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The Many Shakespeares - Sidebar: May 1998 British Heritage Feature

Originally published by British Heritage magazine. Published Online: September 23, 1998 
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The Shakespeare Controversy: The Monument

Sometime between 1616 and 1623, a memorial to Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon was placed in the north wall of the town's Holy Trinity Church. The monument consists of a half-length statue of Shakespeare. In his hands he holds a sheet of paper and a quill pen.

Revisionists have suggested that this statue is part of the ongoing confusion about Shakespeare's identity. This theory is based in part on a sketch of the monument made by Sir William Dugdale in 1656, which shows a somewhat different statue from that which now rests in the Stratford church. The original bust was damaged and replaced in 1748.

The paper and pen, which clearly signify that the man being honoured was a writer, do not appear in Dugdale's engraving of the original statue. Theorists have concluded that the initial monument was never intended to be a shrine to a playwright, but merely a memorial to the local businessman, Shakespeare. The details depicting Shakespeare as a writer were allegedly added in the 18th century when the monument was repaired.

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Dugdale's sketch, however, is only one of many he did for a volume titled Antiquities of Warwickshire. A comparison of Dugdale's drawings with the originals shows that he was frequently inaccurate. Records of the 1748 restoration reveal that care was taken to preserve the original appearance of the memorial and that the only alterations undertaken were to replace 'whatsoever was by Accident broken off'. Since the quill pen is the most fragile portion of the monument, this is a likely explanation why it is missing from Dugdale's sketch.

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