Samuel Schoenbaum writes:

"During the winter of 1616, Shakespeare summoned his lawyer Francis Collins ... to execute his last will and testament.

"Apparently this event took place in January, for when Collins was called upon to revise the document some weeks later, he (or his clerk) inadvertently wrote January instead of March, copying the word from the earlier draft. Revisions were necessitated by the marriage of (his daughter) Judith....

"The lawyer came on 25 March. A new first page was required, and numerous substitutions and additions in the second and third pages..... Collins never got round to having a fair copy of the will made, probably because of haste occasioned by the seriousness of the testator's condition, though this attorney had a way of allowing much-corrected draft wills to stand."

William Shakespeare loved to poke fun at lawyers in his famous plays. He lived from 1564 to April 23, 1616.

Like the object of his humour, Shakespeare, too, liked the occasional drink. In 1616, according to the vicar of Strafford, John Ward:

"Shakespeare, Drayton and Ben Johnson had a merry meeting, and it seems drank too hard, for Shakespeare died of a fevour there contracted."

William ShakespeareMost notably, the will barely mentions his wife An and in any event, to whom he leaves but his "second best bed".

As many spellings as can be confidently modernized have been so amended.

In the name of God, amen, I, William Shakespeare of Stratford upon Avon ... in perfect health and memory God by praised do make and ordain this my last Will and Testament in manner and form following that was to say first I commend my soul into the hands of God my Creator hoping and assuredly beleiving through the only merits of Jesus Christ my Saviour to be made partaker of life everlasting.

And my body to the Earth whereof it was made.

I give and bequeath unto my son-in-law and daughter Judyth, 150£ of lawful English money to be paid unto her in manner and form following that is to say 100£ in discharge of her marriage portion within 1 year after my decease with consideration after the rate of 2 shillings in the pound for so long time as the same shall be unpaid unto her after my decease and the 50£ residue thereof upon her surrendering of, or giving of such sufficient security as the overseers of this, my will, shall like of to surrender or grant all her estate and right that shall descend or come unto her after my decease or that she now hath of in or to one copyhold tenement with the appertunances lying and being in Stratford upon Avon aforesaid... being parcel ... of the Manor of Rowington unto my daughter Susanna Hall and her heirs forever.

I give and bequeath unto my said daughter Judyth 150£ more if she or any issue of her body living at the end of 3 years next ensuing the day of the date of this my Will during which time my executors to pay her consideration from my decease according to the rate aforesaid.

And if she die within the said term without issue of her body, then my Will is and and I do give and bequeath 150£ thereof to my niece Elizabeth Hall and 50£ to be set fourth by my executors during the life of my sister Johanne Hart and the use and profit thereof coming shall be paid to my said sister ...  and after her decease, the said £ shall remain amongst the children of my said sister equally to be divided amongst them.

But if my said daughter Judith be lying at the end of the said 3 years or any issue of her body, then my Will is and so I devise and bequeath the said 150£ to be set out by my executors and overseers for the best benefit of her and her issue and the stock not to be paid unto her so long as she shall be married and Covert Baron by my executors and overseers but my will is that she shall have the consideration yearly paid unto her during her life and after her decease, the said stock and consideration to be paid to her children if she have any, and if not, to her executors or assigns she living, the said term after my decease provided that if such husband as she shall at the end of the said 3 years by married unto, or attain after does sufficiently assure unto her and this issue of her body lands answerable to the portion given unto her and to be adjudged so by my executors and overseers then my will is that the said 150£ shall be paid to such husband as shall make such assurance to his own use.

I give and bequeath unto my said sister Jone 20£ and all my wearing April to be paid and delivered within 1 year after my decease. And I do will and devise unto her the house with the appurtenances in Stratford wherein she dwelleth for her natural life under the yearly rent of 512.

I give and bequeath unto her 3 sons William Hart, (?) Hart and Michael Hart, 5£ a piece to be paid within 1 year after my decease to be set out for her within one year after my decease by my executors with the advice and directions of my overseers for her best profit until her marriage and then the same with the increase thereof to be paid unto her.

I give and bequeath unto her, the said Elizabeth Hall, all my plate (except my broad silver and gilt bowl) that I now have at the date of this my will.

I give and bequeath unto the poor of Stratford aforesaid 10£; to Mr Thomas Combe, my sword; to Thomas Russell,  Esquire, 5£ and to Francis Collins ... 13£, 6s and 8p to be paid within 1 year after my decease.

I give and bequeath to Mr. Richard Hamlett Sadler Tyler, the elder, XXVIs VIIId to buy him a ring; to William Raynoldes gent XXVIs VIIId to buy him a ring; to my godson William Walker, XXVIs VIIId in gold and to my fellows John Hemynges, Richard Burbage and Heny Cundell, XXVIs VIIId a piece to buy them rings.

I give, will, bequeath and devise unto my daughter Susanna Hall, for better enabling of her to perform this, my Will, and towards the performance thereof, all that capital messuage or tenement with the appertenances, in Stratford aforesaid called the new place wherein I now dwell and two messuags or tenements with the appurtenances situate lying and being in Henley Street within the borough of Stratford aforesaid.

And all my barns, stables, orchards, gardens, lands, tenements and hereditaments whatsoever situate lying and being, or to be had received, perceived or taken within the towns and hamlets, villages, fields and grounds of Stratford upon Avon, Old Stratford, Bishopton and Welcombe or, in any of them .... and also all that messuage or tenement with the appurtenances wherein one John Robinson dwelleth, situate, lying and being in the Black Friars in London near the Wardrobe and all other my lands tenements and hereditaments whatsoever. To have and to hold all and singular the said premises with their appurtenances unto the said Susanna Hall for and during the term of her natural life and after her decease, to the first son of her body lawfully issuing, and to the heirs males of the body of the said 2nd son lawfulli issuing and for default of such heirs males of the body of the said 3rd son lawfully issuing and for default of such issue the same so to be reamine to the 4th son, 5th, 6th and 7th sons of her body lawfully issuing one after another and to the heirs males of the body of the said 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th sons lawfully issuing in such manner as it is before limited to be and remain to the 1st, 2nd and 3rd sons of her body and to their heirs males. And for default of such issue, the said premises to be and remain to my said Neede Hall and the heirs males of her body lawfully issuing for default of ... such issue to my daughter Judith and the heirs of me, the said William Shakespeare, forever.

I give unto my wife my second best bed with the furniture;

I give and bequeath to my said daughter Judith my broad silver gilt bowl.

All the rest of my good, chattels, leases, plate, jewels and household stuff whatsoever, after my debts and legacies paid and my funeral expenses discharged, I give devise and bequeath to my son-in-law John Hall, gentleman, and my daughter Susanna, his wife, whom I ordain and make executors of this my last Will and Testament. And I do entreat and appoint the said Thomas Russell, Esquire, and Francis Collins, gentleman, to be overseers hereof and do revoke all former wills and publish this to be my last Will and Testament.

In witness whereof I have hereunto put my seal hand the day and year first above-written.

Witness to the publishing hereof: Fra. Collins, Juilius Shawe, John Robinson, Hamnet Sadler, Robert Whattcott.

By me, William Shakespeare

REFERENCES:

  • Duhaime, Lloyd, Famous Wills
  • Schoenbaum, S., William Shakespeare: A Documentary Life (Oxford: Oxford University, 1987)