Royal Mail will issue a set of 10 1st class stamps on April 5 to mark the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, the most published and most performed dramatist in history.

The designs pay tribute to the genius of ‘the immortal bard’ by reproducing famous quotes from eight of his plays and two of his poems, in a variety of typefaces and styles.

Designed by The Chase, the stamps are printed in litho by International Security Printers, in se-tenant strips of five.

Previous sets relating to Shakespeare featured scenes from his plays (1964), illustrated the Globe Theatre in London where many were performed in his lifetime (1995), and celebrated the Royal Shakespeare Company which performs them to this day (2011); although the latter issue included quotes alongside images of actors in performance, this is the first set to focus solely on the language for which the bard is renowned.

Shakespeare died on April 23, 1616. The stamps are being released before the precise anniversary to avoid clashing with the forthcoming issue marking the Queen’s 90th birthday.

1st class HAMLET

‘To thine own self be true’, spoken by Polonius as a last piece of advice to his son Laertes, who is departing for Paris.


‘Cowards die many times before their deaths. The valiant never taste of death but once’, spoken by Caesar to his wife Calphurnia when she begs him not to venture out on the Ides of March due to bad omens.

1st class ROMEO & JULIET

‘Love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs’, spoken by Romeo to his friend Benvolio as they ruminate on how being in love can be a bittersweet experience.

1st class AS YOU LIKE IT

‘The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool’, spoken by Touchstone, the court jester, to William, his love rival, before threatening to kill him.


‘There was a star danced, and under that was I born’, spoken by the talkative and witty Beatrice, impressing the Aragonese prince Don Pedro.

1st class SONNET 30

‘But if the while I think on thee, dear friend, all losses are restored and sorrows end’, written by Shakespeare as a tribute to an anonymous deceased friend.

1st class VENUS & ADONIS

‘Love comforteth like sunshine after rain’, spoken by the earthly human Adonis comparing love with lust after being seduced by the Greek goddess Venus.

1st class THE TEMPEST

‘We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep’, spoken by Prospero as he cuts short a performance celebrating the engagement of his daughter.

1st class MACBETH

‘Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage’, spoken by Macbeth in the famous soliloquy lamenting the death of his wife.

1st class RICHARD II

‘I wasted time, and now doth time waste me’, spoken by King Richard II of England while imprisoned in Pontefract Castle, after being deposed by King Henry IV.


Written by Sir Jonathan Bate, the presentation pack explores Shakespeare’s personal and professional life, and the evolving way in which his works have been published over the centuries.

As an alternative to the usual first day cover, a limited-edition coin cover is available, with the Royal Mint’s set of three commemorative £2 coins: one for comedies, one for tragedies and one for histories.


Set of 10 stamps   £6.40

Presentation pack   £6.90

Stamp cards   £4.50

First day cover   £8.16

Coin cover   £28.00



It doesn’t seem long since the last Shakespeare-related set. Nevertheless, this is a major anniversary


The purely typographical approach will not be to everyone’s taste, yet it does force us to focus on the words


The stamps are eye-catching in their own way, but how many users will pause to read and consider them?