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Statues of William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare

The memorial bust of Shakespeare was erected in the Stratford Parish Church. The name of the creator of the original bust is unknown but it is believed to have been commissioned by Shakespeare's daughter and her husband Dr Hall.

Mention is made of the bust in the First Folio in a verse by Leonard Digges:

"And Time dissolves thy Stratford Monument, Here we alive shall view thee soon. This book, When brass and marble fade, shall make thee look Fresh to all ages."

The original memorial bust can therefore be dated between 1616 when Shakespeare died and 1623 when the First Folio was published.


The problem is that the original bust was repaired, refurbished and repainted many times. It is believed that in the 1746 refurbishment that major changes were made to "re-beautify" the monument which included the actual bust of Shakespeare which was "much impaired and decayed". Comparison of the 'Dugdale' bust, below, and this present day Stratford Memorial bust will highlight the changes that have apparently been made.


In 1653 a man called William Dugdale sketched the bust which was published in his 'Antiquities of Warwickshire'. Dugdale was reputed to have been acquainted with the Shakespeare family. The present day bust and Dugdale's sketch are unalike in many ways, from the features and facial expression to the Bard holding a pen rather than the sack as detailed in Dugdale's sketch. According to Dugdale, Gerard Johnson, the "tomb-maker" was employed to create the monument of Shakespeare in the Stratford church. It is possible that the bust was taken, by the tomb-maker, from a death mask of Shakespeare. An illustrator also sketched the Memorial Bust for inclusion in Rowe's 1709 Account of Shakespeare's life - this sketch was similar to that of Dugdale's showing Shakespeare's hands on a sack and not holding a quill pen as can be seen above in the Stratford Memorial Bust.

There are many memorial statues of Shakespeare, the three perhaps most worthy of mentioned below.

Westminster Abbey Memorial Statue in London

William Shakespeare was buried in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford upon Avon in 1616 but it was not until l740 that a memorial statue to him was erected in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. Some time after Shakespeare’s death there were suggestions that his remains from Stratford to the Abbey but the idea was soon abandoned. Perhaps this was because of Shakespeare's own epitaph which reads as follows:
Good Friend for Jesus sake forbeare  To digg the dust enclosed heare:
Blest be ye man yt spares thes stones  And curst be he yet moves my bones

The life-size white marble statue was sponsored by the Earl of Burlington, Dr Mead, Alexander Pope and Mr Martin. It was designed by William Kent and created by Peter Scheemakers. The inscription above the head of the statue can be translated “William Shakespeare l24 years after death by public esteem”. There are carved heads on the pedestal of the statue are believed to be of Queen Elizabeth I, Henry V and Richard III. The figure of Shakespeare leans his elbow on a pile of books and his left hand points to a scroll detailing a variant of Prospero’s lines, in Latin, from 'The Tempest':

The Cloud capt Tow’rs, The Gorgeous Palaces,  The Solemn Temples,
The Great Globe itself,  Yea all which it Inherit,  Shall Dissolve;
And like the baseless Fabrick of a Vision,  Leave not a wreck behind.

Gower Memorial in Stratford

This memorial to Shakespeare is situated in Bancroft Gardens in Stratford. This statue, showing Shakespeare seated, is flanked by life-size statues of Lady Macbeth, Prince Hal,  Hamlet, Henry V, and Falstaff, representing Philosophy, Tragedy, History, & Comedy. The memorial was sponsored by Lord Ronald Sutherland -Gower, who presented it to the town of Stratford in 1888.

Stratford -upon-Avon
The Gower Memorial is located near the town side of the Clopton Bridge. It is interesting to note that Stratford is a literal translation of "The Street at the Ford on the River". The name comes from the crossing of the Avon, by the Roman Road from Alcester (Alauna) to the Foss Way. Strat is direct from the Latin for Street, and Avon is the Celtic word for river.

John Quincy Adams Ward Statue in Central Park, New York

The William Shakespeare statue in New York City's Central Park was built in 1864 to celebrate the three hundredth anniversary of Shakespeare's birth. The southern end of the Mall in Central Park is often referred to as "Literary Walk."  In 1873 commissioners proposed that the Mall should be a designated location for sculpture. Over a short period of time representations of the following literary figures were installed:

  • William Shakespeare by John Quincy Adams Ward, dedicated in 1872
  • Fitz-Green Halleck by James  MacDonald, dedicated in 1877
  • Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns (both by Sir John Steell, dedicated in 1880
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