Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown, but what about the body that’s had its head stolen? While Shakespeare might not have considered the latter, perhaps he should have: According to a new archaeological investigation, the Bard’s skull was probably stolen from his tomb by grave robbers sometime near the end of the 18th century.
While using ground-penetrating radar to investigate the tomb at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford as part of a documentary to air on the U.K.'s Channel Four, a research team led by an archaeologist from Staffordshire University found “an odd disturbance at the head end” of Shakespeare’s grave. The disturbance, coupled with a nearly 140-year-old report that trophy hunters made off with the writer’s skull in 1794, was apparently enough to convince Staffordshire archaeologist Kevin Colls that the great playwright’s head is indeed missing.
“We came across this very odd, strange thing at the head end," Colls told The Guardian. “It was very obvious, within all the data we were getting, that there was something different going on at that particular spot. We have concluded it is signs of disturbance, of material being dug out and put back again.”
An image (below) from the tomb that apparently shows the spot in question was provided to The Guardian.
Image via Channel 4
"It's very, very convincing to me that his skull isn't at Holy Trinity at all,” Colls told the BBC.
Stealing heads from famous corpses isn’t exactly a new thing; in fact, if Shakespeare’s head is indeed missing, he’d join the esteemed company of other great artists like Beethoven and Mozart. What is notable is that the trophy hunters ignored the famous curse marking the Bard’s grave:
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.
Spooky, but apparently not terrifying enough for 18th century grave robbers. One person sufficiently worried about the curse is Holy Trinity's vicar, Rev. Patrick Taylor, who told the BBC he's "not convinced that there is sufficient evidence to conclude that his skull has been taken."
"We intend to continue to respect the sanctity of his grave, in accordance with Shakespeare's wishes, and not allow it to be disturbed," he said. "We shall have to live with the mystery of not knowing fully what lies beneath the stone."