Shakespeare's grave should be exhumed using techniques honed for Richard III

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Baku 31, AZERTAC

An academic has called for Shakespeare’s remains to be exhumed so that more can be learned about his life, following the successful analysis of Richard III’s bones.

Francis Thackeray, from the University of the Witwatersrand, in Johannesburg, said he was "very interested in the possibility" of examining Shakespeare’s grave.

"Given the extraordinary success of the study of the skeleton of Richard III, we recognize the potential of undertaking forensic analyses of the Bard," he said.

Prof Thackeray believes analysis of his bones could reveal new information about how the playwright lived, what he ate and drank, whether rumors are that he smoked cannabis are to be believed, The Times reports.

However, he acknowledged that the epitaph on Shakespeare’s grave might prove to be a stumbling block.

The Bard is said to have lived in fear of exhumation and had an unusual obsession with burial and the mistreatment of corpses.

The inscription on his tomb in Stratford-upon-Avon reads: "Good frend for Jesus sake forebeare/ To dig the dust encloased heare/ Bleste be the man that spares these stones/ And curst be he that moves my bones."

Prof Thackeray said: "We could possibly get around that by at least exposing the bones and doing high-resolution non-destructive laser surface scanning for forensic analyses, without moving a single bone.

"Besides, Shakespeare said nothing about teeth in that epitaph.

"Perhaps we may, one day, be granted the opportunity to study an extremely small sample of tooth enamel or dentine which could be analyzed for DNA. Techniques for doing this have been developed, using extremely small samples."

He also said that laser-scanning could help produce a reconstruction of his face.

However, sceptics include Stuart Hampton-Reeves, the head of the British Shakespeare Association, who questioned the value of the proposed investigation.

"None of the big questions — how he worked, how he put the plays together, what it was like to be at a performance — are going to be solved by examining the bones. It would produce a lot of publicity, and not much research,” he said.

A 2011 application by Professor Thackeray to gain access to the playwright’s bones was refused, but he is hoping the discovery and successful analysis of Richard III’s remains might change perceptions.

Analysis of his skeleton revealed that the last Plantagenet king suffered from scoliosis, a sideways curve of the spine, and that he was killed by a massive blow to the head.

Experts believe that Shakespeare had a fear of exhumation and have suggested that anxiety about the mistreatment of corpses can be found in at least 16 of his plays.

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