Monumental Shakespeare

All good Shakespeareans must occasionally make a pilgrimage to Stratford-upon-Avon, and this past summer it was once again my turn to visit Shakespeare's native town. (For more on his relationship to Stratford, see my last post on Shakespeare's printer). I was there to attend a conference held at the Shakespeare Institute where I delivered a paper that traced some of the connections between the epitaph on Shakespeare's gravestone in Holy Trinity -- it takes the form of a malediction, cursing those who would disturb his bones -- and the First Folio. Since I have a rather vexed relationship with the Folio -- see the series of "Breaking Shakespeare" posts listed here -- you would rightly infer that I am a vehement proponent for disturbing his bones (metaphorically, at least).

The First Folio was designed, in part, as a monument and a memorial to Shakespeare.  And once I had returned to London, the first order of business was to search out a curious monument that memorializes the First Folio and its compilers, John Heminge and Henry Condell (members of Shakespeare's theatre company). I was fortunate to be joined by Mercurius Politicus (@mercpol) and Wynken de Worde (@wynkenhimself) on this excursion -- which turned out to be just one part of a trans-atlantic, trans-continental set of pilgrimages that I took, in order to tell the full story of this monument.

The plinth supports a statue of the First Folio, replete with a reproduction of part of the title-page and the dedicatory epistle, and it is topped by a bust of Shakespeare, who looks out over the garden, gazing across the street at the surrounding office buildings (you can find the monument on Google Maps here).

I first learned of this monument from an essay written by Laurie Maguire -- you can read most of it here and I suggest that you do, because it's a perceptive piece that informs much of what follows. Maguire reframes "the death of the author" in its most literal form, focusing on the materiality of memory, and in the case of the First Folio, the conflation of Shakespeare's corpse and corpus. The monument thus becomes a fitting extension of the memorial impulse that is so evident in the First Folio.

The excerpt from the epistle included on the monument is well-chosen, since it aptly expresses the ceremonial and commemorative language used by Heminge and Condell throughout the preliminaries. As you can see by reading the full epistle here (thanks to the Folger Shakespeare Library Digital Image Collection -- this is Folger copy no. 68) Heminge and Condell profess to have collected Shakespeare's plays only to do "an office to the dead" -- an enterprise they characterize as procuring "his Orphanes, Guardians, without ambition either of selfe-profit, or fame; onely to keepe the memory of so worthy a Friend, & Fellow aliue, as was our SHAKESPEARE." The book is equated with Shakespeare himself: they "humbly consecrate" these "remaines" of Shakespeare -- just as the poem opposite the famous frontispiece portrait identifies Shakespeare with "his Booke."

The monument is on the former site of the church of St. Mary the Virgin Aldermanbury, the parish where Heminge and Condell lived (more on that "former" below). The plinth includes plaques on each side which praise Heminge and Condell in extraordinary terms:

To the Memory of
John Heminge
Henry Condell
Fellow Actors
and Personal Friends
of Shakespeare
they lived many years in this
parish and are buried here

to their disinterested affection
the world owes all
that it calls Shakespeare
they alone
collected his dramatic writings
regardless of pecuniary loss
and without the hope of any profit
gave them to the world
they thus merited
the gratitude of mankind

Expanding on the claim in the epistle that they have undertaken their task "without ambition either of selfe-profit, or fame" the plaque attributes a "disinterested affection" to Heminge and Condell, who have collected Shakespeare's plays "regardless of pecuniary loss and without the hope of any profit." "Profit" is here used in a financial, "pecuniary" sense, rather than a concern with fame or reputation. Now, this contradicts the famous injunction in the epistle "To the great Variety of Readers" that urges those readers -- or, rather, potential customers -- that "what euer you do, Buy." And of course Heminge and Condell, as the compilers, were not risking any pecuniary loss -- the financial risk was the responsibility of the stationers who printed and published it, which is why they state that buying "doth best commend a Booke, the Stationer saies." The anxiety over the commercial nature of the enterprise underlies the insistent claims of selfless commemoration -- both in the Folio, and on the monument.

As Maguire notes, the plaque rewrites one of the preliminary poems in the Folio in a "proleptically postmodern" way: the claim that "the world owes all that it calls Shakespeare" recasts Leonard Digges's praise of "thy pious fellowes" (i.e. Heminge and Condell) who have given "The world thy Workes" (i.e. the Folio, which is granted the name of "Workes" on one of the preliminary pages). Of course, the Folio only includes his "dramatic writings," excluding the sonnets and the narrative poems, not to mention collaborative plays like Pericles. The power and appeal of the identification of Shakespeare with his book elides the commercial and contingent nature of its production -- the excluded texts would long remain marginal to the canon, even as the plaque implicitly recognizes the contingency of this act of collection and construction.

The fame of Shakespeare
resets on his incomparable dramas.
There is no evidence that he ever
intended to publish them
and his premature death in 1616
made this the interest of no one else.
Heminge and Condell
had been co-partners with him
in the Globe Theatre Southwark,
and from the accumulated plays there
of thirty five years
with great labour selected them
No men then living were so competent
having acted with him
in them for many years
and well knowing his manuscripts
they were published in 1623 in Folio
thus giving away
their private rights therein.
What they did was priceless,
for the whole of his manuscripts
with almost all those of the dramas
of the period have perished.

Heminge and Condell are identified as exemplars of selfless generosity -- "what they did was priceless," even as they gave away "their private rights" in the plays (which isn't actually true -- it's a misunderstanding of the distinction between the rights to perform, as opposed to print, a play). They are also lauded here as the most "competent" people for the job -- the job not simply of saving and making public Shakespeare's unpublished manuscripts, but of saving (resurrecting?) Shakespeare himself from the infamy of a "premature" death. (One notices the contradiction that his death was "premature" even though "there is no evidence that he ever intended to publish" his plays). 

The plaque that includes an extended excerpt from the preliminaries is also telling, since it appropriately (and conveniently) elides any mention of commerce, focusing instead on the nature (in all its senses) of Shakespeare's writing:

Extract from the Preface
to the First Folio of 1623

To the great Variety of Readers

It had bene a thing, we confesse,
worthie to have bene wished,
that the author himselfe had liv’d,
to have set forth, and overseene
his owne writings; but since it hath
bin ordain’d otherwise, and he by death
departed from that right,
we pray you do not envie his friends,
the office of their care, and paine,
to have collected & published them; ---
absolute in their numbers,
as he conceived them.
Who, as he was a happie imitator of Nature,
was a most gentle expresser of it.
His mind and hand went together:
and what he thought, he uttered
with that easinesse, that wee have scarse
received from him a blot in his papers.

John Heminge.
Henrie condell.

The wish that Shakespeare had "overseene his owne writings" overshadows the claim that Shakespeare never intended to publish them (or, perhaps it explains his "premature" death). It also authorizes Heminge and Condell's actions, as once again, the commemorative impulse behind the collection is emphasized -- the "office of their care, & paine" recalling the "office to the dead" mentioned in the dedicatory epistle.

Now, I have been reading this monument with a skeptical eye; in fact, the familiarity of the Folio -- what I've come to think of as #foliofatigue -- means that I find it difficult, if not impossible, to read with skepticism. However, while the monument may abide by and affirm the rhetorical strategies of the Folio preliminaries, I do want to stress that it was also a genuine act of commemoration and philanthropy. It is all too easy to succumb to the myth of Shakespeare, the isolated artistic genius -- but, the existence of his works, and thus of our idea of Shakespeare himself, is indebted to his friends and fellow actors who actively helped produce and compile the Folio. This is a monument to overlooked labor (though the stationers who printed and published the book, such as the Jaggards, would have to wait a bit longer for a full recognition of their labor; one example of that can be found here).

The fourth plaque is by far the most affecting, as it provides a visceral tribute to the humanity of Heminge and Condell by listing the bare factual details of their lives:

John Heminge
lived in this parish
upwards of forty two years
and in which he was married
He had fourteen children
thirteen of whom were baptized
four buried, and one married here
he was buried here
October 12  1630.
his wife was also buried here.

Henry Condell
lived in this parish
upwards of thirty years
he had nine children
eight of whom were baptized here
and six buried
he was buried here
December 29  1627.
His wife was also buried here.

“Let all the ends thou aim’st at
be thy country’s thy God’s and Truth’s.”
henry VIII  act 3 scene 2

The final quotation is an apt sentiment, considering Shakespeare's status as the national poet, even if is somewhat puzzling and problematic in context (it is part of Wolsey's injunctions to Cromwell in Henry VIII -- which is a collaborative play, written with Shakespeare's successor as company playwright, John Fletcher). But after all, that is the point of quoting and re-membering Shakespeare.

At the base is an inscription that reveals the benefactor who bequeathed the monument:
given to the nation by charles clement walker esqr

lilleshall old hall  shropshire

According to an obituary in the proceedings of the Royal Astronomical Society, Charles Clement Walker was a marine engineer and philanthropist who was "liberal in devoting his wealth to public and charitable objects--as, for instance, in the laying out of Wilmington Square" in Clerkenwell. (You can find out about a few of these charitable objects here). I took the time to visit Wilmington Square, where Walker had dedicated a garden and a fountain -- which, suffice it to say, has seen better years:

The inscription is now illegible, but it is transcribed here: it was "completed at the sole cost of Charles Clement Walker" -- a native of Clerkenwell -- "for the free use of the inhabitants thereof for health, recreation and enjoyment."

In his obituary, Walker was also described as "one of the oldest readers at the British Museum, having taken his reader's ticket at the age of 18" -- he was born in 1822, and died in 1897, less than a year after the Heminge and Condell monument was dedicated.

Walker's monument was unveiled on July 15, 1896, and the ceremony was accompanied by a presentation copy of a pamphlet he composed -- which you can read in its entirety here. Walker provides a brief history of the First Folio, focusing his attention on the role of Heminge and Condell, in language that is echoed on the monument itself. He laments the fact that their names are unknown: whereas they are "well known to Shakespearian scholars," by "ninety-nine out of every hundred persons of the present day who read Shakespeare their names have never been heard of.” (He faults editions and biographies of Shakespeare that overlook their contribution). 

In a passionate expression of the sentiments we find on the monument, Walker explains his motivation:
"what we owe to them is of such inestimable value that if public monuments are to be erected to our public benefactors none are more worthy to be commemorated than Heminge and Condell, to whom alone the world is indebted for this first edition of what it calls “Shakespeare.” Their own story of the reasons which moved them to publish this collection is such a beautiful instance of unselfishness, singular love of Shakespeare, and unaffected modesty, that the writer felt it only needed to become well understood by the public for their merits to be appreciated.”
I've already examined several of these key phrases, but it is worth pointing out that Walker conceived of his enterprise as a public act -- an act of civic charity and artistic appreciation not dissimilar to the gardens he created for the health and enjoyment of his fellow citizens. I will also add that, for the most part, the rest of the pamphlet is rather more sober, the work of an amateur scholar: in the preface he thanks the vicar of St. Mary the Virgin, who assisted in researching the parish records, along with "Dr. Furnivall, the founder and director of the New Shakspere Society, whose critical knowledge of all relating to the Bard of Avon has been freely given when required."

The story does not end here, though, for as noted above, the monument now stands on the former site of St. Mary the Virgin Aldermanbury. There was a church on this site as early as the 12th century; the church that Heminge and Condell attended was finished in the 15th century -- but it was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666. It was then rebuilt by Christopher Wren, but was once again reduced to rubble during World War II.

The writer Ethel Wilson visited the church, still in ruins, and published her account in 1961 in Mrs. Golightly and Other Stories. Wilson evocatively describes "the dark wall of survival and on it the words carved in stone, grimily decipherable, St. Mary the Virgin Aldermanbury." But it is the visceral connection to Heminge and Condell that is most striking about her recollection:
“One does not need to be a scholar, or not a scholar, to sit on a bench in this small garden and feel the immediacy of Henry Condell and John Heminge of this parish. Three hundred years go by very easily. In spite of footnotes, quartos, contexts, interpretations, inconsistencies, arguments, and psychology (a new invention, Sirs), scholars are human and would not be impervious to this place. [...] Sitting there in the small neat garden of [the church] where these two men feel near at hand, one does not embark on argument. [...] The men, the plays, are there, so clear; but for a moment one marvels that men and women of these distant days take trouble to ignore the fact of the two men (fellow actors with Shakespeare) who collected the plays. These two men lived here, and died, and were buried here.
Walker would no doubt have been pleased that his monument had engendered exactly the kind of sentimental reflection that had motivated its creation. Indeed, in perhaps the greatest single sentence of Shakespearean textual criticism I have ever encountered, Wilson wrote of Heminge and Condell that "one is inclined to take them for granted, like the unicorn, and that is not fair to such great and humble men.”

In the same year Wilson published her account, in 1961, the President of Westminster College, in Fulton, Missouri, had an idea -- since several Wren churches damaged in the war were in danger of being demolished, why not save one by importing it to America, to serve as a memorial, and as the college chapel? And that is exactly what they did -- they took apart the remains of the church, packed up the stones, shipped them across the Atlantic, and reconstructed the church in the middle of campus, where it was re-dedicated in 1969.

And so, being the dutiful and responsible scholar that I am -- one who happens to live and work in a neighboring state -- I went to Westminster College to see the church that once stood next to the monument in the center of London.

Communing with the spirit of Heminge and Condell
-- in the Ozarks.
You can learn more about the history of the church, and "perhaps the biggest jigsaw puzzle in the history or architecture," here -- or, if you ever find yourself in the Ozarks, you can visit the museum exhibit for yourself.

"St Mary's Church England shipped by Bullens Organisation
to Fulton Missouri"

The exhibit does point out the connection to Shakespeare -- and indeed, inside the church you will find a bust of Shakespeare, tucked into the corner. It is a reproduction of the memorial to Shakespeare in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford -- though unlike the original it is not painted (which would make Edmond Malone either proud, or sheepish, since he infamously had the bust white-washed in the 18th century).

In yet another twist to this story, the church now houses the National Churchill Museum -- and Winston himself presides over the church:

It turns out that Winston Churchill gave his "Iron Curtain" speech at Westminster College, which is why it now hosts the Churchill Museum. In part due to this history, Westminster has continued to host political speeches of global importance -- not to mention a Cold War memorial sculpture crafted from sections of the Berlin Wall. And so the church has become a memorial of an entirely different sort, giving new resonance to Wilson's reflection on the "dark wall of survival."

Which brings me back to London, where you can still see the foundations of the church that now stands so far away.

It is a peaceful site -- at least on a summer Sunday afternoon, though no doubt it is less so on a weekday, considering the proximity of the enormous office buildings that loom over this small garden space. And this brings me to one final act of commemoration. In her essay Maguire cites a book by Charles Connell called They Gave Us Shakespeare (1982), which she characterizes as an "effusive homage" to Heminge and Condell. The significance of the book, both for her and for me, lies in the fact that it was conceived as an act of commemoration for a civil servant who had become the caretaker for Walker's monument, after which the book is named (the title recalling the inscription on the plaque).

The site of the church was acquired by the City Corporation of London in 1966 (when Westminster College acquired the church) and so it fell under the stewardship of F.E. Cleary, chairman of the the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association. When he came across the monument, he looked into its history -- and Walker would undoubtedly have been chagrined to find that it had been relatively neglected. In Connell's words:
"The more [Cleary] discovered about the two men [Heminge and Condell] and the monumental task they undertook, the more he realised that they had received little credit for their remarkable achievement. He was particularly surprised to find that they hardly figured in the 1964 Shakespeare quatercentenary celebrations. The present volume, triggered off by Mr. Cleary's infectious enthusiasm, is an attempt to set the record right and to give the playwright's two most devoted friends a place in the Shakespeare story to which they are truly entitled."
As Connell reports, the park was formally opened on April 16, 1970, and the book is dedicated to Cleary, who is shown standing next to the monument:

Charles Connell, They Gave Us Shakespeare
As you can see from the dust jacket, Connell's book imitates the appearance of the monument -- thereby echoing (even if distantly) the book it memorializes:

This image adds in Shakespeare's coat of arms at the top, which may have been inspired by the similar placement of the arms on Shakespeare's memorial bust in Holy Trinity -- which, if that is the case, would further emphasize the identification of Shakespeare's literal and literary remains.

The back cover is illustrated with a scene from The Tempest -- the jacket states that it was inspired by Miranda's speech that opens Act 1, scene 2, and Prospero's proclamations in Act 5, scene 1, in which he tells of commanding the seas with his own powers. But for my present purposes it is the presence of Prospero's book in the lower-left corner that is most interesting. The Tempest is the first play in the First Folio, even though we now know that it was one of the last plays that he wrote. Once the chronology of the canon was generally established, it became irresistible (at least for some biographers and critics) to identify Shakespeare with his bookish protagonist, and thus the play as his farewell to the stage. And here it serves a somewhat similar purpose, fulfilling the desire to identify Shakespeare with Prospero by in some sense identifying Shakespeare's book with Prospero's book.

As I've implied at several points above (and several places elsewhere, on this blog and in print) I'm interested in telling a very different story about the First Folio -- one that focuses not on selfless generosity, authorial resurrection, and civic virtue, but on the investments and interests of the printers and publishers of the Folio. The book is a memorial -- but for them it memorialized a very different version of Shakespeare than we know now, and it was produced by complex commercial and textual networks.

F.E. Cleary lamented the fact that Heminge and Condell had been ignored during the quatercentenary celebrations of Shakespeare's birth in 1964. Since I am a Shakespeare scholar, I am rather too familiar with them -- but in this year, in which his 450th year was celebrated, I'm not sure if the "generality of readers" Walker intended to reach with his monument is any more aware of Heminge and Condell than they were before. As then, their names are known, but their stories are not. The monument is now similarly neglected, yet it has been periodically rediscovered, so that the "transference of tribute" that it embodies becomes visible once again (those are Maguire's words; her essay was published in 2000).

It is a story of memory and memorialization, although it is one that still marginalizes its ostensible subjects: Connell sets out to give the "two most devoted friends a place in the Shakespeare story to which they are truly entitled." They were certainly devoted friends -- in his will Shakespeare left them, along with his lead actor Richard Burbage, 26s. 8d. to buy memorial rings, and they returned this remembrance with an act of re-membering of their own. But Shakespeare too often dominates the narratives of his contemporaries, and to place Heminge and Condell solely within Shakespeare's story is to neglect their own stories.

John Heminge lived in this parish for more than forty-two years; he was married, and had fourteen children, one of whom he saw married there, and four buried. Henry Condell lived in this parish for more than thirty years; he had nine children, six of whom are buried there with him. And these bare facts neglect so much more -- including their wives, who were also buried there, but which the monument does not deign even to name. For the record, Heminge married Rebecca Knell in the parish church in 1588 -- and buried her there in 1619. Condell married Elizabeth Smart in 1596, after which they moved to Aldermanbury; they eventually acquired a country house in Fulham, where they both died (Henry first, in 1627, and Elizabeth in 1635) -- though they chose to be buried back in their parish church in London.

I will finally end this story where I started, or, rather, where Shakespeare ended. In two years, in 2016, we will all be unable to avoid the "celebrations" of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death (and remember that according to tradition, Shakespeare died on his birthday -- let that be a lesson to us all). So take a moment to think about the stories we tell about Shakespeare, and what -- and more importantly, who -- those stories neglect.