Shakespeare Place

At Shakespeare Place, a statue of the Bard of Avon sits enthroned above all, as if he could watch the myriad traffic going past.  He is posed with a parchment and the feather pen, with which he made his eternal fame.  Below him stand representations of his characters: Romeo and Juliet in eternal embrace, Othello, Falstaff, and the fair Portia, our learned friend who was the wrong gender for her time.

This sculpture was the brainchild of Henry Gullett, the president of the Shakespeare Society (Monument Australia). He commissioned Sir Edgar Bertram Mackennal, ‘the most successful Australian artist of his time’ (City Art Sydney) to construct it. Mr Gullett died of heart failure on 4 August 1914 (Monument Australia), but his daughters urged for the project to continue through the Great War years. The final inscription reads: ‘Shakespeare {1564-1616} presented to the City of Sydney by Henry Gullett, August 1914’ (City Art Sydney).

The marble pediment was shipped from Italy in 1924, and it was accompanied by the five bronze figures, cast in England (City Art Sydney). The monument was completed in February 1926, and the annual celebration was held there on 23 April 1926 (Monument Australia), 310 years after the playwright’s death. At that stage, it was, per the Sydney Morning Herald ‘in the circular sweep between the Garden Palace Grounds and the Mitchell Library, at the hilltop where the long Figtree avenue descends to Woolloomooloo’ (City Art Sydney).

Shakespeare’s statue was moved to the present location in 1959, after the construction of the Cahill Expressway (Monument Australia). This may be one reason why this monument is underappreciated today. Vehicles rush past, ignorant, and only brave pedestrians will risk their necks to admire it.

This is a shame really, if not exactly a tragedy that he would have written. Shakespeare would not have understood what a horseless carriage was; just as Richard III, the king that he vilified, would not have known what a carpark was, where his body was found.

This is quite different to:
‘The weary sun hath made a gold set
And by the bright tract of his fiery car
Gives token of a goodly day tomorrow’
(Shakespeare 785)

This word is an abbreviation of carriage, which may refer to the deportment of a person, as well the sun. Perhaps Renaissance people referred to their horse-drawn carriages as “cars”.

Nowadays, people would hopefully only bet a few dollars, not put their kingdom on a horse, even on Melbourne Cup day. At any sign of engine trouble, they would be more likely to exclaim:
A motor! A motor! My kingdom for a working motor!

Perhaps the location of the Shakespeare Place statue makes it more exclusive. Only those who know it is there can make pilgrimages of appreciation to their literary hero.

I know how many times I have walked across the lights at the intersection of Macquarie Street and Shakespeare Place, oblivious to what was there. I would walk on; to the Botanic Gardens, Circular Quay, or wherever I was going, not thinking about exactly why it might be named that.

In fact, I spent more time with the statue of Robbie Burns, up near the Art Gallery. I’m not going to involve myself in arguments about who was the better poet, out of Shakespeare and the Scotsman, merely that his statue is more accessible without risking your neck. Also, both are easier to understand when the Norton anthologies decipher their words.

This has all changed.

Now that I know where it is, I intend to visit Shakespeare’s statue again, as much as those classical statues in the Gardens, at least. One humble writer paying homage to the master. Just make sure you do as your mother said, and look before you cross the street there.

I loved the Shakespeare Room; with its retro Tudor décor, the fancy ceiling, heraldic roses, coats of arms, and shelves of all the books written about him. I feel privileged to have seen a First Folio, because that will probably be a one-off. Unlike the statue, which is there for all people in the know to view, again and again.

 

 

WORKS CITED

Glenop.  Sydney’s 20 Most Impressive Statues.  10 July 2012. http://www.weekendnotes.com/sydneys-most-impressive-statues/

“William Shakespeare”.  Monument Australia.  2017. http://monumentaustralia.org.au/themes/people/foreigners/display/23327-william-shakespeare

“Shakespeare Memorial”.  City Art.  2017

http://www.cityartsydney.com.au/artwork/shakespeare-memorial/

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