|Monument of the Month - March 2010|
|Shakespeare is shown
bareheaded, dressed in a doublet, collar and cuffs. Over
the doublet he wears a gown. In front of him is a
cushion with gilt tassels on which he rests his hands.
In his right hand he holds a quill pen which is a real
quill that has to be replaced from time to time; in his
left hand he has a blank sheet of paper.
The monument is of the ‘preacher’ or ‘scholar’
type with a truncated effigy and ornamental surround.
Late medieval in origin, it became popular in
The sculpture has all the hallmarks of the ‘
The inscription does not cohere with the monument itself. It is a scrappy assemblage of words, crudely cut, the lettering being far below the standard of most Southwark work. Remarkable by its absence is any of the genealogy and biography in which Elizabethans and Jacobeans delighted. All we have by way of personal detail is Shakespeare’s date of death and his age which are inserted at the bottom in smaller lettering. The rest is an epitaph, in two lines of Latin and six of English, of the type which several poets contributed to the First Folio of his works, published in 1623. One of the poets in question was Jonson and the epitaph has been attributed to him. It rehearses a familiar theme of the period, derived from Horace, that a person’s life and work are his true monument ; the theme recurs, in much more lucid form, in his First Folio epitaph. The whole text shows every sign of having been added after the monument was erected. This strongly suggests that Shakespeare set up the monument to himself, following a common and well accepted practice of the time, leaving others to glorify him in verse and to specify when he died. If so, the effigy acquires a new interest and significance. In the twentieth century it did not get a good press. The famous Shakespearian scholar John Dover Wilson said it made the Bard look like a ‘self-satisfied pork butcher’. It has been repainted more than once and if the later paint layers were removed some detail might be revealed which would improve the likeness.
Dr Adam White PhD