Seventeenth-century References to Shakespeare's Stratford Monument

by David Kathman

The first part of this section consists of a lengthy excerpt from an essay by M. H. Spielmann which describes the many inaccuracies (some of them quite ludicrous) in the work of Sir William Dugdale and his engraver, Wenceslaus Hollar: inaccuracies that reflect the hurried conditions under which Dugdale and Hollar worked and the general indifference to pictorial detail in the days before photography. In this brief follow-up essay, I will look at the seventeenth-century documentary evidence relating to the monument (other than the Dugdale engraving), and what this evidence implies for the Oxfordian scenario that the monument originally depicted Shakespeare as a "dealer in bagged commodities" (as Charlton Ogburn put it) rather than a poet. All this documentary evidence shows that the monument was seen from the beginning as honoring a famous poet; none of it shows any indication that the monument was ever taken to depict a grain dealer or anything other than a poet.

  1. One of the First Folios in the Folger Shakespeare Library (no. 26 according to the Folger numbering) contains three handwritten poems on the last end page of the volume, written in a secretary hand dating from approximately the 1620s. The first of these is the poem from Shakespeare's monument in the Stratford church ("Stay passenger why go'st thou by so fast"). The second is not recorded elsewhere, and goes as follows:

                Heere Shakespeare lyes whome none but Death could Shake
                and heere shall ly till judgement all awake;
                when the last trumpet doth unclose his eyes
                the wittiest poet in the world shall rise.
                            [Shakespeare Quarterly 39 (1988):60]

    The third poem is the one on Shakespeare's tombstone, also in the Stratford church ("Good ffriend for Jesus sake forbeare"). Apparently, somebody went to Stratford and transcribed the poems off the monument and the tombstone, then transcribed them into a copy of the First Folio along with another epitaph. This writer seems not only to have believed that the man buried in Stratford was the author of the First Folio, but that he was "the wittiest poet in the world."

  2. In 1630 an anonymous volume was published, entitled A Banquet of Jeasts or Change of Cheare. Jest no. 259 in this volume is as follows:

                One travelling through Stratford upon Avon, a Towne most
                remarkeable for the birth of famous William Shakespeare,
                and walking in the Church to doe his devotion, espyed a
                thing there worthy observation, which was a tombestone laid
                more that three hundred years agoe, on which was ingraven
                an Epitaph to this purpose, I Thomas such a one, and Elizabeth
                my wife here under lye buried, and know Reader I. R. C. and
                I. Chrystoph. Q. are alive at this houre to witnesse it.
                            [Shakspere Allusion-Book, I, 347]

    This jest implies that the writer had been in the Stratford church, and that he believed that the William Shakespeare born there was "famous"; indeed, not yet 15 years after Shakespeare's death, he was apparently the town's main claim to fame. True, the writer does not explicitly say that Shakespeare was famous as a poet, but it is difficult to see why a grain dealer would bring such fame to his home town.

  3. In 1631, a year before his death, John Weever published the massive Ancient Funerall Monuments, which recorded many inscriptions from monuments around England, particularly in Canterbury, Rochester, London, and Norwich. Shakespeare's monument does not appear in the published book, but two of Weever's notebooks, containing his drafts for most of the book as well as many unpublished notes, survive as Society of Antiquaries MSS. 127 and 128. In one of these notebooks, under the heading "Stratford upon Avon," Weever recorded the poems from Shakespeare's monument and his gravestone, as follows:

      Iudcio Pilum, Genio Socratem, Arte Maronem
        Terra tegit, populus maeret, Olympus habet.
      Stay Passenger, why goest thou by so fast
      Read if your canst whome envious death hath plac'd
      Within this monument Shakespeare with whome
      Quick Nature dy'd whose name doth deck his Tombe
      far more then cost, sith all yt hee hath writt
      Leaves living Art but page to serve his witt.
        ob Ano doi 1616 AEtat. 53. 24 die April

      Good frend for Iesus sake forbeare
      To digg the dust enclosed heare
      Blest bee ye man that spares these stones
      And curst bee hee that moves my bones.

    In the margin opposite the heading "Stratford upon Avon", Weever wrote "Willm Shakespeare the famous poet", and opposite the last two lines of the epitaph he wrote "vpo[n] the grave stone". Although Weever, like Dugdale (see below), was not 100% accurate in the details of his transcription, it is obvious that the inscriptions on both the monument and the gravestone were substantially the same in 1631 as they are today. Furthermore, Weever apparently knew Shakespeare personally -- his 1598 Epigrammes includes the first full poem in honor of Shakespeare ever printed, a sonnet entitled "Ad Gulielmum Shakespear" in which he praises Venus and Adonis, Lucrece, and Romeo and Juliet. This entry in his private notebook shows that he knew that the poet he had praised in print more than 30 years earlier was the same person buried in Stratford upon Avon.

  4. In 1634 a military company of Norwich was travelling through the English countryside. One Lieutenant Hammond of the company kept a diary of what he encountered during his travels, and on or about September 9 he made the following entry:

                In that dayes travell we came by Stratford upon Avon, where
                in the Church in that Towne there are some Monuments which
                Church was built by Archbishop Stratford; Those worth observing
                and of which wee tooke notice were these.... A neat Monument
                of that famous English Poet, Mr. William Shakespeere; who
                was borne heere. And one of an old Gentleman a Batchelor,
                Mr. Combe, upon whose name, the sayd Poet, did merrily fann
                up some witty, and facetious verses, which time would nott
                give us leave to sacke up.
                            [Chambers, William Shakespeare, II, 242]

    Hammond, writing 11 years after the First Folio and 12-18 years after the erection of the monument, explicitly says that the monument is for "that famous English Poet, Mr. William Shakespeere, who was borne heere."

  5. Next to the infamous engraving in Dugdale's Antiquities of Warwickshire, Dugdale transcribed both the Latin and English verses from Shakespeare's tomb, along with the verse from the gravestone. Except for minor spelling differences (entirely typical of Dugdale), these verses are the same as those seen today. The Latin reads:

                Ivdicio Pylivm, genio Socratem, arte Maronem,
                Terra tegit, popvlvs maeret, Olympvs habet

    which may be translated thus:

                In judgment a Nestor, in wit a Socrates, in art a Virgil;
                the earth buries [him], the people mourn [him], Olympus possesses [him]

    On the page facing the engraving of the monument, Dugdale writes the following in his account of Stratford:

                One thing more, in reference to this antient town is observable, that it
                gave birth and sepulture to our late famous Poet Will. Shakespeare,
                whose Monument I have inserted in my discourse of the Church.
                            [Shakspere Allusion-Book, II, 62]

    Dugdale, like Lt. Hammond before him, explicitly says that the monument is for "our late famous Poet Will. Shakespeare."

  6. In 1658, two years after the publication of Dugdale's Antiquities of Warwickshire, Sir Aston Cokain's collection Small Poems of Divers Sorts contained a poem to Dugdale. It was entitled "To my worthy, and learned Friend Mr. William Dugdale, upon his Warwickshire Illustrated," and it goes as follows:

                Now Stratford upon Avon, we would choose
                Thy gentle and ingenious Shakespeare Muse,
                (Were he among the living yet) to raise
                T' our Antiquaries merit some just praise:
                And sweet-tongu'd Drayton (that hath given renown
                Unto a poor (before) and obscure town,
                Harsull) were he not fal'n into his tombe,
                Would crown this work with an Encomium.
                Our Warwick-shire the Heart of England is,
                As you most evidently have proved by this;
                Having it with more spirit dignifi'd,
                Then all our English Counties are beside.
                            [Shakspere Allusion Book, II, 71]

    Cokain does not specifically refer to the monument, but he has apparently read Dugdale's book and thus seen the engraving. It does not seem to have crossed his mind that the monument might depict a grain dealer; he explicitly links "gentle and ingenious Shakespeare['s] Muse" both with Stratford upon Avon and with Shakespeare's fellow countryman and poet Michael Drayton.

  7. In 1693, a Mr. Dowdall visited Stratford and wrote down some of his observations in a letter. He wrote,

                The 1st Remarkable place in this County that I visitted was
                Stratford super avon, where I saw the Effigies of our English
                tragedian, mr. Shakspeare.
                            [Shakspere Allusion Book, II, 391]

    Dowdall then goes on to give the inscriptions from the monument and the gravestone, along with some stories about Shakespeare that the 80 year old parish clerk had told him.

To sum up, all the seventeenth-century evidence is consistent: it indicates that the monument to Shakespeare was always seen as a monument to a poet/playwright, and that from a very early time Stratford was famous as Shakespeare's birthplace. The engraving in Dugdale's book is the only possible anomaly among all this evidence, but Dugdale explicitly says that the monument is for the poet Shakespeare, and two years later Cokain implicitly says the same thing. Given Dugdale's and Hollar's demonstrable inaccuracy in their other engravings, the general seventeenth-century indifference to pictorial detail, and the mass of documentary evidence just reviewed, there is absolutely no reason to believe that the monument was ever substantially different from the way it appears today, and no reason to believe that it was ever thought to depict a "dealer in bagged commodities."

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