The Will of William Shakespeare

“Speak me fair in Death” wrote William Shakespeare in the play Merchant of Venice. I shall try to do just that as I discuss the will of one of the most influential writers of all time -- William Shakespeare.

Shakespeare Does Estate Planning

Did you know that Shakespeare took time to conduct estate planning? His attorney’s clerk was the most likely author of his handwritten will drafted in January 1616, but all three pages were signed by Shakespeare. His signatures were very shaky, but this was likely due to his illness at the time. Unfortunately, in early modern England, people did not write wills until death was imminent. His three signatures are not only shaky, but they are all slightly different from one another. Scholars say that Shakespeare, like other literate men, was given to variation rather than mechanical repetition when signing his name. Luckily, his will was attested at the end by his lawyer, and four friends, which removes doubt that he was the person signing the will.

Like a thoughtful and responsible person, Shakespeare updated his will based on changes in life. When his daughter Judith was married in March 2016, he revised his will.

Shakespeare's Beneficiaries

He left most of his property to his two daughters, Susanna and Judith. He gave away specific houses he owned, money bequests, and even specific items to specific people.

Here are the items he gave away. He gave a large silver bowl to his younger daughter Judith, a sword to the nephew of his friend, his clothes to his sister Joan and his “second best bed” to his wife. Most people are curious about the second-best bed provision. However, scholars say during that period people placed their best bed in the guest room. Therefore, Shakespeare gave his marital bed to his wife. Others believe he was being poetic and referring to the best bed as his grave. Although he only mentioned his wife that one time, scholars believe it was not a diss because at the time she was entitled to 1/3 of his estate and the use of the marital home for life. Therefore, there was little reason to mention her in the will.

Incentives in the Will

One of the more interesting parts of his will includes his incentive to his new son-in-law to provide for his daughter Judith. He gives 150 pounds more to Judith to which her husband can have no claim unless his new son-in-law accumulated property valued at least 150 pounds. Perhaps Shakespeare foresaw that that on the day following the will’s date, his son-in-law would be fined by the court for fornication when a woman claimed the son-in-law was the father of her child.

Contact Us

If you need a will or need to update your will due to life changes, please contact the Law Office of Hugh Spires, Jr. at or 210-874-5700. You can also send us an email directly to for a free consultation.