Beware the Curse on Shakespeare’s Grave 0

William Shakespeare grave with curse

Of all the possible ghosts to be haunted by, William Shakespeare would have to be one of the worst. With an epic collection of ye-olde insults (Shakespeare pioneered ‘your mum’ jokes, by the way) and an aptitude for lengthy monologues, the Bard would definitely find a way to make you very, very sorry. 

It’s perhaps for that very reason that scientists examining William Shakespeare’s grave in 2016 were very careful not to disturb his rest. After all, the Shakespeare grave curse is perhaps the most famous in the world. It’s even written on the Bard’s tombstone, to really spell things out for would-be plunderers.

And yet … it seems someone has ignored it.

 

What is written on Shakespeare’s grave?

A quatrain made up of iambic tetrameter couplets, the curse on Shakespeare’s grave is as follows:

“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.”

Brrr! Spooky. But not actually that unusual.

In Shakespeare’s day, it wasn’t uncommon for graves to be dug up and the bones moved to make room for new burials. Perhaps concerned about starring in a re-enactment of the ‘Yorick’ scene from Hamlet, Shakespeare (as the story goes) penned the verse above to prevent anyone from disturbing his rest.

And up until 2016, it seemed as though the curse had done its job. Keen to respect Shakespeare’s wishes themselves, the scientists even used radar technology to take a gander at his grave, leaving his bones untouched. 

But they made a shocking discovery: Shakespeare’s skull was apparently missing.

 

Who risked William Shakespeare’s grave curse?

We say ‘shocking’ ⁠— but there have been rumours about someone plundering the Bard’s grave over the years. 

So, who was it? A story in Argosy magazine from 1879 may have the answer. The rambling account from ‘A Warwickshire Man’ lays the crime at the door of a young doctor named Frank Chambers. “A wild, rather dashing young fellow,” Chambers supposedly stole the skull with three accomplices in 1794. 

The 17th and 18th centuries saw a lot of body snatching. The heads of famous thinkers were of particular interest to scientific minds of the day. But it seems Shakespeare’s skull was too hot to sell. Unable to find a buyer, Chambers attempted to return it, only to have the skull spirited away by a lackey. 

The account ends with the fate of Shakespeare’s skull unknown. 

 

Where is Shakespeare’s skull now?

It’s still a mystery. Rev. Patrick Taylor of Holy Trinity told reporters that he was “not convinced” that the skull had actually been taken in the first place. And it’s true that the 2016 scan of Shakespeare’s grave wasn’t entirely conclusive. 

Without actually digging Shakespeare up, we’ll never know for certain — but would you risk the curse?

 

Shakespeare’s grave location

If you’d like to visit the grave of William Shakespeare, it can be found in the Church of the Holy Trinity in Stratford-Upon-Avon. Entrance is free, but do check the church’s opening times before you go.

Photo credit: Image of Shakespeare’s grave taken by David Jones and used under Creative Commons licence 2.0. Wikimedia Commons.
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Four of Our Favourite Morbid Museums 0

Hunterian Museum

The term ‘morbidly fascinating’ is one that we use often and apply to a great many things – both to people and to phenomena. It’s probably also the most succinct and suitable description available for four of our favourite museums.

 

The Hunterian, the Morbid Anatomy Museum, Bodyworlds and the Museum of Mummies all tackle the issue of death in a different way – whether it’s in terms of preservation techniques, anatomy or artistic representation – and are some of the most interesting and perhaps controversial museums in the world.

 

While many of the exhibitions may not be to everyone’s taste, they provide us with an opportunity to face death and to recognise the fact of human mortality in a visceral and unflinching manner, while often teaching us a great deal about the human body, societal attitudes towards death and our own ability to talk about the issue. Here we take a look at what makes each of the four museums worthy of a visit.

 

Hunterian – London, UK

Often referred to as ‘the weirdest museum in London’, The Hunterian is based in the Royal College of Surgeons near Holborn and contains a fascinating array of anatomical specimens. Centred around John Hunter’s large collection of skeletons, skulls, organs and diseased body parts, over the years the museum has expanded its collection to include surgical instruments and anatomy tables. It has developed a large and loyal following, most of whom appreciate the free entry and weird and wonderful exhibitions always on offer.

Hunterian Museum

While it has its origins in the government purchase of the famous scientist and surgeon’s specimens in 1799, the Hunterian has made a number of important acquisitions over its lifetime, most notably in its odontological department and with Richard Owen’s natural history collections. It is home to the skeleton of the famous ‘Irish giant’ and the historically important Evelyn tables and the museum has committed to the development and renovation of the building in which it is housed.

 

In May 2017, the Hunterian closed for a three year period in order to perform necessary repairs and modernisation works. It is scheduled to reopen in 2020.

Find funeral directors in London.

 

Morbid Anatomy Museum – Brooklyn, USA

Located in Brooklyn, New York, the Morbid Anatomy Museum was the brainchild of Joanna Ebenstein and Tracy Hurley Martin, two individuals who discovered they shared a passion for the macabre and morbid and decided to act on it.

Morbid Anatomy Museum

While the idea was first realised as a blog and then a library, it finally became a fully-fledged museum space in 2014, complete with lecture space, café and shop. Dedicated to the strange and surreal, the museum houses a collection of death related curiosities and exhibits ranging from Victorian taxidermy and preserved insects to antique medical contraptions.

The Morbid Anatomy Museum hosts regular death cafes. For more about death cafes, check out our piece.

 

Bodyworlds – Berlin, Germany

Though going to visit a museum exhibition curated by someone commonly referred to as ‘Dr. Death’ may not seem like everyone’s idea of a great day out, the Body Worlds permanent exhibition in Berlin’s Menschen Museum has attracted an incredible number of visitors over the last few years.

 

The museum has attracted its fair share of controversy (it faced a court battle over the legality of its displays in 2014), but it has also become one of the most famous anatomical exhibitions ever, bringing enthusiasts to Berlin from all over the world.

 

Consisting of 20 human bodies, each posed in a different position and performing various activities and tasks, Body Worlds is famous for the way each of these models has been skinned and preserved, revealing all of the internal detail we never get to see, from the capillary structure to the musculature. While not for the faint-hearted, Body Worlds provides us with a fascinating glimpse inside the human body, both in life and death.

 

Museum of Mummies – Guanajuato, Mexico

With over 100 mummified bodies on permanent display, the Museum of Mummies in Guanajuato, Mexico, is often labelled the most morbid museum in the world. While some minor embalming techniques were used to prepare the bodies, it’s actually the climate of the region that causes most of the mummification process, meaning the museum doesn’t have to go far to find its exhibits. In fact, nearly all of the mummies on display have been disinterred from the cemetery next to the museum and include a diverse array of individuals, including infants, Inquisition victims and criminals.

Museum of Mummies

Death Euphemisms: Why do we have so many? 0

death euphemisms

English is known for being a rich language that boasts an incredibly large vocabulary and contains countless synonyms. It’s also true that, over the years, we’ve developed a greater number of euphemisms for certain subject matters, topics or individual words. A euphemism is typically used to avoid offending or upsetting someone, or to avoid talking directly about an uncomfortable topic. A euphemism is then a milder version of the intended word, ‘downsizing’ meaning ‘cuts,’ or ‘let go’ meaning ‘fired.’

 

Perhaps the best example of this phenomenon is the fascinating range of words and phrases the English language employs euphemistically for death and dying. Here we take a look at a few examples and contexts in which we use death euphemisms, and also discuss why people are always searching for new and glossier ways to talk about death.

 death euphemisms

In Formal Language

There are an incredible number of euphemisms for death that are used in formal situations, like at a funeral, in obituaries, polite conversation and among strangers. These can include passed away, deceased, departed, sleeping, slipped away, resting in peace, at rest, lost one’s life and taken one’s last breath. These turns of phrase allow us to avoid confronting the act of dying directly and are usually employed when we’re talking to someone who may have been affected by the death, or to a stranger.

 

In Colloquial Language

When it comes to informal language and slang in particular, there’s a huge variety of terms to choose from. Whether they’re used to soften the impact of a death, such as being six feet under, pegging out, meeting one’s maker, going to a better place and giving up the ghost, or to take a more direct approach, such as being curtains, taking a dirt nap or kicking the bucket, slang is responsible for a great number of euphemistic synonyms.

 

In Journalistic Language

As journalists are forced to write about death and dying on a regular basis, they’ve developed a number of euphemisms to help them talk about the issue. Some, like KIA (Killed In Action), are acronyms and technical terms employed by important organisations. Others are simply more formal or literary ways of conveying the information that someone has died. For instance, journalists may talk about a bereavement, an untimely demise, a personal loss or, simply, an end.

 

In Black Humour

Just as some people want to avoid tackling the issue of death and prefer to use euphemisms to skirt around the subject, others prefer to employ euphemisms in a humorous way and often use black humour to refer to death in a direct manner. Good examples of this type of euphemism might include being food for worms, pushing up daisies, popping one’s clogs or coming to a sticky end.

 

Different ways of dying

Finally, there are a variety of synonyms for death that are only used in certain contexts, situations or types of deaths. For instance, if someone is murdered, they may be sleeping with the fishes or wearing concrete shoes. If the person drowned, they may have gone to a watery grave. Similarly, if someone commits suicide they could have topped themselves, taken their own life or ended it all.

 

Why so many?

Although there’s no single answer to the question of why we have so many words and phrases for death and the process of dying, a number of factors may have contributed to their development. Perhaps most simply, the verb to die is useful but completely without nuance – it doesn’t provide us with any information apart from the fact that someone is no longer living.

 

Many of the euphemisms listed above provide us with a little more detail about what may have occurred or the relationship between the speaker and the deceased. It’s also worth noting that culturally we still have issues with talking about death openly and honestly – a fact that may go a long way to explaining why we’ve created so many new terms for the process. Finally, the idea that death makes us uncomfortable personally, and that we don’t like to talk about it for selfish reasons, could be a powerful factor driving our desire to speak e