Actor and playwright.
The exact date of birth and death have not been recorded, but are both believed to be the 23th of April. Most evidence of his personal life is circumstantial, and becomes more so every day. He married in 1582, had three children, and moved to London somewhere between 1587 and 1592, where he went on to become a celebrated personality, entertaining the crowds and the queen, before the turn of the century. He retired back to Stratford some time after 1612. He changed his will in March 1616. He died the next month, and was buried in the Holy Trinity Church in his hometown.
But the words in his works have by now proven their timelessness, transcending religions and enlightment as well as industrial and technological revolutions. His plays have not been away from the stage since they were written.
Shakespeare's (presumed) birthplace in Henley Street.
The (restored) backyard.
The slabstone over Shakespeare's tomb in the Holy Trinity Church of Stratford (map
The epitaph reads:
- Good frend for Iesvs sake forbeare
- to digg the dvst encloased heare
- Blese be ye man yt spares thes stones,
- and cvrst be he yt moves my bones.
In a more modern spelling:
- Good friend, for Jesus’ sake forbear
- to dig the dust enclosed here:
- Blessed be the man that spares these stones,
- and cursed be he that moves my bones.
In the last four centuries several plans have been put forward to move the body to London, but they have never been given the name of action. Also during conservation works carried out in the church in 2008 the curse was carefully avoided.(¹) Shakespeare had bought tithe land to sponsor the church which is what gave him the right to be buried in the chancel.
There may only be one known image of Shakespeare made during his life. The Chandos oil painting, so called after early owner James Brydges, 3rd Duke of Chandos, shows a man in his fourties, with a moustache, small beard and an earring, as was fashionable among poets in those days. The material and other evidence suggests it was painted between 1600 and 1610, but there are no clues to conclusively identify the painter or the portrayed figure. Its claim is credited by its resemblance to the Droeshout engraving made six years after Shakespeare's death, which was commissioned and approved by people that had known him a lifetime. It is commonly named after Martin Droeshout, a young and promising artist then who was hired to illuminate the first publication of his collected complete works in 1623 but had presumably never met him.
Chandos portrait, oil on canvas, feigned oval, 552×438 mm, early 1600's (detail).
Engraving by Martin Droeshout for the title page of the First Folio in 1623 (detail).
Numerous monuments have been erected in his honour. Featured are some highlights and a variety of random samples showing the diversity of ways his memory can be expressed.
The first monument, a bust mounted on the Northern wall behind his grave holding a quill pen and a piece of paper, was in place by the time the First Folio was printed in 1623 as it is mentioned in the introduction. It was made by Flemish sculptor Geraert Janssen.
The inscription below the monument compares William Shakespeare to King Nestor of Pylus, who was legendary for his wisdom, the Greek philosopher Socrates and the Roman poet Virgil, whose full name was Publius Vergilius Maro, and places him among the gods on Mount Olympus:
Ivdicio Pylium, genio Socratem, arte Maronem,
Terra tegit, populus maeret, Olympus habet.
(A Pylus in judgement, a Socrates in genius, a Maro in art,
Earth buries him, the people mourn him, Olympus has him.)
Stay, passenger, why goest thou by so fast?
Read, if thou canst, whom envious Death hath placed
Within this monument: Shakespeare, with whom
Quick nature died, whose name doth deck this tomb
Far more than cost, since all that he hath written
Leaves living art, but page, to serve his wit.
Bronze statue on a granite pedestal in New York City's Central Park by John Quincy Adams Ward, celebrating the three hundredth anniversary of the Bard's birth in 1864.
Marble statue in the Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey by William Kent, dedicated in 1740. From 1970 to 1993 it featured on the £20 note
, next to Romeo and Juliet's balcony.
The Gower Memorial in Bancroft Gardens in Stratford-upon-Avon, presented to the town by Lord Ronald Sutherland-Gower in 1888. Bronzes of Lady Macbeth, Prince Hal, Hamlet and Falstaff surround the elevation.
Statue in busy Leicester Square, at the heart of London's West End entertainment district, by G. Fontana, 1874, a copy of the Westminster Abbey memorial, albeit with a different text
on the scroll, photographed by Lonpicman
One of a series of busts of playwrights in the façade of the Burgtheater
in Vienna, built 1870's, photographed by Ivoryman through a tram window on a rainy day in 2007.
The famed actor and theatre manager David Garrick (1717-1779) commissioned Louis-François Roubiliac (c.1704-1762) to create a life-sized marble statue for the Shakespeare Temple
in his garden. It is based on the Chandos portrait and a pose modelled by Garrick himself. On the left above is the finished product, dated 1758, now in the British Museum
, right is a terracotta study, now in the V&A
, below left is a terracotta study as a bust, now owned by the Garrick Club
Statue designed by Otto Lessing, in Weimar, reputedly the first in Germany, unveiled 1904. Also features Yorick.
Bust by Emile Guillemin (1841-1907).
Statue at the Danube Corso, the riverside promenade in front of the Marriott Hotel in Budapest, Hungary, since 2003. Photo by GyurIca
Shakespeare Monument by William Ordway Partridge in the Old English Garden in Chicago's Lincoln Park, first displayed at the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893.
Statue at the entrance of The Carnegie Music Hall in Pittsburgh, USA.
White German chamomile blooms (Matricaria recutita
) surround a bust of Shakespeare in the Shakespeare Garden at the McAshan Herb Gardens in Round Top, Texas, USA. Chamomile, used to make tea, is mentioned by Falstaff in Henry IV part I
, act ii scene 4
: “The camomile, the more it is trodden on, the faster it grows”.
Photo by Brenda Beust Smith
23 April 2008.