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article imageResearcher intends to find the true cause of Shakespeare’s death

By Igor I. Solar     Jul 4, 2011 in Science
Johannesburg - A South African anthropologist has requested the approval of the Church of England to exhume the remains of the poet who died in 1616 in order to explore the cause of his death using advanced technology.
The precise date of birth of the legendary bard remains undetermined, but it has been assigned to April 23, 1564. He died on the same date in 1616 at the age of 52. The cause of the poet’s death has also been the motive of doubt, speculation and controversy.
One version states that a few days before April 23rd, 1616, William Shakespeare joined a couple of friends, poets Ben Jonson and Michael Drayton, at a tavern in his hometown of Stratford-on-Avon. The revelry was certain to involve plenty of drinking, and possibly the consumption of marihuana, which at the time was commonly used in England to make textiles and ropes. Following a night of alleged excesses the writer became severely ill, suffered a devastating fever and died.
However, Hildegard Hammerschmidt-Hummel , a professor of English literature at the University of Mainz (Germany), who has researched in depth the life and works of the poet, published in 2006 a book entitled “The True Face of William Shakespeare” in which, following the study of the facial appearance of the playwright along his life and the features shown in a death mask probably taken from a plaster mold of Shakespeare's face casted the day after he died, she concluded that the writer died of cancer. The conclusion is based on the remarkable growth of his left eyelid and a prominent swelling on his forehead. Hammerschmidt-Hummel states that those features are consistent with Sjögren's syndrome (also known as “Mikulicz disease") an incurable, although not considered fatal, cancer-related autoimmune abnormality of the lacrimal and salivary glands.
Now, Professor Francis Thackeray, an anthropologist at the Institute for Human Evolution at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg (South Africa), an expert on human morphometrics and chronology, intends to find an answer to the mystery. He asked the Church of England for permission to open Shakespeare’s grave and to examine his remains buried at the Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, in Stratford-on-Avon, using an advanced technique based on 3-D laser scanning analysis to determine what killed the poet, possibly to confirm the cancer-like infirmity or perhaps to find out if the poet was a marijuana user by detecting traces of the drug in hair, fingernails or toenails.
"If we get approval, we will make careful scientific study of bones and teeth," said the researcher according to “La Tercera” (in Spanish). “We plan to use a portable device so we can digitally scan the skeleton, without the need to move the bones.”
Thackeray is still expecting to get a response from the Church of England for exhumation of the body. Receiving the approval from the Church authorities solves one obstacle for the researcher. The other comes from the text of the epitaph placed on the writer's grave. The verses, a curse, are attributed to the poet himself and read:
"Good friend, for Jesus' sake forbear,"
"To dig the dust enclosed here."
"Blessed be the man that spares these stones,"
"And cursed be he who moves my bones."
The scientist insists that he will not move a single bone. "We will just open the grave and do a scan,” he said.
William Shakespeare s grave at Holy Trinity Church  Stratford-on-Avon  England.
William Shakespeare's grave at Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-on-Avon, England.
David Jones
More about William shakespeare, Cause of death, marijuana use, Cancer, Sjögren's syndrome
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