It is good that he did, since Shakespeare would indeed pass away three months later.
Germaine Greer, in her excellent book Shakespeare's Wife points out that his family were not in the habit of drawing up wills. But Shakespeare's wife Anne's family was, so it is likely that she called the lawyer, Francis Collins.
I won't go through everything in the will, but there has been much written about the fact that Shakespeare only left his wife his "second best bed."
I don't think that this means that Shakespeare did not love his wife, as it has been written by some.
I think that he was more interested in giving his children, especially his daughter Susanna and her husband John Hall, as much as possible in order to preserve the Shakespeare family name, and ensure his legacy.
I think that he knew that his children would take care of their mother, who was 60 at the time he died.
Also, Germaine Greer makes a great point that a bed was the greatest possession in any house, and the finer ones (with carved wood and such) were worth as much as an entire house!
So, if Shakespeare was unhappy with his marriage, then he had a strange way of showing it.
|Elizabethan period bed|
Shakespeare made his daughter Susanna and her husband John Hall the executors of his will.
No mention of any papers or books were mentioned in the will. Perhaps Shakespeare had none of his plays with him in Stratford, or if he did, then they were left to Susanna and John in New Place, the main property he lived in, and which he left to them in his will.
Many years later, in 1635, John Hall wrote his own will right before he died, and he mentioned a "study of books" which could have included Shakespeare's papers.
In 1637, a Stratford official named Baldwin Brooks was trying to collect a payment from the widowed Susanna, who still lived at New Place.
Brooks got some bailiffs and an undersheriff together and broke into New Place. They seized some books and "other goods of great value".
I hate to think that they might have taken Shakespeare's papers, but it certainly is possible.
This could very well explain the lack of letters and personal papers belonging to Shakespeare.
It boggles the mind to think of what a treasure trove of information was seized from New Place that day. It may have been the very greatest collection of words that Shakespeare wrote, besides the plays and poetry.
If Shakespeare was calling a lawyer in January, then he was sick for some time. It indicates that his death was not sudden.
Germaine Greer has found that most people who died in the Warwickshire area in April 1616 were "bowled over by a catastrophic infection."
Besides Germaine Greer's theories about what killed him, I have not found much research on the cause of his death, or what he could have been suffering from.
He was 54 years old, which was neither very old nor quite young.
He had been in Stratford, and out of London entirely, since about at least 1613.
I don't like to speculate about what disease or ailment brought on his death.
But I do think that being away from the London stage, even for a year and definitely for three years, would have accelerated his demise.
His whole life was dedicated to creating characters, dialogue, plots to delight monarchs and entertain English audiences -- from the most powerful to the most humble.
I think that he would fall apart as soon as his days as a playwright were no more.
I don't think he had any intention of ever retiring from the stage.
I think his life was the stage, and when he could no longer walk on stage, he could not live.
What he didn't know, and what he couldn't have anticipated is that all of the years of hard work, all of the endless days and nights of writing, writing and more writing (with some re-writing thrown in!) would pay off beyond his wildest dreams.
His words, some of the finest words in the English language and the most fascinating characters the world has ever known, are his greatest legacy.
I often wonder how well he could see this future, the future of his plays.
I like to think that he would allow himself, for a moment or two, now and again, to dream that one day his plays and poetry might just possibly reach untold numbers of people in the decades and centuries after his death.
I could be wrong, but I like to think it anyway.
David B. Schajer