23rd April 2016 marks the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death. To mark this great occasion, a group of leading organisations have come together to create a series of events to commemorate his life and work alongside the literary legacy he has left behind.

Shakespeare has been commemorated in Westminster Abbey since 1741, when a memorial was erected for him in Poet’s Corner. Like many of the memorials that exist in Poet’s Corner, Shakespeare is only memorialised and not buried within the Abbey; he is instead buried in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford upon Avon. It is often asked why a memorial would be erected in the church when there is no grave to mark: in the case of Poet’s Corner it is about creating a place to honour the impact that these writers have had on the literary tradition and their readers. 

Poet's Corner Westminster Abbey

Poet’s Corner started with the burial of Geoffrey Chaucer in 1400, although this was less to do with his work as a writer and more to do with his job as Clerk of the Works at the Palace of Westminster. In 1599 Edmund Spenser was also laid to rest near to Chaucer, and it was from this point on that the tradition began. When it comes to deciding who can be memorialised in Poet’s Corner the responsibility lies solely with the Dean of Westminster, although today he is likely to consult with his colleagues in the Chapter and the literary community before making that decision. 

Shakespeare Monument, Poet's Corner

As Shakespeare is described as ‘the father of modern English’ it is no surprise that he was chosen for this honour, although it did not take place until 125 years after he died. The memorial in Westminster Abbey was designed by William Kent, and includes a scroll with a quote written on it which is a variant on Prospero’s lines from The Tempest:

 

The Cloud capt Tow'rs,
The Gorgeous Palaces,
The Solemn Temples,
The Great Globe itself,
Yea all which it Inherit,
Shall Dissolve;
And like the baseless Fabrick of a Vision
Leave not a wreck behind.

 

It is interesting to think about how hard it must have been to select a quote for this part of the monument when Shakespeare had inspired so many well-known phrases. With Shakespeare on our minds, we would like to invite you to comment with suggestions of his great lines that you might have preferred to see on his memorial.

To find out more about Poet’s Corner you can purchase a book by James Wilkinson here.

To find out more about the events being organised for Shakespeare 400 you can click here.

To shop our range of Shakespeare themed products you can click here.