Shakespeare Page

Shakespeare's Stratford Monument

One of the favorite, though somewhat incongruous, pieces of "evidence" that the anti-Stratfordians use in their attempts to prove that the "real" Shakespeare was not the man from Stratford is a series of early engravings of Shakespeare's monument at the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon.

The monument to Shakespeare was installed in the chancel of the Holy Trinity Church sometime between Shakespeare's death in 1616 and the publication of the First Folio of Shakespeare's plays in 1623. We know that the monument was erected prior to the publication of the First Folio because Leonard Digges, in his elegy to Shakespeare in the First Folio, refers to Shakespeare's "Stratford Moniment."

Although the first reference to Shakespeare's monument is in 1623, the first engraving depicting the monument was published in 1656 in Sir William Dugdale's Antiquities of Warwickshire Illustrated: from Records, Leiger-Books, Manuscripts, Charters, Evidences, Tombs, and Arms: Beautified with Maps, Prospects and Portraitures. Although the engraving in Dugdale's Antiquities, executed by Wenceslaus Hollar or his assistant Richard Gaywood from a sketch made by Dugdale in 1634, has the distinction of being the first depiction of Shakespeare's monument, it is hardly a faithful rendering. Among the numerous errors in the engraving, the absence of the pen and paper held by Shakespeare in the monument we see today and the bulky rendering of the cushion on which Shakespeare rests his arms are seen as the "smoking gun" in the anti-Stratfordian argument that the monument has been altered some time after its creation as a part of the "conspiracy" to fool people into believing that the illiterate boor from Stratford actually wrote the works attributed to William Shakespeare.

According to the anti-Stratfordian theory, the original monument to Shakespeare depicted him as a commodity dealer. Their claim is that the cushion on which Shakespeare is resting his arms was originally a wool sack, or some other such symbol of his merchant trade. The theory is that when the monument was restored in 1749, the present monument was substituted for the original. Somehow the figure of Shakespeare was altered (or replaced, depending upon the theorist), the "wool sack" became a cushion, and the pen and paper were wedged into Shakespeare's hands to add verisimilitude to the "hoax" that the Stratfordian Shakespeare was the author of the plays. Anti-Stratfordians claim that since no one complained about the errors in the Hollar engraving and its copies, their silence is proof that the engravings accurately depict the "original state" of the monument.

On The Shakespeare Authorship Page, maintained by Terry Ross and Dave Kathman, the section on Shakespeare's Stratford Monument has well documented that errors and inconsistencies abound in seventeenth-century engravings. But as was first observed by Diana Price, in her article Reconsidering Shakespeare's Monument, published in the May 1997 issue of The Review of English Studies, a comparison of the monument we see today, Dugdale's original sketch, Hollar's engraving, and the subsequent copies of Hollar's engraving, reveals not only errors in Dugdale's original sketch, but a number of errors that were independently introduced by Hollar. These errors introduced by Hollar were slavishly perpetuated by subsequent engravers, and clearly indicate that the subsequent engravings in this series offer no independent verification of the original state of Shakespeare's monument.

A photograph of the monument in its current state, a copy of Dugdale's original sketch, Hollar's engraving, and subsequent engravings follow:

Shakespeare's monument.

Dugdale's original sketch of 1634.

Hollar's engraving of 1656.

The Rowe engraving of 1709.

Vertue's engraving of 1723.

Grignion's engraving of 1786.
Dugdale's original sketch reveals at least three separate discrepancies introduced into the Antiquities engraving by Hollar: 1) The leopard's heads on the column capitals (although the actual capitals are blank, Dugdale's sketch shows designs on the capitals; difficult to make out, but possibly meant to be Tudor roses or some sort of scrollwork); 2) The shape of Shakespeare's right hand (Dugdale shaped the hand in a curled position with the thumb underneath, as if the hand was holding a pen, a detail Hollar changed when he depicted the left and right hands as being held flat); and 3) the lumpiness of the cushion. All three of these discrepancies were the invention of Hollar, and were not recorded by Dugdale in his sketch of the monument. Although the errors introduced by Hollar were not witnessed by Dugdale when he made his original sketch, there is no record of anyone complaining about the mysterious appearance of the leopards' heads in the Hollar engraving. These illustrations show details of Hollar's discrepancies, with similar details from subsequent engravings:

In his 1709 edition of Shakespeare's works, Nicholas Rowe published an engraving of Shakespeare's monument in which the engraver perpetuated all three of the errors introduced by Hollar, and added nothing to the engraving to indicate that he had personal knowledge of the monument. The fact that no one publicly complained about any of the three Hollar errors perpetuated by the Rowe engraver is a strong argument against the contention that someone would have mentioned the omission of the pen and paper if they had actually existed in the monument's original state. Although the pen and paper seem important to the anti-Strats arguing against the authorship of the man from Stratford, there was no "controversy" over authorship in 1709 when Rowe published his copy of the engraving, and the omission of the pen and paper carried no more weight at the time than the inclusion of the phantom leopards' heads, the misshapen right hand, or the lumpy cushion.

In 1725, Alexander Pope published an edition of Shakespeare's works that included an engraving of the Shakespeare monument done by George Vertue. Vertue's engraving, executed in 1723, is the strongest evidence against the anti-Strat's claim that the monument was altered in 1749, since the details of the engraving correspond almost exactly with the current state of the monument, including the presence of the pen and paper. A copy of Vertue's engraving and pertinent details are included with the above illustrations.

Vertue corrects the three errors introduced by Hollar, and also corrects some errors made by Dugdale in his original sketch. Dugdale's original errors include the allegorical figure on the right (representing Rest) holding an hourglass, instead of the torch held in the actual monument, the omission of the skull near Rest, and the omission of the Tudor roses decorating the interior of the arch of the monument. The following illustrations show the errors committed by Dugdale and perpetuated by the faulty engravers as corrected by Vertue:

After Dugdale, Vertue is the first artist who has left evidence that he had personal knowledge of the monument. This is demonstrated by his sketch of 1737, which accurately depicts the monument in situ within the chancel:

The chancel as it appears today.

Vertue's sketch of 1737.
Sixty-one years after Vertue's engraving, and 37 years after the restoration of the monument completed in 1749, Grignion's engraving of the monument, published by Bell in his 1786 edition of Shakespeare, omits the pen and paper, and repeats at least two of Hollar's errors: 1) The leopards' heads (which somewhat inexplicably appear to have been transformed into the heads of mastiffs); and 2) The shape of the right hand. Grignion also repeats Dugdale's original errors as revealed by Vertue. Giving further evidence that he had no personal knowledge of the monument's actual appearance (or Shakespeare's for that matter), Grignion engraved Shakespeare with nearly a full head of hair! Images of Grignion's engraving and details of his errors are included with the others, above.

Although the number of people who were aware of the actual appearance of Shakespeare's monument, including the pen and paper, increased dramatically after the publication of Vertue's engraving in 1725, Grignion duplicated the faulty depiction of the monument in 1786. Of the thousands of people who visited Stratford-upon-Avon after 1725 (when Vertue testifies in his engraving that the pen and paper were present), and after the 1749 restoration (when most anti-Strats claim that the pen and paper were added), and after Garrick's jubilee of 1769 (when Stratford "officially" became a tourist destination), the available records indicate that not one person publicly complained about Grignion's omission of the pen and paper. Nor did anyone complain about Grignion's duplication of Dugdale's original errors and Hollar's invented details.

The anti-Stratfordian argument that Hollar's 1656 engraving should be considered "photographic" evidence that Shakespeare's monument originally showed him holding a "wool sack" crumbles under an analysis of the numerous errors committed by Dugdale and introduced by Hollar. Any corroboration offered by subsequent engravings in the Hollar line is negated by the slavish imitation of the phantom details introduced by Hollar. The inclusion of these invented details is a sure indication that the later engravers had no personal knowledge of the monument's appearance, and relied solely on Hollar's engraving as a model.

The missing pen from Dugdale's original sketch can be credibly explained by the possibility that it was missing or had been stolen when Dugdale observed the monument in 1634. As mentioned by Diana Price in her article cited above, documentation exists that provides evidence that the pen has been missing at various times in the monument's history. Although Vertue's engraving of 1723 includes the pen, correspondence from 1748 indicates that the pen is absent. A new pen was installed in 1790, but an engraving of 1827 again shows the quill missing.

What makes the anti-Strat argument regarding the monument so incongruous is that they fully accept that the inscription on the monument has remained unchanged since the monument was first installed. In the inscription, Shakespeare is compared to the ancient poet Virgil, and reference is made to all that Shakespeare has written. These references cannot be reconciled with the anti-Strat belief that the monument originally depicted Shakespeare as a commodity trader holding a wool sack.

As in all arguments propounded by the anti-Strats, the "wool sack" theory doesn't withstand an analysis of the existing evidence.

The Holloway Pages Shakespeare Page

© 1999 by Clark J. Holloway.
Thanks to Dave Kathman and Terry Ross for their assistance in preparing this essay.