact has foreshadowed the curse over the one who touches them. Since he communicated with gravediggers and church guardians, who were ignorant people, and by creating that inscription he denigrated to their low intellect, taking off the garment of art that none of his contemporaries had worn better.”

No matter who wrote the epitaph, it has fulfilled its purpose. Not a single church official, gravedigger, archeologist, or just a curious person has touched the remains in the grave. Still, the burial plaque had to be changed because in the middle of 18th century it broke apart and sank underground.

According to the 19th century story of the American writer, Washington Irving, while workers were laying down an archway, the ground collapsed. Through the hole, they could freely reach the grave of Shakespeare but no one dared. So that vandals could not reach the grave, the sexton guarded it for two days until the archway was finished and the hole closed. The sexton himself tried to look through the hole a couple of times but he could not see a grave or bones.

Thus, the tomb of the great Shakespeare till this day remains a mystery and does not give rest to scientists. However, historians could not decide on opening the grave whether by fear of the curse, or of respect for the great poet.

Currently all hopes are in the new technologies which may help to lift the veil of this old secret.