Welcome to the 9th Blackfriar’s Conference LiveBlog!

My name is Lauren Romagnano and I am a first year student in the Shakespeare and Performance Program. From 10 am until 10:45, conference attendees have the privilege to hear our first keynote speaker, Lena Orlin of Georgetown University. Today, she will be speaking on Shakespeare 401, or the history of the monument of William Shakespeare in Trinity Church.

Sarah Enloe, the American Shakespeare Center’s Director of Education, introduces Orlin by listing some of her many offices and roles within the Shakespeare community, including her role as the executive directive of the Folger Institute and serving on the board of the International Shakespeare Association. Enloe also enumerates Orlin’s extensive publications and editorials, including those she collaborated on with other Shakespearean academics including Stanley Wells, Ann Thompson, and Russ MacDonald. She then turns the stage over to Lena Orlin.

Orlin begins her speech by thanking everyone, especially Ralph and Sarah for bringing her here today. She then reflects on how last year was the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, but turns our attention to how this year is the 400th anniversary on the monument to Shakespeare in Trinity Church. Orlin dives into the history of this monument, a bust of William Shakespeare placed near his tombstone. The first detail she discusses is the different paintings of this monument, from its original polychrome to a regrettable all-white “restoration” by Edmund Malone.

While the monument was later refreshed and repainted, Orlin suggests that interest in the monument has become less about its appearance more about its creator. Orlin argues that this monument is the last posthumous creation and performance of William Shakespeare because he is the one who dictated the terms of the monument. Her presentation delves into examples of others who, in their final months, determined the final transcriptions and engravings of their tombstones. Shakespeare’s monument, she declares, is the evidence that he himself is the designer.

Orlin has three conclusions about the monument that she expounds upon. The first, the monument was created shortly after Shakespeare’s death. The second, the current monument is not the same as the 1617 monument. The third and final conclusion is that the Dugdale sketch of the monument is not a true representation of the actual monument.

Orlin begins by delving into her second conclusion. She remarks that Trinity Church underwent a series of repairs in the location of the bust. She believes both the monument and the tombstones had been moved sometime between the installation and the infamous Dugdale sketch. She also comments on the frame of the monument, noting that it was changed at some point from alabaster to marble. Another important part of the monument is that, after careful examination, it was carved from a single piece of limestone. This becomes important in terms of the cushion, which many believed to be a separate piece. Finally, Orlin references the beliefs that the monument was changed because the sketches and original depictions show a much slimmer Shakespeare, leading one critic to believe the one we see today was plumped with cement. Ultimately, the monument was altered to the point that it is no longer the same as seen in 1617.

Orlin next discussed her third conclusion, remarking on Dugdale’s depiction. This sketch, she comments, is the result of an inept creator. Orlin does not believe that Dugdale accurately depicted the monument based on a few key pieces of the sculpture. Orlin begins by commenting on the missing quill from Shakespeare’s hand. While she understands this could have been a removable prop, it also could be an error on the part of the artist. Orlin also notes that the large size of the cushion, not accurate to size, possibly the artist’s way of balancing out the small size of the head. She next pulls up three images of the bust, two drawings and the bust itself. Dugdale, she points out, added the wrong number of buttons to Shakespeare’s coat. Her final point to prove that Dugdale is too inept to have accurately depicted the bust is the added detailing of the tassels to the cushion, perhaps added to indicate that it is a cushion and not a sack.

Finally, in order to develop her first conclusion, Orlin references arguments that the monument was in fact a restored image of John Shakespeare, William Shakespeare’s father. Orlin examines this claim and discusses the idea that the cushion was initially a wool sack, a reference John’s profession. The wool sack was transformed into a cushion when the monument was transformed into a monument for William Shakespeare. Orlin dismisses this claim through a discussion of demi figures, or monuments that depict from the waist up. These figures were primarily used between approximately 1610 until 1640, however there was a slight delay between the death of person and the creation of the figure. The biggest issue many critics come across in seeing this figure as solely William, and not John, is the lack of a first name. Orlin believes that Shakespeare, who many writers of his time only referenced by last name, also was known as merely Shakespeare to his own family, a fact she supports by mentioning Shakespeare’s daughter named her son after her father by last name.

Orlin culminates her argument by discussing one detail that slipped past many critics for years: the Oxford monument style of using cushions underneath books for academics. While Shakespeare’s relative who was thought to have commissioned the bust was a Cambridge man, Shakespeare himself spent much time at Oxford, especially at chapel services. In the Oxford chapel, Shakespeare would have seen many of these monuments with cushions underneath of texts. This is where Shakespeare, the creator, would have learned which monument he wanted after death.