The Shakespeare's Life and Works Quiz

Helen Harvester

Image: Getty

About This Quiz

Considered by many to be the greatest writer in the English language, Shakespeare's life was just as fascinating as his work. Delve into the past while flexing your dramatic muscles with this quiz!

True or False: William Shakespeare never signed his name with the spelling that we use today.

In the few original signatures that have survived, Shakespeare spelt his name “Willm Shaksp,” “William Shakespe,” “Wm Shakspe,” “William Shakspere,” ”Willm Shakspere,” and “William Shakspeare”. There are no records of him ever having spelt it “William Shakespeare”, as we know him today.

Which play is considered to be so cursed that its title is never spoken aloud in a theater, unless that show is currently in production?

Many superstitious actors genuinely believe this play is cursed. Actors who do not believe the superstition will often fall in line out of respect and politeness. Productions of Macbeth are said to be plagued with accidents. According to legend, this dates back to the premiere of the play: an actor died because a real dagger was mistakenly used instead of the prop.

How many confirmed portraits of William Shakespeare exist today?

There are only two portraits unambiguously identified as Shakespeare. One is the engraving that appears on the cover of the First Folio (1623). The other is the sculpture atop his memorial in Stratford-upon-Avon, which dates from before 1623.

How many plays did Shakespeare write?

Shakespeare wrote 37 plays and 154 sonnets. Only 36 of his plays can be read today; "Cardenio" has been lost.

Who speaks the line, "Thus from my lips, by thine, my sin is purged"?

Romeo speaks these words to Juliet during their first meeting, at the Capulet ball.

What character gives the famous St Crispin’s Day speech, which includes the phrase “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers”?

This speech occurs in Act IV scene iii of Henry V.

Where was Shakespeare born?

Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1564. He died there in 1616, at the age of 52.

How was the first Globe Theatre destroyed?

The first Globe Theatre burned to the ground during a performance of Henry VIII, when a canon set the thatched roof on fire. The second Globe Theatre was destroyed by the Puritans in 1644.

True or False: Shakespeare was an actor as well as a poet and playwright.

There is evidence that Shakespeare played the ghost in Hamlet and Adam in As You Like It.

What was probably the first play performed at the Globe Theatre, which opened in 1599?

It's impossible to know for sure, but Julius Caesar was probably the first of Shakespeare’s plays to be performed in the Globe.

What play ends with a statue coming to life?

In The Winter’s Tale, Hermione, Queen of Sicily, fakes her death to avoid unjust punishment for supposed infidelity. She returns to the castle in form of a very life-like statue at the play’s end. When she hears the King’s genuine remorse at her death and his mistake, she “comes back to life.”

Which of these words did Shakespeare coin?

Shakespeare invented the word “assassination,” along with over 1700 other terms.

What is Shakespeare’s shortest play?

The Comedy of Errors is Shakespeare’s shortest play, at 1,770 lines.

Only two Shakespeare plays are written entirely in verse. Which are they?

Richard II and King John are the only two plays written entirely in verse. Most of Shakespeare’s plays are half in verse and half in prose.

How many siblings did Shakespeare have?

Shakespeare has 7 siblings. Joan (b 1558, only lived 2 months); Margaret (b 1562); Gilbert (b 1566); another Joan (b 1569); Anne (b 1571); Richard (b 1574) and Edmund (b 1580).

What event precipitated Shakespeare’s first foray into poetry?

An outbreak of the plague in Europe resulted in all London theatres being closed between 1592 and 1594. Shakespeare finished his first batch of sonnets in 1593.

Which play includes the famous line, “Better three hours too soon than a minute too late”?

Ford says this line in Act II, scene ii of The Merry Wives of Windsor

What was Shakespeare’s mother's maiden name?

Shakespeare’s mother was Mary Arden. The Arden Shakespeare is named after the Forest of Arden in As You Like It, not her.

How old was Shakespeare when he married Anne Hathaway?

Shakespeare was 18 when he married 26 year-old Anne Hathaway. Even more scandalous: she was pregnant at the time!

Which Shakespeare play is based directly on a story line from Homer’s “The Illiad”?

Troilus and Cressida is set during the later years of the Trojan War, faithfully following the plotline of the Iliad from Achilles' refusal to participate in battle to Hector's defeat.

What play was Shakespeare’s first blockbuster “hit,” and probably his biggest overall success, during his lifetime?

Shakespeare’s first blockbuster hit was Richard III, and it was wildly popular during his lifetime; it was published 10 times. Most scholars would agree that Hamlet is the most popular Shakespeare play in the modern era.

Who is Cymbeline in the play of the same name?

In the play, Cymbeline is the vassal King of Britain for the Roman Empire.

Which play is generally accepted as being Shakespeare’s first?

Although it’s impossible to know for sure, and there are some loud detractors, most scholars agree that Shakespeare wrote the Henry VI trilogy first, beginning with Part 2.

In which play would you find the following quote: “Rest, rest, perturbed spirit!”

In Act 1, scene v of Hamlet, Hamlet is planning to pretend to be mad in order to further his revenge scenario, and is swearing Horatio to secrecy. The ghost of his father is very invested in Hamlet’s revenge, and interrupts this proceedings with the word, “Swear!” Hamlet quiets him with the above line.

Which historical event influenced the plot of Macbeth?

The Gunpowder Plot was thwarted just in time, on November 5, 1605, and would have killed King James had it succeeded. Shakespeare wrote Macbeth early in 1606 as an embodiment of the fears of the English people at the time. What would have happened if the King had been killed? Macbeth shows us one possible outcome.

In which play would you find a character called Touchstone?

Touchstone is the court jester for Duke Frederick. He comments on the other characters throughout the play.

What character speaks the line, “What angel wakes me from my flowery bed?”

Titania, Queen of the Fairies, is under a spell cast by her husband Oberon when she awakens to see Nick Bottom, with the head of donkey. The spell causes her to fall in love with him.

Once his career began, how quickly did Shakespeare write his plays, on average?

Shakespeare averaged 1.5 plays per year during his 24 year career.

In which play would you find the line, “The quality of mercy is not strain’d, It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath”?

This line is the beginning of one of the great speeches in Shakespeare and is made by a cross-dressing Portia, disguised as young lawyer Balthazar, who begs Shylock for mercy after traveling from the fictional town of Belmont to Venice.

This is easily Shakespeare’s bloodiest, most violent play.

Fourteen people die over the course of Titus Andronicus, not to mention the horrors inflicted on Lavinia. During a 2014 production of the play at the Globe, five audience members fainted in a single night.

Into what fictional language have two of Shakespeare’s plays been translated?

Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing have been translated into, and performed, in Klingon.

Who is the queen of the witches in Macbeth?

Hecate, queen of the witches, is the only named witch in Macbeth.

Which of these trios are three of the so-called “problem plays”?

All’s Well That Ends Well, Measure for Measure and Troilus and Cressida all exhibit wild swings in tone, from comedy to violent tragedy and back again.

In which play would you find a character called Starveling?

Robin Starveling, one of the Rude Mechanicals of Athens in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, plays the part of Moonshine in their performance of Pyramus and Thisbe.

How did Shakespeare die, at the relatively old age of 52?

The leading theory is that Shakespeare was sick for over a month before he died. The evidence comes from the fact that on March 26, 1616 (4 weeks before his death) Shakespeare made his will – in keeping with the 17th century tradition of drawing up wills on one’s deathbed.

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