10 things we learned about Shakespeare

While researching and making our ‘Shakespeare & Saddlebags” story app, we stumbled across some fascinating and little known facts about The Great Bard.


  • ShakespeareShakespeare died 400 years ago, possibly on his own birthday. We know he died on 23rd April (St George’s Day), but his actual birthday was never recorded.


  • Shakespeare’s family were ordinary working people – all illiterate – leading some to believe that he did not write his own plays.


  • Shakespeare’s plays were never published during his lifetime. ‘The First Folio’, which is the source of all Shakespeare plays today, was published seven years after he died.


  • He was an actor before he became a playwright and his company The King’s Men, built the Globe Theatre in London. He performed for Queen Elizabeth I and, later, for James I who was a big fan.


  • Shakespeare wrote (or helped write) at least 38 plays and 154 sonnets. It’s likely he wrote many other plays that have been lost. Some experts think he wrote about twenty more that have gone without a trace.


  • He started writing his sonnets (poetry) in 1592, when there was less demand for plays as the theatres were shut due to the plague.


  • Shakespeare has been credited by the Oxford English Dictionary with introducing almost 3,000 words to the English language. Estimations of his vocabulary range from 17,000 to an overwhelming 29,000 words – at least double the number of words used by the average person today.


  • The United States has Shakespeare to thank for its estimated 200 million starlings. In 1890, an American fan, Eugene Schiffelin, imported each species of bird mentioned in Shakespeare’s works to the US. Part of this project involved releasing two flocks of 60 starlings in New York’s Central Park.


  • The moons of Uranus are named after characters in Shakespeare’s plays.



To discover more about Shakespeare’s plays, try out the Shakespeare & Saddlebags app, set during the Californian Gold Rush.


Make your own Dinorama!

Here we show you how to make a prehistoric diorama in a jar, using modelling clay and those odd toy dinosaurs that always get stuck down the back of the sofa! (If you don’t have any lurking around you can pick them up cheap at most pound shops).


For this make you will need:

  • Clay or plasticine
  • Leaves and twigs either real or plastic. (if you want to splash out, try your local pet shop to see what the stock to decorate aquariums)
  • Clean, dry jar with a lid (and no label). We used a pickle jar
  • Selection of small dinosaur figures.



Specimen bottles

What’s in the water?

Back in the 1850s, Dr John Snow discovered that just because the water from a particular pump appeared clear, that was no guarantee that the water was clean.

In this experiment, we show you how to use some simple scientific techniques to discover how something that appears invisible can be revealed in front of your eyes.


For this experiment you will need:

  • 2 Glass tumblers (clean)
  • Scissors
  • Teaspoon
  • 2 Paper coffee filters
  • Plastic bottle or funnel
  • Jug
  • Sugar
  • Plain flower


Water filtration experiment

Example of an orange pomander

How to make a Tudor pomander

Pomanders were perfumed balls, worn by rich Tudors to tackle the terrible smells of the time! As the Tudors rarely washed and there were no flushing toilets, they carried these clove-studded oranges to freshen their clothes. They also believed pomanders could ward off illness.

The  word “pomander” comes from the French “pomme d’ambre”, meaning “apple of amber”.


For this make you will need:

  • A fresh orange
  • A large number of clove spices
  • Some ribbon
  • A pair of scissors
  • A couple of dress pins