Shakespeare's funerary monument
The monument, by Gerard Johnson, is mounted on the north wall of the chancel. It features a demi-figure of the poet, which holds a quill pen in one hand and holds down a piece of paper resting on a cushion with the other. The style was most commonly used for divines, academics, and those professions with pretensions of learning. The monument is topped with strapwork rising to a heraldic shield containing the Shakespeare family's coat of arms, on either side of which sits an allegorical figure: one, representing Labour, holds a spade, the other, representing Rest, holds an inverted torch and a skull.
The two columns that support the entablatures and coat-of-arms above the bust are of black polished marble. The two boys and the skull are of sandstone, and the capitals and bases of the columns are of gilded sandstone. The architraves, frieze and cornice were originally of red-veined white alabaster, but they were replaced in 1749 with white marble. The effigy and the cushion are carved of one piece of bluish Cotswold limestone, and the inlaid panels are of black touchstone.
The date the monument was erected is not known exactly, but it must have been before 1623; in that year, the First Folio of Shakespeare's works was published, prefaced by a poem by Leonard Digges that mentions "thy Stratford moniment" [sic]. The monument was restored in 1748-9 and has been repainted several times.
IVDICIO PYLIUM, GENIO SOCRATEM, ARTE MARONEM,
TERRA TEGIT, POPULUS MÆRET, OLYMPUS HABET
The first line translates as "A Pylian in judgement, a Socrates in genius, a Maro in art," comparing Shakespeare to Nestor the wise King of Pylus, to the Greek philosopher Socrates, and to the Roman poet Virgil (whose last name, or cognomen was Maro). The second reads "The earth buries him, the people mourn him, Olympus possesses him," referring to Mount Olympus, the home of the Greek gods.
The English poem reads:
As modernized by Katherine Duncan-Jones:
Stanley Wells is one of the few biographers to comment on the poem, saying that it "somewhat cryptically calls on the passer-by to pay tribute to his greatness as a writer", and admitting "the only sense I can make out of the last bit is that his compositions relegate the sculptor's art to the rank of a mere page – with perhaps a forced pun on the writer's 'pages' – offering service to his genius; or perhaps that all art subsequent to Shakespeare's is a page – servant – to his." Wells also points out that "his name does not deck the tomb, and it's not a tomb anyway", suggesting that it may have been originally designed to be part of a free-standing tomb.
Squeezed into the small space beneath the poem, a few abbreviated words in Latin tell us that he died in the year of the Lord 1616, in his 53rd year, on 23 April.
OBIIT AŃO DOI 1616
ÆTATIS٠53 DIE 23 APR.
The monument was reproduced and discussed in William Dugdale's Antiquities of Warwickshire, published in 1656, in which the engraved illustration was copied, probably by Wenceslaus Hollar, from a rough drawing made by Dugdale. In Dugdale's depiction, the poet is not shown holding a quill or paper, and the cushion appears to be tipped up against his body. The art critic Marion Spielmann satirised the engraving, describing it as giving the impression that Shakespeare was pressing the cushion to his groin, "which, for no reason, except perhaps abdominal pains, is hugged against what dancing-masters euphemistically term the 'lower chest'". The print was copied by later engravers. In 1725, Alexander Pope's edition of Shakespeare's works included the first fairly accurate engraving of the monument, made by George Vertue in 1723. A drawing of the monument in situ by Vertue also survives.
The monument was restored in 1748–9. Parson Joseph Greene, master of Stratford grammar school, organised the first known performance of a Shakespeare play in Stratford to fund the restoration. John Ward's company agreed to perform Othello in the Town Hall on 9 September 1746, with all receipts going to help pay for the restoration.
Writing soon after the restoration, Greene wrote that "the figure of the Bard" was removed to be "cleansed of dust &c". He noted that the figure and cushion were carved from a single piece of limestone. He added that "care was taken, as nearly as could be, not to add to or diminish what the work consisted of, and appear’d to have been when first erected: And really, except changing the substance of the Architraves from alabaster to Marble; nothing has been chang’d, nothing alter’d, except supplying with original material, (sav’d for that purpose,) whatsoever was by accident broken off; reviving the Old Colouring, and renewing the Gilding that was lost”. John Hall, the limner from Bristol hired to do the restoration, painted a picture of the monument on pasteboard before beginning. Greene also had a plaster cast of the head made at this time.
Shakespeare's pen has been repeatedly stolen and replaced since, and the paint has been renewed. In 1793 Edmund Malone, the noted Shakespeare scholar, persuaded the vicar to paint the monument white, in keeping with the Neoclassical taste of the time. The paint was removed in 1861 and the monument was repainted in the colours recovered from beneath the white layer.
In 1973 intruders removed the figure from its niche, chipping it out. Local police took the view that they were looking for valuable Shakespeare manuscripts, which were rumoured to be hidden within the monument. According to Sam Schoenbaum, who examined it after the incident, the figure suffered only "very slight damage".
In the 1850s, the scientist Richard Owen argued that a death mask discovered in Germany by Ludwig Becker in 1849, known as the Kesselstadt Death Mask, was probably used by Johnson to model the face of the effigy. The mask had been claimed to be of Shakespeare because of a similarity to an alleged Shakespeare portrait Becker had bought two years earlier. This was depicted by the painter Henry Wallis in his imaginary scene portraying Ben Jonson showing the death mask to the sculptor. However, measurements of the mask and the monument figure did not correspond, most notably the bony structure of the forehead, and the idea was discredited.
Critics have generally been unkind about the appearance of the sculpture. Thomas Gainsborough wrote that "Shakespeare's bust is a silly smiling thing". J. Dover Wilson, a critic and biographer of Shakespeare, once remarked that the Bard's effigy makes him look like a "self-satisfied pork butcher." Sir Nikolaus Pevsner pointed out that the iconographical type represented by the figure is that of a scholar or divine; his description of the effigy is "a self-satisfied schoolmaster".
Schoenbaum, however, says the monument is a typical example of Jacobean Renaissance style, and Spielmann says the "stiff simplicity" of the figure was more suitable for a sepulchral sculpture in a church than a more life-like depiction.
Sketch made by George Vertue in 1737.
Engraving by Francis Eginton from a drawing by Robert Bell Wheler published in Wheler's History and Antiquities of Stratford-upon-Avon in 1806
References and notes
- "William Shakespeare’s monument, Holy Trinity, Stratford upon Avon Warwickshire" at The Church Monuments Society, March 2010.
- Kemp, Brian. English Church Monuments (1980), London: B. T. Batsford Ltd, p. 77.
- Schoenbaum, S. (1987). William Shakespeare: A Compact Documentary Life, Oxford University Press, p.308.
- Fox, Levi,ed. The Correspondence of the Reverend Joseph Greene, HMSO, 1965, p. 171.
- Schoenbaum 1987, p.308.
- Duncan-Jones, Katherine (2001). Ungentle Shakespeare: Scenes from His life, Arden Shakespeare. p.272.
- Wells, Stanley (2002). Shakespeare For All Time, Oxford Shakespeare. p.48.
- Schoenbaum 1987, p.311.
- Spielmann, M. H. The Title Page of the First Folio of Shakespeare's Plays (1924), 21.
- Price, Diana. "Reconsidering Shakespeare's Monument". Review of English Studies 48 (May 1997), 175.
- Price, 177
- Nicoll, Allardyce, and Kenneth Muir, Shakespeare Survey 19, Cambridge University Press, 2006, p.145.
- Fox 164.
- Fox 171.
- Spielmann 24; Fox 15, 145–6.
- Price 172
- B. C. A. Windle, Shakespeare Country, 1899, p. 35
- Schoenbaum 1987, 313.
- Lee, Sidney. Shakespeare's Life and Work (1904), 160
- Jane Martineau, Shakespeare in Art, Merrell, 2003, p. 214
- Spielmann, 12–13.
- Cultural Shakespeare: Essays in the Shakespeare Myth by Graham Holderness, Univ of Hertfordshire Press, 2001, page 152.
- Pevsner, Nikolaus; and Alexandra Wedgwood (1966). Warwickshire. London: Penguin Books. p. 413. ISBN 0-300-09679-8.
- Schoenbaum, S. William Shakespeare: Records and Images (1981), 158.
- Spielmann, 12.