Monday, September 17, 2012

The Independent Review of The Marlowe Papers

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For James Urquhart's review of The Marlowe Papers, click here.

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Monday, September 3, 2012

Was the Monument Altered? by Peter Farey

I do wish that Oxfordians and, alas, even some Marlovians would stop claiming that the original Shakespeare monument in Stratford-upon-Avon differed in some significant way from the monument as it is now.  It didn't.1

It is, of course, very easy to see how such a belief came about, and it is in fact one that I myself held for a while after first reading Charlton Ogburn's Oxfordian book The Mystery of William Shakespeare,2 as the earliest published picture of it was indeed very different. This had appeared in Sir William Dugdale's Antiquities of Warwickshire, published in 1656, and was produced by the engraver frequently used by Dugdale, Wenceslaus Hollar.

The main differences seem to be these:
  • The main body of Hollar's monument is only about 30% taller than it is wide, whereas the present monument is some 75% taller.
  • In Hollar's etching, the small boys (putti) are sitting on the cornice with their legs dangling over the edge of it, but now they are not. Each now appears to be sitting on something, rather than on the cornice itself. Although not easy to see, the one on our left is still holding a spade, and the other – shown by Hollar as holding an hour-glass – now has, according to Samuel Schoenbaum,3 an inverted torch in his left hand and his right hand resting on a skull.
  • Above the leafy capitals, the tops of the two columns, which nowadays are plain, have the faces of lions or some such large cat adorning them in Hollar's version.
  • In the earlier version, a solemn droopy-moustached figure of Shakespeare is shown resting his hands on a plump sack of some sort, with knotted corners, where today there is a fairly flat cushion with tassels at the corners. In the modern version a fatter-faced Shakespeare with a Poirot-type moustache and goatee has a pen and paper, which are missing in the earlier one, and he seems to be wearing an "undergraduate-type" gown of some sort, rather than just the jerkin of the earlier illustration.
  •  The curved "ceiling" of the alcove, undecorated in the Hollar etching, now has what seem to be gilded Tudor roses embellishing it.
  • The greatest difference, however, is that in Hollar's etching the whole structure is clearly shown as standing on the floor, with three "feet" (two at the front and one at the back) on what must presumably be a triangular base. Nowadays it is half-embedded in the wall some eleven feet above the floor, the weight in fact being mainly taken directly by a remodelled window-sill, and three consoles (brackets) fixed to the wall.
Dugdale wasn't the only person to provide illustrations showing such differences, however. In Nicholas Rowe's 1709 Some Account of the Life &c. of Mr. William Shakespear, a different engraving by Gerard Van der Gucht had all of the differences noted above, despite there being a few minor changes to the Dugdale illustration, as did the engraving by Charles Grignion in John Bell's 1786 "literary edition" of Shakespeare, although the lions seem to have mutated into dogs and the spade into an arrow.

With three such "witnesses" testifying to the existence of such an earlier version of the monument, it might appear that there can really be no doubt of the fact. If so, the whole thing must have been completely rebuilt some time after 1786, to make it 45% taller in relation to its width, to have a rectangular rather than a triangular base, and to be hoist into a new location eleven feet up the wall, resting upon a new shelf created by taking a great chunk out of the existing window-sill and wall below. In the process they must have completely scrapped the former putti and replaced them with new ones, added Tudor roses to the architrave, and taken a new piece of limestone to create a brand new bust (with a different head, a gown, a hand designed to hold a quill, a piece of paper and a cushion with tassels).

Unfortunately, there is no record whatsoever of such work being undertaken, and in any case, would it not be reasonable to ask the simple question of why they would have found it necessary to make all of these very expensive changes?

There is something else which is very strange about this, however, because over sixty years before Grignion's illustration, and five years before the second edition of Dugdale's Antiquities (with the same illustration as before), Alexander Pope's 1725 edition of the Works was published, with an engraving by George Vertue showing it much as it is today, wall-mounted and with the occupant using a cushion to support the paper he is writing on.4 Although Vertue gets a few minor details wrong – apparently allowing himself artistic licence – even the size of the stones in the wall is accurate.

Furthermore, in 1737 Vertue sketched Edward Harley, second earl of Oxford (by the second creation), his patron, standing in front of a wall-mounted monument which, along with the surroundings, all looks fairly similar to how it does today.

Unless, as some Oxfordians actually do,5 we subscribe to the ludicrous idea that Vertue simply imagined it all, and that these imaginings were subsequently turned into reality, we must deduce that Grignion's engraving was based not upon first-hand observation, but upon those earlier ones done for Dugdale and Rowe. And if he did this, then it seems quite possible that Van der Gucht had based his 1709 Rowe illustration upon Hollar's in exactly the same way.

It would therefore appear that by 1725 the monument was more or less as it is today, with a rectangular base (rather than a triangular one) set into the north wall of the chancel, its weight now taken mainly by the base of the window-sill cut away to accept it.  If Hollar's version is correct, then those major changes must have been undertaken some time before 1725, and (as it was said to be "in" the north wall) the alcove presumably left by its removal invisibly repaired.

Once again, however, there was not a word in the records to suggest any such major changes to the church's fabric. The only time since 1621/2 when some notable renovation took place was in 1749. According to Joseph Greene, the church parson and headmaster of the grammar school, in 1746 an acting company performed a play (allegedly Othello) in Stratford to help towards the "repairing of the Original Monument of the Poet."  The benefit was for "the curious original monument and bust (that). . . is through length of years and other accidents become much impaired and decayed."6  In 1748,  Greene writes of "repairing and re-beautifying" the monument, proposing that the painter John Hall do the work, provided "that the monument shall become as like as possible to what it was when first erected," and in 1749 Greene said it had been "repaired and re-beautified." Questioned about the stone used in the original, he apparently replied: "I can assure you that the bust and cushion before it (on which as on a desk this our poet seems preparing to write) is one entire limestone . . . ," adding that "... really, except changing the substance of the Architraves from alabaster to Marble; nothing has been chang’d, nothing alter’d, except supplying with original material, (sav’d for that purpose,) whatsoever was by accident broken off; reviving the Old Colouring, and renewing the Gilding that was lost."

In other words, too little and too late for the significant changes we are discussing.

So just when were those changes made? We might have been left in this quandary, had it not been for a discovery made by Charlotte C. Stopes and revealed in 1914. The original sketch by William Dugdale, upon which Hollar had based his engraving, still exists. George Greenwood (1925) also mentioned it, but it was not until Diana Price included a photograph of it in her 1997 article "Reconsidering Shakespeare's Monument" that the first glimmering of light began to appear. It is the missing link in a pictorial equivalent of the game "Chinese whispers."

Looking at Hollar's etching and the monument as it appears today, what we find is that Dugdale's sketch is like a bad drawing of both of them. Going back to that list of differences we see:
  • The drawing is so roughly done that one would not expect the ratio of width to height to be at all accurate anyway. The lines of the structure are actually impossible, like a drawing by M.C. Escher.
  • He is certainly responsible for the putti being shown sitting on the edge of the cornice with their legs dangling over it (three legs in one case!), but they do both appear to be sitting on something else as well, as they are now. The hour-glass is particularly interesting, since there is no sign of any such thing in his left hand today, but Vertue did show one on the cornice next to the other boy. Schoenbaum says that the right hand putto is holding an inverted torch, and Vertue apparently guessed that they might have both been holding lighted torches the right way up at one time. That Dugdale missed the skull next to the other boy, which is not all that obvious from ground level, is hardly surprising.7
  • He certainly included some squiggles at the top of the columns, and one can see that (rather like a Rorschach test) the one on our left could be interpreted as the head of a large cat of some sort, but the one on the right is far less identifiable. Perhaps a Tudor rose? He left out the ones which now appear on the "ceiling" of the alcove.
  • The figure in the drawing could be resting his arms upon a sack, a pillow or a cushion, the corners of which are either tied up or decorated with tassels according to however one chooses to interpret it. It really is far from clear, as are the facial features and the question of whether or not he is wearing an academic type of gown. Dugdale has omitted the real quill pen (which may have indeed been missing at the time) and the piece of paper (perhaps too dusty to see?), but this seems rather unimportant, given that at some point he has written above the sketch, "In the North Wall of the Quire is this monument fixed for William Shakespeare the famous poet."
  • Perhaps of the greatest importance, however, is that what Hollar interpreted as three feet (two at the front and one at the back) free-standing on the floor, can just as easily be seen in the sketch as those three consoles fixed to the wall which Vertue showed it resting on, and which are of course how it is today. The drawing has none of the indications which Hollar used to show it was standing on the floor. So this must be just what he imagined Dugdale to have intended.
It therefore seems perfectly clear to me that what Dugdale drew (rather badly) was a monument which in all major matters was much as it is today. Unfortunately, it contained several errors, which Wenceslaus Hollar – who clearly never saw the monument itself – copied, and also ambiguities (like those three "feet") from which Hollar made the wrong choice. Neither Gerard Van der Gucht nor Charles Grignion can have actually visited the place either, so they simply copied Hollar, whilst varying the detail just enough to avoid charges of plagiarism.

In fact, the first actual illustrator to visit the monument and record it relatively accurately was George Vertue. Not that his version was entirely correct either. The stained glass windows are omitted, the head has been replaced with one apparently based on the so-called Chandos portrait, he uses italic script for the inscription and, as mentioned earlier, he has the putti holding lighted wands or torches. All of these seem to be quite deliberate, however, and well within what he would have considered acceptable artistic licence.

So, just like the "Francis Archer" who for several years was believed to have been the killer of Christopher Marlowe, the man clutching a sack of wool or corn in some earlier version of the monument also turns out to be a myth. 

 © Peter Farey, September 2012

Peter Farey has been manning the Marlovian barricades on the internet for the past 14 years.  His Marlowe Page  is one of the most respected sites about Marlowe on the web.  He is a founding member of the International Marlowe-Shakespeare Society. 

1It is stated as a fact in the "Declaration of Reasonable Doubt" and in the Shakespeare Authorship Coalition's "Exposing an Industry in Denial." I am actually not aware of the idea appearing in any Marlovian publication other than when Peter Barker gave it as a fact in Mike Rubbo's film Much Ado About Something, but I nevertheless find the theory being argued by fellow Marlovians every so often
2Ogburn, Charlton (1988). The Mystery of William Shakespeare. London: Cardinal. p.159
 3Schoenbaum, Samuel (1987). William Shakespeare: A Compact Documentary Life. Oxford University Press. p.308. One can't help remembering that the title of the Introduction to Charles Nicholl's The Reckoning was "A Torch Turning Downward," relating to the motto on the putative portrait of Marlowe at Corpus Christi, and the similar version Quod me alit me extinguit. Just a coincidence
 4Dugdale's Antiquities was reissued in 1730, still with the same floor-standing version. The editor, Dr. William Thomas, assured his readers that he had tried to make sure that there were no "manifest mistakes." As the evidence from George Vertue shows, he doesn't seem to have made a very good job of it, at least as far as this monument is concerned. 
5For example, Richard Kennedy in his 2005 "The Woolpack Man" and Richard Whalen in his 2005 "The Stratford Bust: A Monumental Fraud," both of whom completely ignore the problem posed by those three floor-standing feet. 
6Fox, Levi, ed. (1965). Correspondence of the Rev. Joseph Greene, 1712–90. London: HMSO. 
7The positioning of the putti seems to be fairly flexible. When the monument was vandalized in 1973, and the opportunity taken to spruce it up again, they were in fact replaced on the wrong sides of the coat of arms, with the right-hand putto on the left and vice versa. Amazingly, it was three years before anybody noticed!