Article updated on 23 April 2021
The 23rd of April is widely regarded as the birthday of arguably the greatest playwright who ever lived and one of the UK's most celebrated cultural icons, William Shakespeare.
Here are ten of our favourite world records related to the writer.
Shakespeare remains the world’s best-selling playwright, with sales of his plays and poetry believed to have achieved in excess of four billion copies in the almost 400 years since his death. He is also the third most translated author in history.
Longest Shakespeare play
Hamlet is the longest of all the Great Bard’s 37 plays. Written in 1604, the play consists of 4,042 lines of 29,551 words. Hamlet also contains the longest of any of Shakespeare’s 1,277 speaking parts, with Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark, having 1,569 lines of 11,610 words.
Sean Shannon (Canada) can speak articulately at an incredible speed.
He earned the Guinness World Records title for fastest talker back in 1995, after reciting the famous Hamlet "to be, or not to be" soliloquy in just 23.8 seconds!
First known use of the word assassin
The earliest known literary use of the word assassination in English according the Oxford English Dictionary is in Shakespeare’s Macbeth which he wrote in 1605.
Most expensive literature by Shakespeare sold at auction
One of only five copies of his First Folio, dated 1623, was sold at Christie’s, New York City, USA, on 8 October 2001 for $6,166,000 (£4,156,947). It remains the highest price ever paid for a 17th-century book.
Longest marathon theatre performance – individual
Adrian Hilton (UK, pictured below) recited the complete works of Shakespeare in an impressive 110 hr 46 min during a “Bardathon” at the Shakespeare Festival on the site of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London between the 16 th and 21 st of July, back in 1987.
Most BAFTA film award nominations for the same film
Shakespeare in Love, a British romantic comedy-drama depicting a love affair involving Viola de Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) while he was writing the play Romeo and Juliet was nominated for 15 British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards (BAFTA) in 1999.
It went on to win three on 11 April 1999 for Best actress in a supporting role (Dame Judy Dench, UK), Best Editing (David Gamble, UK) and Best Film.
Most filmed author
Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets have been adapted into 420 feature film and TV-movie versions. Hamlet has appealed most to film makers with 79 versions, followed by Romeo and Juliet with 52 and Macbeth, filmed 36 times.
Most people performing Shakespeare in 24 hours (multiple venues)
On 3 July 2005, a total of 7,104 schoolchildren performed in an estimated 368 productions as part of the UK Shakespeare Schools Festival.
A total of 92 theatres hosted 368 productions for the attempt which was organised in conjunction with the BBC. This record title is no longer monitored.
Most prolific Shakespeare forger
Probably in an attempt to gain the approval of his father, Samuel Ireland – a keen and knowledgeable antiquary and bookseller – William Henry Ireland created a number of forged Shakespearean manuscripts that appeared in London in 1794-95.
Among them was correspondence between Shakespeare and the Earl of Southampton, a letter and love-poem to Anne Hathaway, two theatre contracts, Shakespeare's spiritual confession, a letter to him by Queen Elizabeth, and revisions to several of Shakespeare’s known plays in addition to two never-before-seen historical dramas.
The manuscripts were acclaimed as genuine by a number of highly respected literary critics and other notables. One of the new plays, Vortigern, was performed in 1796.
Notwithstanding the supporting forgery, however, the play and other documents were soon regarded as suspicious: dates did not tally, some events could be disproved, and there were some odd spellings and errors of language.
The matter became a huge scandal, as the literary world, in the absence of much information about Shakespeare’s life, was so receptive to the idea of newly discovered work.
Samuel Ireland always thought his son too stupid to have been capable of such a fraud, and continued to believe the works were genuine - but he never spoke to his son again.