The world's most famous dramatist died four centuries ago. The circumstances of his demise are unknown – according to legend it followed "a merry meeting" with Ben Jonson during which Shakespeare "drank too hard".
But there is no doubt about Shakespeare's phenomenally influential cultural legacy. A huge number and diversity of books have been published to mark the 400th anniversary and tell us more about the man and his work. Here's our selection of the most outstanding.
Bate's book remains top of the list for anyone wanting to explore the Shakespeare legend
Bate has written the finest book on Shakespeare published over the past couple of decades. His only serious rival is James Shapiro, with 1599 and 1606 – twin stand-out biographies focussing on key years in Shakespeare's life. Bate's masterwork is available in a new edition for the 400th anniversary. At the start he elegantly demolishes all claims that individuals other than Shakespeare penned the plays. Then he moves up a gear to to explain what set Shakespeare apart and fuelled the legend of his genius. Most strikingly, Bate identifies what makes the plays truly modern: it is the ways in which common people and their concerns are given a share of the drama. If you read only one book about Shakespeare this year make it this one.
Taking a journey round the world to look at Shakespeare's enormous international impact
Dickson took a two year journey to explore the stories behind Shakespeare's adoption around the world. The plays took root in some very unlikely places. Germany, for example, founded the world's first Shakespeare Society and the English playwright remained popular there even under the East German regime. Sometimes the details of the texts' dissemination match the drama of the plays themselves: the "Robben Island Shakespeare" was smuggled into the infamous South African prison in the 1970s and signed by prominent inmates including Nelson Mandela. Further east, Dickson immerses himself in the Indian Shakespeare tradition. This started with staid productions under the Raj and led onto Bollywood adaptations, of which there have been more than 150 so far.
Dickson makes an engaging, idiosyncratic guide as he investigates the details of Shakespeare's global reach.
An adaptation of The Winter's Tale is the first in a series of novelisations of key plays
Hogarth has commissioned a series of novelists to re-imagine Shakespeare's plays for 21st-century readers. As well as Winterson, they include Howard Jacobson, Anne Tyler and Margaret Atwood. Winterson's adaptation of The Winter's Tale is the first of the series. Winterson has long been obsessed by this challenging – if not downright strange – play, which appeared very late in Shakespeare's career. She transplants the action in London and a deep south city similar to New Orleans. King Leontes is now a hedge fund manager, his wife Hermione is a French singer and his old friend Polixenes is a video games designer. Winterson supplies extensive back stories for her characters and fills in the plot's gaps. This removes some of the compelling oddness of the original, but the result is stylish and accomplished.
We can find out more about the poet and playwright by looking at his business dealings
The plays and poetry cast some light on the author, but we can delve deeper by examining Shakespeare's finances. His background and early life were unpromising. First his father's business failed, then Shakespeare married at 18 before fathering three children in swift succession. Fortunately, he rose rapidly in the theatre world. By the early 17th century he was earning around £80 a year – back then around four times a headmaster's salary. He also owned property worth around £900, which would be around £3m today. But it is reassuring to learn that Shakespeare wasn't motivated primarily by material gain; it is significant that he never became rich enough to become one of the Stratford gentry. Bearman follows the money to tease out Shakespeare's personal circumstances in intriguing detail.
A closer look at the plants of all kinds that feature heavily in Shakespeare's world
Botany was a much more prominent part of everyday life in Shakespeare's time than ours. People lived much closer to nature and plants were important ingredients for medicines. References to flora are abundant throughout Shakespeare's works. King Lear's "crown" of weeds contains fumitory, burdocks, nettles, darnel and thistles. Ophelia, meanwhile, makes garlands of "crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples". Bennett's book is lavishly illustrated with photographs by Andrew Lawson and takes us round the gardens Shakespeare frequented, with descriptions of the flora he would have encountered. Featuring prominently are his house and garden in New Place, Stratford-upon-Avon, bought in 1597 when he was 33. Also included is his maternal grandparent's farm at the village of Wilmcote, three miles north of the town, as well as the house and garden of his daughter Susanna.