Type Sculpture , Statue
At the centre of the group is Shakespeare, set high on a stone pedestal of rotunda surmounting square block with striking pedestals at each corner. Both main sections have four inscriptions, the upper quotations from the plays, and the lower, relating to the sculpture; its making and unveiling.
Shakespeare sits on the edge of his cruciform chair, his left arm over its back and hand holding a rolled up manuscript. His right forearm rests on his right knee, thumb and index finger together (once holding a bronze quill). His head is angled slightly downwards but his gaze is straight ahead. (North East)
At his feet are four bronze wreaths evenly spaced around the top of the rotunda section of the pedestal. They appear to be the same mould.
Directly below them on the four striking pedestals are four bronze masks with foliage and flowers, each is individually modelled. Two of the masks are tragic and two comic, although they are understated. Each bunch of foliage and flowers is symbolic of the character it is paired with, and which stands directly in front, and which in turn represents one of four themes. History is represented by Prince Hal with English roses and French lilies. Comedy is represented by Falstaff with hops and roses. Lady MacBeth represents Tragedy with poppies and peonies. Philosophy is represented by Hamlet with ivy and cypress.
Ronald Gower was a keen theatre goer and lover of Shakespeare. In 1877 he Gower first though of producing a memorial group to Shakespeare, but Stratford had just laid the first stone for The Shakespeare Memorial Theatre and had no time for another project. Gower persevered and worked on the models which he showed at the Paris Salon. In 1880, the character of Prince Hal was exhibited at the Paris Salon and in 1882, the plaster model of the original version of the complete model was shown at the Paris Salon as the centre piece of the sculptural exhibition and in 1886, Gower's bronze of Lady MacBeth shown at the Salon.
In 1887, an American, Igantius Donnelly challenged Shakespeare's authorship of his plays, he claimed the true author was Bacon. Attitudes in the town changed, the feeling in Stratford was that a monument would show the world their contempt for the baconian theory and a place was allotted in the gardens of the theatre for Gower's monument to be erected the following year. The monument was finally unveiled on 10 October 1888 by Lady Hodgson, wife of Sir Arthur Hodgson then Mayor of Stratford.
The monument had taken 12 years to complete. The figures were designed and modelled by Gower, assisted by Luca Madrassi, and the work was executed in Paris. All the figures were made by the firm of Tassel except that of Hamlet, which was made by Graux and Marley. Cauville and Perzinku cast the wreathes, masks, fruit and flowers. It was erected on its original site by Mr Frederick Taylor under the supervision of the architects Peignet and Marnay of Paris.
The work was received mixed reactions. The Stratford-upon-Avon Herald praised the figure of the bard highly: 'The face is particularly pleasing, and displays great intellectuality and delicacy in modelling. The grace of the attitude of the figures is singularly striking, and the conception remarkably spirited'.(1) The Birmingham Post quoted Oscar Wilde: 'beautiful green-and-gold bronzes . . . Works of art of such an imaginative character were not common in Europe, much less in England. . . It was not often that a sculptor passed beyond the imitative faculty and tried to mirror in marble and bronze the great creations of a great mind.'(2) The satirical magazine Punch however, attacked the overall conception of the monument: 'Shakespeare, says the description of it in The Times, "is here represented seated with a quill in his right hand", How original! How clever, not behind his ear, or in his mouth, but absolutely in his right hand, as he must actually have used it, unless he were left-handed. And to think that the renowned sculptor was only twelve years over the great design!'.(3)
In 1933, as a consequence of the rebuilding of the theatre (which had burned down in 1926) the Gower Memorial (as it had become known) was moved to its present position. In the original 1888 setting at the rear of the theatre, Shakespeare faced towards the church, down stream of the River Avon with Prince Hal positioned directly under his feet, and, like the other three characters, directly in front of his quote on the main pedestal. Prince Hal's upraised arms holding the crown drew the viewer to the main subject of the group, Shakespeare. When moved in 1933 the orientation was reversed and Shakespeare now faces upstream to Warwick. The four characters where moved 45 degrees in an anti-clockwise direction, and forward by seven and a half metres as well as being stepped down by 15cm. The newer layout makes the group hard to read as whole but does offer the opportunity to see the characters in the round.
William Shakespeare (1564-1616) playwright and poet. He was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, the son of John Shakespeare, a glover, and Mary Arden, of farming stock. He was educated at the local grammar school, and married Anne Hathaway, from a local farming family, in 1582, who bore him a daughter, Susanna, in 1583, and twins Hamnet and Judith in 1585. He moved to London, possibly in 1591, and became an actor. During 1592--4, when the theatres were closed for the plague, he wrote his poems 'Venus and Adonis' and 'The Rape of Lucrece'. His sonnets, known by 1598, though not published until 1609, fall into two groups: 1 to 126 are addressed to a fair young man, and 127 to 154 to a "dark lady' who holds both the young man and the poet in thrall. The first evidence of his association with the stage is in 1594, when he was acting with the Lord Chamberlain's company of players, later "the King's Men'. When the company built the Globe Theatre south of the Thames in 1597, he became a partner, living modestly at a house in Silver St until c.1606, then moving near the Globe. He returned to Stratford c.1610, living as a country gentleman at his house, New Place. His will was made in March 1616, a few months before he died, and he was buried at Stratford.
NE side Rotunda inscription- sans serif: 'CONSIDERATION LIKE / AN ANGEL CAME / AND WHIPT THE OFFENDING / ADAM OUT OF HIM'
Bass inscription- sans serif, added in 1893, centralised: 'RONALD GOWER / TO / STRATFORD.UPON.AVON'
SW Side (Facing theatre) Rotunda inscription- sans serif: 'LIFE'S BUT A WALKING SHADOW / A POOR PLAYER / THAT STRUTS AND FRETS / HIS HOUR UPON THE STAGE / AND THEN IS HEARD NO MORE'
Base inscription- sans serif, centralised: 'THIS MONUMENT / WAS UNVEILED ON THE 10TH OF OCTOBER 1888 / BY LADY HODGSON WIFE OF SIR ARTHUR HODGSON KCMG / IN THE FIFTH YEAR OF HIS MAYORALITY'
NW side Rotunda inscription- sans serif: 'GOOD NIGHT SWEET PRINCE: / AND FLIGHTS OF ANGELS / SING THEE TO THY REST'
Base inscription- sans serif, centralised: 'THIS MONUMENT / WAS REMOVED FROM THE / MEMORIAL THEATRE GARDENS / TO THIS SITE IN THE YEAR / 1933'
SE side- base inscription, bronze plaque: 'THESE FIGURES WERE DESIGNED AND MODELLED BY LORD RONALD GOWER, WHO / PRESENTED THE MONUMENT TO THE TOWN OF STRATFORD-UPON-AVON IN 1888. / THE WORK WAS EXECUTED IN PARIS AND TOOK TWELVE YEARS TO COMPLETE / ASSOCIATED WITH LORD ROLAND IN HIS TASK WERE HIS ASSISTANT MONSIEUR L. MADRASSI; / THE FIRM OF TASSEL, WHO MADE ALL THE FIGURES SAVE THAT OF HAMLET, WHICH WAS / ENTRUSTED TO MESSIEURS GRAUX AND MARLEY; AND THE HOUSE OF CAUVILLE / AND PERZINKU, WHO CAST THE WREATHS, THE MASKS, THE FRUIT AND THE FLOWERS. / THE STONE USED IN THIS MONUMENT IS PARTLY BOXGROUND BATH, PARTLY YORK. THE GROUP / WAS ERECTED ON ITS ORIGINAL SITE BY MR FREDERICK TAYLOR, CONTRACTOR, UNDER / THE SUPERVISION OF THE ARCHITECT, MESSIEURS PEIGNET AND MARNAY OF PARIS.'
rotunda inscription: 'I AM NOT ONLY WITTY IN / MYSELF, BUT THE CAUSE / THAT WIT IS IN / OTHER MEN'
Inscriptions on four characters, Prince Hal, front of pedestal: "PRINCE HAL"
Hamlet, front of pedestal: "HAMLET"
Lady Macbeth, front of pedestal: "LADY MACBETH"
Falstaff, front of pedestal: "FALSTAFF"
PMSA recording information