400th anniversary of the Shakespeare First Folio

As the First Folio goes on display at the London Guildhall, this essay studies the context of its publication via the Aldermanbury monument to Heminge and Condell.

Shakespeare Remembered1

Graham Holderness

My theme is memory […] for we possess nothing certainly except the past. – Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited

In the heart of the city lies a garden: hortus in urbe.2 Not far from the ruins of London’s ancient city walls; close to the Guildhall, former seat of London’s civic power; just round the corner from where Shakespeare used to lodge in Silver Street, a tiny space among the clutter of buildings marks out the site of the mediaeval church of St Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury. Only the ‘footprint’of the church remains. Some paved brick elevations, a bit of grass and a few trees, a couple of benches: just a pleasant spot for a tired city worker to sit for a while and drink his cappuccino. But the tiny garden is dominated by a granite memorial, dating from 1896, flanked about with inscribed bronze plaques, and surmounted by a bust of Shakespeare. Only indirectly, however, is it a memorial to Shakespeare, since it explicitly commemorates the lives of two men who dwelt in the parish, worshipped and officiated in the church, and are buried in the former churchyard: John Heminge and Henry Condell, editors of the First Folio.3

The monument, which was originally erected in the centre of the churchyard, was unveiled by the Lord Mayor of London on 15 July 1896, in a ceremony attended by the American Ambassador and Sir Henry Irving. The plinth is constructed of Aberdeen red granite, the plaques and the bust of bronze. The head of Shakespeare is modelled on the bust in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford, and the Droeshout engraving.4 Underneath the bust is a pale grey granite representation of an open book, which looks at first sight like that typical feature of a Victorian gravestone, the book recording the name of the deceased and inscribed with an epitaph. These granite pages however commemorate not some dear departed’s book of life, but an actual book, the 1623 First Folio. One page displays the Folio title, the other an edited extract from Heminge and Condell’s dedication to the earls of Pembroke and Montgomery:

We have but collected them, and done an office to the dead … without ambition either of selfe-profit, or fame; onely to keepe the memory of so worthy a Friend, & Fellow aliue, as was our S H A K E S P E A R E …


The full text in its original context reads:

We have but collected them, and done an office to the dead, to procure his Orphanes, Guardians; without ambition either of selfe-profit, or fame: onely to keepe the memory of so worthy a Friend, & Fellow alive, as was our S H A K E S P E A R E , by humble offer of his playes, to your most noble patronage.5

The abridged version on the monument deletes the patrons, and effaces the context of patronage. Nothing here is owing to the memories of the Earls of Pembroke and Montgomery. The edited quotation dwells rather on the disinterested and charitable work of the editors Heminge and Condell in collecting and publishing the plays, their conception of the First Folio as a memorial tribute, or even a funeral elegy (an ‘office to the dead’), and their intention of keeping Shakespeare’s name alive in the public memory. The bronze plaques on the four sides of the monument (numbered here 1 to 4, starting with the ‘front’of the monument and working clockwise round the plinth) thus commemorate the editors, along with the author, of the First Folio. Plaque 3 commemorates Heminge and Condell in the manner of a funeral monument, indicating that they and their families lived in the parish and are buried there.6 Plaque 2 presents an extract from their prefatory ‘Address to the Great Variety of Readers’. Beneath the stone Folio that clearly marks the ‘front’ of the monument, the primary commemorative page, Plaque 1, links Heminge and Condell together with Shakespeare:

To the memory of JOHN HEMINGE and 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.7 They alone collected his dramatic writings, regardless of pecuniary loss and without the hope of any profit, gave them to the world.


Plaque 4 however further commemorates Heminge and Condell as primarily responsible for the survival of Shakespeare’s work, the world indebted to them for ‘all that it calls Shakespeare’:

The fame of Shakespeare rests 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 manuscript, 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.

‘We remember Heminge and Condell’, wrote Laurie Maguire, ‘because they remembered Shakespeare’.8 The Aldermanbury monument states the absolute opposite: we would not remember Shakespeare if Heminge and Condell had not taken the trouble to remember him. ‘Though crowned by a bust of Shakespeare’, writes Philip Ward Jackson, ‘it is not he who is commemorated, but the men who gathered his opus together after his death and presented it to the world in the First Folio edition’.9 Without these facilitators, the work would have been lost forever. Culture is the bequest of the editor, rather than of the poet.

This position was fully developed in an associated book, privately published in 1896 by the man responsible for funding, commissioning, and designing the monument, Charles Clement Walker.10 Walker was a Midlands industrialist, manager of the ironworks at Donnington in Shropshire, a respected philanthropist who established reading rooms and baths for his workers, and an amateur enthusiast for Shakespeare. The Vestry Minutes of St Mary Aldermanbury for 31 July 1895 contain a transcript of Walker’s formal application to erect the monument at the church, and show that other sites had been considered, such as Blackfriars and Southwark ‘where Shakespeare’s works were first published’. But the parish of St Mary was considered more appropriate, since Heminge and Condell were buried there.

Walker explains that his motivation for installing the monument was a strong sense that Heminge and Condell were hidden in Shakespeare’s giant shadow, their names unknown to all but Shakespeare scholars. To commemorate them should have been a public duty, and the monument erected by public subscription, but since they remained unknown, he had to step in to correct this injustice:

Without doubt a memorial to these men should have been raised by public subscription, but wide inquiry showed that while Shakespearian scholars well knew their merits and how much mankind owe to them, their names

are almost unknown to the generality of readers; and of their merits, not one in a thousand of English-speaking men was conscious.11

This is not as it should be, since among public benefactors worthy of monuments

[…] 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. The most certain way to bring about this desirable result was to erect a monument to Heminge and Condell to be before the public eye.12

The monument then celebrates Shakespeare’s work, rather than Shakespeare himself. Walker had no doubts about the value of that work, and the importance of its preservation and transmission to posterity. He alludes to, but dismisses, the Shakespeare authorship controversy, at that time focused on Francis Bacon, on the grounds that the plays could only have been written by a man of the theatre.13 He concedes, on the other hand, that the genesis of the work from the life of ‘the Stratford man’ remains hard to explain. No mystery however surrounds the process via which the works were secured for posterity: ‘while we are unable fully to explain their production in such circumstances as developed Shakespeare, we have no such difficulty in showing to whom we are indebted for the preservation of his writings’.14 Shakespeare’s works are a ‘treasure’, produced, like precious minerals from the earth, by a process we cannot fully understand. But our access to that treasure depends absolutely on the good offices of the ‘treasure-keepers’, Heminge and Condell:

It is now nearly three centuries since the volume we call ‘Shakespeare’ appeared before the world. Age has not dimmed its brightness; Time has proved its pre-eminence. There is probably no other masterpiece of literature which in the circumstances of its evolution has had a more remarkable history; and for the possession of this treasure we are indebted to […] John Heminge and Henry Condell.15

The Aldermanbury monument is a strangely hybrid construction, with multiple and at first sight discontinuous commemorative functions. It looks like a tombstone, with its open volume and lapidary inscriptions, and functions as such in relation to Heminge

and Condell, who were both buried in the churchyard. Plaque 3 memorializes their names and other details from the parish records, in exactly the manner of a gravestone. On the other hand, the head that caps the monument is of course that of another, Shakespeare, whose name also appears on the plinth. In this dimension the monument looks more heroic than funereal, and the dark bronze bust, foreshortened as one looks up, frowns down at the viewer rather as does Karl Marx’s head in Highgate Cemetery. At this point the red granite column, with its rectangular bronze plaques bearing a pointed recollection of those not to be forgotten names, begins to look more like a war memorial. Red granite was used for some memorials set up in the 1850s in memory of the Crimean War,16 and the polished stone plinth, with its sequence of plaques around the column, became the standard form for the war memorials that were established in or adjoining most English churches after the First World War. Heminge and Condell belong to those who are ‘fallen’, not in war but in time, and are here piously and reverently commemorated, ‘lest we forget’. This dimension of the Aldermanbury monument is apposite, since the garden in which it stands is itself a war memorial. Site of a church from as early as the twelfth century (the garden preserves the bases of some mediaeval columns), St Mary’s was destroyed in the Great Fire, and was one of the fourteen churches that began construction in 1670 under the rebuilding programme of Christopher Wren.17 Wren’s church stood until engulfed in a second conflagration, Dr Goebbels’ ‘Second Great Fire of London’, the Blitz of 1940, when its roof was struck by an incendiary bomb and the building partially destroyed, only the walls left standing. On this occasion there was no Wren to undertake the rebuilding. In the aftermath of the war, British authorities assessed the destruction inflicted by enemy bombing and debated whether severely damaged buildings should be rebuilt, demolished, or preserved. Churches in particular, as homes for worshipping communities, seemed to call for reconstruction; but some were damaged beyond repair, or could be rebuilt only at substantial expense. The Ministry of Town and Country Planning held that churches should not be rebuilt unless they were of significant architectural merit, or not too badly damaged. St Mary’s however was a church designed by Wren, and the Bishop of London’s 1941 commission ruled that that ‘no Wren church, not already destroyed, nor damaged beyond the possibility of satisfactory restoration, should be removed, except in a case of most urgent necessity, and after all the schemes for entire or partial preservation

have been fully considered’.18

An alternative to rebuilding was to leave the bombed churches in their state of ruination, particularly in the City of London, as mute but eloquent testimonies to the violence that destroyed them. Such memorials would be at once beautiful, provocative of thought, and of practical use to City workers. Ruined buildings could function as ‘memory-bearing’ sites, housing or even becoming war memorials, testimonies to a violence and injustice that should not be forgotten. Architectural historian John Summerson argued that if a church was not needed as a place of worship, ‘why not let it remain as a shell, a witness – and a beautiful one – of the acts of these times as well as of its own’.19 The idea was floated in the Architectural Review in January 1944, and a letter appeared in the Times on 15 August of the same year, under the heading ‘Ruined City Churches’, and signed by leading cultural figures such as Kenneth Clark, Julian Huxley, Lord Keynes, David Cecil, architect H.S. Goodhart-Rendel, and T.S. Eliot. Churches that had been very severely damaged should not be either restored in an inappropriate pastiche of their former style, or replaced by an entirely new building, but be left as they stood: ‘preserved in their true condition, as permanent memorials of this war’. In a relatively short time, the proposers predicted, the City would be rebuilt, and no trace of the prime battlefield of the Home Front would remain.

The time will come […] when no trace of death from the air will be left in the streets of rebuilt London. At such a time the story of the Blitz may begin to seem unreal not only to visiting tourists but to a new generation of Londoners.

Whilst serving as sites of relaxation and meditation in the heart of the city, such churches would also fulfil the prime function of a memorial: ‘to remind posterity of the reality of the sacrifices upon which its apparent security has been built’.20

This position was fully developed in a booklet, Bombed Churches as War Memorials, published by the Architectural Press (1945).21 This built upon the Architectural Review piece, using many of the same illustrations, and reprinted as its frontispiece ‘Ruined City Churches’ from The Times. Introduced by Hugh Casson, it contained detailed proposals for Christ Church, Newgate, and other bombed churches in London. Casson’s essay bears the Shakespearean title, ‘Ruins for Remembrance’, and advocates preservation of the ruins as sanctuaries, open spaces, and war memorials. Even in ruins, churches can disclose ‘significance’, ‘nobility’ and ‘great beauty’.22

They are aloof, but have not lost contact with us, and with us they have undergone the physical trials of war, and bear its scars. But though they stand today upon what is still a battle-field, it will not always be so. It will be many years before all traces of war damage will have gone, and its strange beauty vanished from our streets. No longer will the evening sky be seen reflected in the water-pools which today lie dark and quiet between the torn and gaping walls. Soon a pock-marked parapet or a broken cornice will be to future generations the only signs of former shock and flame.23 The shabby heaps of stones, flowering with willow-herb as pink and lively as the flames which earlier sprouted from their crevices, will disappear, and with their going the ordeal through which we passed will seem remote, unreal, perhaps forgotten.

‘A church like St Mary’s’, Casson argued,

stands, even when in ruins, upon sacred ground. It is, even when scarred and broken, a piece of architecture, sometimes perhaps a masterpiece. Every stone – whether fallen or in place – is a fragment of the past, part of the pattern of history. To destroy all this just because it was in the way, or because on Sunday the pews were mostly empty, is surely indefensible, however many new churches are built elsewhere to take its place.24

St Mary’s remained in this condition, as an open-air ‘chapel of ease’ for prayer and meditation, for some twenty years.25 In the earlier consultations the Ministry of Town and Country Planning had suggested that some churches might be removed and relocated, freeing up inner-city space for redevelopment. In the case of St Mary’s Aldermanbury, this happened, some time later, with a vengeance. When Westminster College asked for a ruined church to be transported to Fulton, Missouri, to build a memorial to Sir Winston Churchill, the diocese of London gave them St Mary’s. The ruins of the church were in 1966 transported to America, and a simulacrum of Wren’s church rebuilt using the reclaimed bricks. In their history of the church Hauer and Young call it a ‘phoenix’ rising from the ashes of two major conflagrations.26

Back in London the empty ‘footprint’ of the church became the Aldermanbury garden, which preserves only a few stumps of fifteenth-century columns left after the Great Fire, and the Aldermanbury monument to Heminge and Condell. The longer history of the church and its double destruction is memorialized in a slate tablet installed by Westminster College. ‘Aldermanbury Gardens’ is thus a site of commemoration on a number of different levels. It recalls a mediaeval church destroyed by fire and a

Restoration reconstruction ruined by another flame. It is a memorial to the Second World War and the massive violence and suffering inflicted on the civilian population of Britain by enemy bombing. And it is a garden of remembrance for Shakespeare, his editors, and their joint publication the First Folio.27 Thus it combines the functions of heritage site, war memorial, cemetery, and library, all in one.

Do these separate functions really hang together? To some extent the various features of the garden seem to cohere only accidentally, a random collection of contingent objects and traces that happen to have found themselves in the same place. The mediaeval columns are, literally and metaphorically, broken off from their history. Wren’s church has been given away. Few people using the gardens would be aware that it was once a ‘Ground Zero’ marking a past atrocity. And the statue of Shakespeare now seems oddly out of place, as if it would have been better located in Southwark, where the reconstructed Globe now stands, or in the theatre district of the West End, like the statue of Shakespeare in Leicester Square. Walker claimed that it was the only public bust of Shakespeare to be erected inside the City of London, and this may well still be the case.28 The City certainly didn’t want Shakespeare’s theatre when it was active and alive, so there seems no good reason why it should want to remember him dead.

In another sense the monument is less about the author and his editors as it is about the book, the First Folio. The material presence of the book itself gives form to the structure.29

The book is there, openly displayed for the observer to read. It is there in the bronze plaques that resemble pages, one of them duplicating an actual page from the Folio. It is there in the monument’s commemoration of the men responsible for its publication. Like an empty tomb that encloses only the memory of its incumbent, the monument inscribes the presence of the departed in literary form, combining the memorial capacities of sepulchre and book. John Weever’s definition of a monument recognized the parallel capacities of monument and book to act as memorials:

A Monument is a thing erected, made, or written, for a memorial of some remarkable action, fit to be transferred to future posterities […]. Now aboue all remembrances (by which men haue endeuoured, euen in despight of death to giue vnto their Fames eternitie) for worthinesse and continuance, bookes, or writings, haue euer had the preheminence …30

This process of mementifying the book as proxy for the author’s fame is clearly operating at several removes, since the First Folio was itself so pointedly a memorial tribute to the author Shakespeare. The dedication is defined as ‘an office to the dead’, and throughout it echoes the language of the burial service: ‘we most humbly consecrate to your H. H. these remaines of your servant Shakespeare …’ The address ‘To the Great Variety of Readers’ makes it clear that the editors saw themselves as executors to a will, undertaking on behalf of the deceased the tasks he himself was prevented by death from fulfilling. The gathering of the works on behalf of the author announces his constitutive absence from the process, and renders the act of publication a posthumous service of commemoration. Heminge and Condell then extend this figure to suggest that in collecting the works the editors are in one sense reconstructing the author ‘by death departed’, piecing back together the fragments dispersed by time and corruption. Here the plays are presented ‘cur’d and perfect of their limbs’, as if in the process the body of the author is being restored, even resurrected.

It had bene a thing, we confesse, worthie to have bene wished, that the Author himself had liv’d to have set forth, and overseen 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 & publish’d them; and so to have publish’d them, as where (before) you were abus’d with diverse stolne, and surreptitious copies, maimed, and deformed by the frauds and stealthes of injurious impostors, that expos’d them : even those, are now offer’d to your view cur’d, and perfect of their limbes; and all the rest, absolute in their numbers, as he conceived the[m].

As Laurie Maguire puts it, deploying the pun that supplies my title, the editors ‘not only remember Shakespeare, they literally re-member him’, using a ‘language of embalmment’, and an ‘anthropomorphising vocabulary’ in which plays are conceived, maimed, deformed, cured, and furnished with limbs.31 The Folio, says Maguire ‘is both a relic of the deceased and a memorial to him’.32 She quotes John Weever’s more literal definition of a funeral monument as ‘a receptacle or sepulchre, purposely made, erected, or built, to receiue a dead corps, and to preserue the same from violation’.33 The Folio was designed to contain the corpus of the author’s writings, both to retain memory of them and to preserve them from violation (i.e. textual corruption, piracy etc.).

Thus the Aldermanbury monument is a duplication of the literary monument that is the First Folio. Since it honours Heminge and Condell rather than Shakespeare, it appears to commemorate the editorial construct rather than the eternally living author; in its lapidary form it memorializes the book above the lives of those who contributed to its publication. What the world owes to Heminge and Condell is not ‘Shakespeare’, but ‘all that it calls Shakespeare’, a culturally constructed artefact that inevitably seems detached from the originating author. But this detachment had already of course been effected in the paratextual matter of the First Folio itself, where Shakespeare the author is clearly absented from the scene of production, and the plays ritually called together in order to construct a new author-function that replaces the dead author. The monument completes this process of uncoupling Shakespeare the author from Shakespeare the man.

Hence this literary monument to the First Folio belongs in the garden which was a churchyard, where it commemorates the buried editors who worshipped at the vanished mediaeval church. Or to put it another way, the Aldermanbury monument is a petrified duplication of the bibliographical monument that is the Folio. But does it have any but a coincidental connection with the subsequently acquired significance of the garden as a war memorial? We need first to establish what kind of war memorial this is. The garden remembers the Second World War from a particular perspective, one that is quite different, as the signatories to ‘Ruined City Churches’ observed, from the ubiquitous cenotaphs that remembered the fallen of the First World War. The latter list primarily the names of those killed in action, and are imbrued with the heroic and elegiac culture we see re-enacted on each annual Remembrance Day, encapsulated in the continuing use in inscriptions and church liturgies of Laurence Binyon’s ‘For the Fallen’.34 The Aldermanbury garden remembers the war on the Home Front, ‘the Blitz’, the war of Hitler’s strategic bombing campaign that devastated London and other British cities in 1940–1941. St Mary’s was struck by an incendiary bomb on the night of 30 December 1940. This is how The Times reported the devastation begun on the 29 December, when St Paul’s was hit:35

Fire Bombs Rained On London

Waves of enemy aircraft attacked London for some hours last night, raining hundreds of incendiary bombs indiscriminately over a wide area of the capital and its outskirts. The enemy appeared to be concentrating on setting fire to as many buildings as possible.

The next night, 30 December, St Mary’s was one of eight Wren churches damaged or destroyed.36 Noel Mander, a soldier on leave, watched St Mary’s collapse:

I saw that night St Mary, Aldermanbury; St Vedast-alias-Foster, my own church – I saw them all burn, and it was a sensation that I will never forget – hearing the bells fall down the tower, hearing the organ burn, because the hot air blowing through the organ pipes almost sounded as if the poor old organs were shrieking in agony at their destruction.37

The emphasis in the press reports is on the cruelty of the attacks, the intensity of the suffering inflicted, the heroism of firefighters and other Home Front defenders, and the refusal of the British people to accept defeat. As Prime Minister Churchill inspected the ruins on the following day, according to The Times, people sang snatches of the old First World War song ‘Tipperary’: ‘Are we downhearted? No!’ This music-hall insouciance of the blitzed population has been questioned, condemned as mere propaganda, and even ridiculed.38 But though the public emotion may not have been as ‘resolutely cheerful’ as The Times insisted, it was certainly one of heroic endurance and stubborn determination. Churchill’s speech of September 1940, cited in the same Times article, genuinely captured and set the tone of the nation:39

These cruel, wanton, indiscriminate bombings of London are, of course, a part of Hitler’s invasion plan. He hopes, by killing large numbers of civilians, and women and children that he will terrorize and cow the people of this Mighty Imperial city […]. Little does he know the spirit of the British nation, or the tough fibre of the Londoners whose forebears played a leading part in the establishment of Parliamentary institutions and who have been bred to value freedom far above their lives […]. What he has done is to kindle a fire in British hearts, here and all over the world, which will glow long after all traces of the conflagrations he has caused in London have been removed. He has lighted a fire which will burn with a steady and consuming flame until the last vestiges of Nazi tyranny have been burnt out of Europe, and until the Old World and the New can join hands to rebuild the temples of man’s freedom and man’s honour on foundations which will not soon or easily be overthrown.

Churchill went on to pay tribute to the men and women working for the nation’s defences, air-raid wardens and firefighters, those whose exemplary fortitude and courage constituted a form of domestic heroism:

I express my admiration for the exemplary manner in which all the air-raid precaution services in London are being discharged, especially the fire brigades, whose work has been so heavy and also dangerous.

These were the unsung heroes celebrated by T.S. Eliot, Kensington air-raid warden, in his ‘Defence of the Islands’: those ‘for whom the paths of glory are / The lanes and the streets of Britain’.40 The British people, Churchill says, are ‘a people who will not flinch or weary of the struggle, hard and protracted though it will be’, but will ‘rather draw from the heart of suffering itself the means of inspiration and survival, and of a victory won not only for ourselves, but for all – a victory won not only for our own times, but for the long and better days that are to come’.

As a war memorial, the Aldermanbury garden does not commemorate the heroism and sacrifice of the front line, as did the cenotaphs of the First World War. In this war, wrote the signatories of the 12 August 1944 letter to The Times, ‘conditions have been different. England itself has been in the battle and London is still in it’. The garden remembers not those warriors who fell on far-off battlefields, but rather the little people, the men, women, and children, the young and old and unborn, who endured the war on the Home Front. Those who, night after ‘interminable night’,41 suffered violence from the air, and day after day crawled out of the shelters or the ruins to begin life all over again; or were taken out dead from the rubble; or were never seen again, and remained to rest in unvisited tombs. And here we can identify the deeper congruence that links the meaning of the gardens, and the meaning of the statue that was erected some seventy years before the Blitz, and almost exactly a century before the church’s westward migration. For through the Aldermanbury monument, Heminge and Condell are commemorated precisely as such heroes of the people, ordinary men whose virtuous actions secured for them an extraordinary destiny. They were only ancillary participants in the gestation of the theatrical work that became the Folio, but without their disinterested and charitable intervention, there would have been no Folio: nothing for the world to call Shakespeare. In the same way the victims of the Blitz were passive sufferers, on the receiving end of military action, and yet essential contributors to the ultimate victory over fascism.

In his treatise Charles Clement Walker provides a brief biographical sketch of Shakespeare, following the narrative of Rowe’s biography. He clearly had no problem accepting Shakespeare’s humble origins as the son of a tradesman, possibly a

butcher, and his lack of formal education. As a philanthropic Victorian industrialist Walker was only too happy to think of Shakespeare emerging from such an underprivileged background, and bearing with him to London a promising package of Victorian values. Shakespeare had both ability and ‘industry’, but also virtues of temperance and steadiness that rendered him a more reliable asset to the theatre than the typically dissolute university men who wrote for it. Shakespeare, says Walker, probably began to make his way as a writer since he was always there to patch up scripts while the wits were recovering from their debaucheries. As a craftsman, actor, and writer, Shakespeare was concerned only with professional success, and cared nothing about the preservation of his work. If the survival of the works had depended on him, then all would have been lost, either through careless dispersion, or in some such disaster as the burning of the Globe.

There could hardly be anything more hopeless when the earth closed on Shakespeare’s grave than the expectation that any more would be heard of his unprinted plays, beyond the applause that they might be greeted with when produced at the Globe Theatre, whose property almost, if not entirely they were; for there were numerous other dramas which were played to suit the public taste for novelty and change, and there is no evidence that his plays would have had any other fate than those dramas, of which most have passed away, forgotten or perished.42

Fortunately for posterity, however, the works were rescued from the flames and preserved by men who were neither dissolute university wits, nor insouciant bohemian artists, but solid and public-spirited citizens.43 The works were salvaged from that moral and literal conflagration, conveyed across the river, securely deposited inside the City, and used to prepare the First Folio for publication. Heminge and Condell displayed themselves through this undertaking to be honest and ingenuous men, modest and unassuming in their approach, industrious and careful in their procedures. Their motivation was purely charitable, since they looked for no profit from the undertaking, and undertook the work purely out of friendship, concern for the public interest, and respect for the memory of their late friend and colleague.

Although the monument was erected to remember Heminge and Condell, and their indispensible contribution to the preservation of ‘all that we call Shakespeare’, their lives are relatively anonymized rather than foregrounded. No attempt was made to represent them, since there are no surviving physical likenesses to reproduce, and it is

Shakespeare’s effigy that commands the structure. Although the monument was designed to install Heminge and Condell into the public memory, they are paradoxically huddled back under Shakespeare’s shadow. All three men are in another sense absorbed into the monument that is the book; but the book remains synonymous in the public mind with the name ‘Shakespeare’. In commemorating Heminge and Condell, Walker was trying to do what Thomas Hardy attempted at around the same time in Jude the Obscure (1895) for ‘the struggling men and women’ of the working class, those who were ‘the reality of Christminster, though they knew little of Christ or Minster’. In this ‘palpitating, varied, and compendious […] book of humanity’ that is the common people, Jude recognizes himself:

He saw that his destiny lay not with these, but among the manual toilers in the shabby purlieu which he himself occupied, unrecognized as part of the city at all by its visitors and panegyrists, yet without whose denizens the hard readers could not read nor the high thinkers live.44

In the end it is of course the name of Christminster that is remembered, but Hardy at least sought to reveal some of its hidden histories. As a war memorial, Aldermanbury Gardens remembers the past in a similar way, from the perspective of the disappeared. History is written here not from the vantage point of the victors, but on behalf of the defeated, the vanished who were buried under the rubble, many of whom share with Heminge and Condell the communal graveyard of blitzed London.45 Their bodies were dispersed and scattered, their names lost and forgotten. But they are there, buried ‘deep with the first dead’, to be mourned and ‘re- membered’ in this quiet and unassuming spot.46 Their traces remain in the air, fittingly housed by the memory of the church that is also gone, but not forgotten.

Jennifer Wallace wrote of another ‘blitz’, 11 September 2001, as an event that challenged the capacities of memory. She describes two ‘public projects for retrieving and mourning the dead’ from the World Trade Centre:47

One was the grim excavation of the rubble at Ground Zero and the search for traces of the 2,823 people who died there. The other was the daily publication in the New York Times of a brief biography of each victim, a 200–word profile accompanied by a photograph which soon became well known collectively as the ‘Portraits of Grief’.

The portraits are themselves ‘powerful works of tragedy bringing a human dimension to an inhuman disaster’, and ‘giving shape to the disaster by transforming ordinary lives into significant narratives’. Wallace then compares the search for traces of the 2,823 people who died with examples from classical tragedy: the literal and figurative disintegration of the body, and the human effort to reassemble or reconstruct, to re-member what has been dispersed and fragmented, to be found in The Bacchae and Hamlet. The archaeological excavation of Ground Zero was a search for certainty in the recovery of remains, a work of mourning like Agave’s desire to have the limbs of her dismembered son ‘joined decently together’; or like Hamlet’s mission to ‘set […] right’ a disjointed time.

As the excavation progressed, it became increasingly obvious that nowhere near all the victims would be accounted for. Wallace quotes a firefighter, faced with a dwindling pile of rubble and a list of 1,800 people still untraced: ‘You’ve got a great number of people that you want to find, and you’ve got a certain amount of dirt that’s left. And there’s a gap. That gap is going to be a sorrowful one’. The ‘gap’ is literally, as Wallace observes, between ‘statistics and physical dust’. But as a ‘gap’ of sorrow, it also represents the space of tragedy, the lacuna between hope and despair, between ‘consolation and disillusion’. Such gaps are the enduring legacy of unnatural disasters like the Blitz, or 9/11, or the 7 July bombings in London. But gaps to be bridged, as Wallace observes, holes to be filled with memory and mourning, spaces in which to ‘write stories.’

Aldermanbury gardens is also one of history’s holes, a gap from which life and matter have been evacuated, leaving an empty space free for the exercising of memory. The Aldermanbury monument remembers Shakespeare not as a great individual genius, but as a pluralistic body consisting of many members. ‘For the body’, as St Paul observed, ‘is not one member, but many’ (1 Corinthians 12.14). Prominent among the associated members who are part of the body of Shakespeare are Heminge and Condell. Here, in this garden, they are appropriately remembered, their reputations fittingly restored, for as Paul says, ‘those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour’ (1 Corinthians 12.23). The monument invites a Eucharistic commemoration, in which every member is a part of the whole: ‘though we are many, we are one body’. On the site of the old church, the elusive traces of those disjecta membra that were our forebears are also brought together in the same kind of loving remembrance, ‘folded in a single party’.48

This double function of memory as reconstruction and recuperation is firmly embedded inside the First Folio. One of the commendatory poems affixed to the 1632 Folio edition of Mr William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories and Tragedies, under the superscription ‘I.M.S.’ depicts the dramatist’s mind as a mirror that can bring an image of the past into immediate visibility:49

A mind reflecting ages past, whose clear And equal surface can make things appear Distant a thousand years, and represent

Them in their lively colours’just extent … (ll. 1–4).

The mirror of Shakespeare’s mind makes available, to present vision, images of a remote past, causes things that are ‘distant a thousand years’ to appear. But it also simulates a past reality by using a contemporary performative medium, makes present things appear to be distant a thousand years. To represent, and to re-present; to familiarize and to estrange. Shakespeare’s imagination could make things from a thousand years ago appear, but he could do so only by making his stage and his actors take on the convincing appearance of a thousand-year-old reality.

The poem thus grasps the two-way process of commemoration, in which the past has to be made to be re-made, its reconstruction being also its initial construction. At the same time the ‘things’ recollected from the past clearly retain their own integrity, or there would be no sense in which they could be misrepresented. The past was alive, is now dead, but can be revived by the power of memory. We do not simply make up the past as we go along. But where is it? Confronted with the elegist’s question, ubi sunt?, we can only reply, Hic et ubique. Here, there, and everywhere. Not a trace remains on this spot of Wren’s church of St Mary Aldermanbury. Yet the garden remembers it.

Old stone to new building, old timber to new fires, Old fires to ashes, and ashes to the earth …50

Of the Blitz the garden formally commemorates, nothing beside remains. But the space is full of memory, and as Evelyn Waugh observed, ‘we possess nothing certainly except the past’.51 Chemical scientists speak of inanimate substances such as water having a ‘memory’. Experiments show that ‘much diluted solutions appear to behave as though they contain absent solutes that had once been

present’.52 These observations seem to confute the fact that the hydrogen bonds holding molecules of water together break so easily and rapidly. Yet as Martin Chaplin indicates, ‘the behaviour of a large population of water molecules may be retained even if that of individual molecules is constantly changing. Such behaviour is easy to observe: a sea wave may cross an ocean, remaining a wave and with dependence on its history, but its molecular content is continuously changing’.53 A church like St Mary’s, observed Hugh Casson, stands, ‘even when in ruins, upon sacred ground’. The sanctity conferred by the consecration of a building somehow survives that building’s destruction.54 But whence does such ‘sacredness’ derive? What the memory of the ruined church remembers is not merely an ecclesiastical ritual, but the suffering of a people. The churches have, in Casson’s words, ‘undergone the physical trials of war, and bear its scars’. This is the place’s memory, and it is in this sense that ‘every stone and fragment of the past is part of the pattern of history’.55

Walker presented Heminge and Condell as emblems of self- sacrifice, businessmen who yet undertook their work ‘without the hope of profit’, motivated by ‘disinterested affection’, unselfish love and ‘unaffected modesty’.56 The memory of the Blitz also recalls sacrifice, and the use of a commemorative monument would be ‘to remind posterity of the reality of the sacrifices upon which its apparent security has been built’.57 The British people, Churchill affirmed, would never admit defeat, but would ‘rather draw from the heart of suffering itself the means of inspiration and survival’. The loss of individual prestige or personal fame entailed in publishing a great writer’s book, or in assisting anonymously in a great humanitarian war effort, represent parallel forms of the self-sacrifice theologically defined as kenosis, the voluntary emptying of the self into a greater purpose.

In Dante’s Purgatorio the spirit of Arnaut Daniel begs Dante to remember him, and pray for him, in order to help assuage his suffering, ‘Tempra ma dolour’. Then he turns to embrace the purgatorial flame, and is lost in the refining fire: ‘Poi s’ascose nel foco che gli affina.

The story of Aldermanbury Gardens is a story of fire. Beginning with the destruction of the mediaeval church of St Mary the Virgin in the Great Fire of London, to the conflagration that ruined Wren’s church in 1940, the site has endured ordeal after ordeal, ‘consumed by either fire or fire’.58 Wren’s church was a phoenix that twice rose from the ashes, unfurled its wings, and flew away westwards. The

First Folio commemorated by the Aldermanbury monument was perhaps, if Shakespeare’s manuscripts did (as some have thought) perish in the fire that destroyed the Globe theatre, another phoenix resurrection, keeping alive the eternal flame of Shakespeare’s genius. ‘Age has not dimmed its brightness’, wrote Charles Clement Walker. The garden remembers the incendiary violence of war, but also that fire of patriotic pride identified (convincingly at that point in history) by Churchill with the great cause of humanity:

What [Hitler] has done is to kindle a fire in British hearts, here and all over the world, which will glow long after all traces of the conflagrations he has caused in London have been removed. He has lighted a fire which will burn with a steady and consuming flame until the last vestiges of Nazi tyranny have been burnt out of Europe, and until the Old World and the New can join hands to rebuild the temples of man’s freedom and man’s honour on foundations which will not soon or easily be overthrown.

Churchill’s rhetoric echoes Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, and the words Latimer is said to have spoken to Ridley before he was enveloped by the flames: ‘Be of good cheer, Ridley; and play the man. We shall this day, by God’s grace, light up such a candle in England, as I trust, will never be put out’. Thus the pyrotechnic devastation of London is redefined as creative sacrifice by reference back to the ‘intolerable shirt of flame’ worn by the Protestant martyrs.59

Amidst the ruins of London’s churches, in the aftermath of the Blitz, Hugh Casson saw the efflorescence of new vegetable growth replacing, but also replicating, the fires that had recently devoured them: ‘among the shabby heaps of stones, flowering with willow- herb as pink and lively as the flames which earlier sprouted from their crevices’. Air-raid warden T.S. Eliot saw the same persistent synthesis of suffering and creativity, the same ubiquitous merging of flower with flame:

When the tongues of flame are in-folded Into the crowned knot of fire

And the fire and the rose are one.60

Like the church at Little Gidding, Aldermanbury Garden is another place where it is possible to find ‘the intersection of the timeless moment’; England and nowhere; never and always.61 A place where silent voices can be heard. A place where the dead can, at last, have their say.

And what the dead had no speech for, when living, They can tell you, being dead: the communication

Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.62


  1. This empirical study builds on previous critical and theoretical work I have undertaken concerning history, memory, and mourning. See especially Shakespeare: The Histories (London: Macmillan, 2000); Textual Shakespeare: Writing and the Word (Hatfield: University of Hertfordshire Press, 2003); ‘Vanishing Point: Looking for Hamlet’, Shakespeare 1:2 (December 2005), 154–73; ‘“Mots d’escalier”: Clio, Orpheus, Eurydice’, in Shakespeare’s Histories and Counter-Histories, ed. Stuart Hampton-Reeves, Dermot Cavanagh, and Steve Longstaffe (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2006), 219–40; and ‘“I covet your skull”: Desire and Death in Hamlet’, Shakespeare Survey 60 (2007), 223–36. I have left implicit the obvious parallels, especially in terms of reconstruction debates, between the Blitz of 1940 and 9/11; but for the latter see my ‘Shakespeare and Terror’, in Shakespeare Yearbook: Shakespeare after 9/11, ed. Matthew Biberman, Julia Reinhardt Lupton, and Graham Holderness (Lewiston, Queenston, and Lampeter: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2010). I am grateful to my wife Marilyn Holderness for finding Aldermanbury gardens, and for help with ‘the memory of water’.
  2. A garden in the city.
  3. It has of course been argued that they did not act as editors. See John Dover Wilson, ‘The Task of Heminge and Condell’, in Studies in the First Folio (London: Oxford University Press, 1924), 54–55. Doubt has also been cast on their authorship of the dedication and address ‘To the Great Variety of Readers’. The monument is a tribute to practical men, commemorating what they did, rather than what they said, and my arguments do not depend on any assumptions about their literary or scholarly capacities.
  4. Philip Ward Jackson describes the bust as ‘a painstaking attempt to amalgamate the two portraits of Shakespeare which were supposed to possess a flawless pedigree’. See Public Sculpture of the City of London (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2003), 2.
  5. ‘To the Most Noble and Incomparable Paire of Brethren’, in Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories & Tragedies: A Facsimile of the First Folio 1623 (London: Routledge, 1998).
  6. Heminge and Condell both served as ‘sidesmen’ in the church. Charles Connell in They Gave Us Shakespeare: John Heminge and Henry Condell (Stocksfield: Oriel Press, 1982) incorrectly describes them as ‘churchwardens’. In the Anglican church sidespeople report to churchwardens.
  7. The same qualifying assertion is to be found in Connell’s They Gave Us Shakespeare, which begins with a survey of the Aldermanbury monument, and recuperates Walker’s tone and line of argument: ‘without their devotion, assiduity and indefatigable efforts, the world would have been poorer by what is generally referred to as the Shakespeare canon’ (2). See also Christian E. Hauer, Jr., and William A. Young, A Comprehensive History of the London Church and Parish of St Mary, the Virgin, Aldermanbury: The Phoenix of Aldermanbury (Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 1994): ‘their contribution to the preservation of his works cannot be overestimated’ (80).
  • Laurie E. Maguire, ‘Composition/Decomposition: Singular Shakespeare and the Death of the Author’, in The Renaissance Text: Theory, Editing, Textuality, ed. Andrew Murphy (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000), 135–53 (p. 139).
  • Jackson, Public Sculpture, 2.
  • Charles Clement Walker, John Heminge and Henry Condell, Friends and Fellow- actors of Shakespeare, and What the World Owes to Them (London: privately printed, 1896).
  • Walker, John Heminge and Henry Condell, 3.
  • Walker, John Heminge and Henry Condell, 4.
  • Henry Irving placed the same emphasis in the speech he delivered at the unveiling. In October of the same year, laying the foundation stone of the Dulwich Public Library, Irving had eulogized Edward Alleyn as a fellow ‘player’; and in his speech at the unveiling in Aldermanbury of a monument to Heminge and Condell, he had taken the same tone: ‘these two players who lived in affectionate friendship to another player, William Shakespeare’. Austin Brereton, The Life of Henry Irving (London: Longman, Green, 1908), 2:254.
  • Walker, John Heminge and Henry Condell, 6.
  • Walker, John Heminge and Henry Condell, 5–6.
  • An example is the red granite obelisk in the grounds of St Philip’s Cathedral in Birmingham.
  • Eric de Mare, Wren’s London (London: Folio Society, 1975), 87.
  • Quoted in Peter J. Larkham and Joe Nasr, ‘Bombed Churches as Memorials and Mementoes: Physical Traces in the Urban Landscape’, 12–13. Available at www.lhds.bcu.ac.uk/…/Birmingham_churches_conference_paper_spoken_2.doc [Accessed 2

February 2010].

  1. Quoted Larkham and Nasr, ‘Bombed Churches’, 6.
  2. The Times, 15 August 1944.
  3. Bombed Churches as War Memorials (Cheam: Architectural Press, 1945). A reprint of the August 1944 letter to The Times forms the frontispiece.
  4. Bombed Churches as War Memorials, 21.
  5. Cf. T.S. Eliot: ‘Water and fire shall rot / The marred foundations we forgot / Of sanctuary and choir’. ‘Little Gidding’, Collected Poems, (London: Faber and Faber, 1963), 216.
  6. Bombed Churches as War Memorials, 11–12.
  7. Hauer and Young, Phoenix of Aldermanbury, 359.
  8. The Doha Players Theatre, destroyed by a suicide-bomber, is planned to re-appear as the ‘Phoenix Theatre’ of Qatar. See Graham Holderness and Bryan Loughrey, ‘“Rudely Interrupted”: Shakespeare and Terrorism’, Critical Survey 19:3 (2007), 107–23.
  9. A management consultancy company offering ‘strategic counsel’ and investment advice goes by the name of ‘Heminge and Condell’, though the names of the partners are Wilkinson and Eidinow. The company name invokes the historic Heminge and Condell partnership as a model of constructive facilitation.
  10. ‘It may be noted that this is the only public bust of Shakespeare in the City of London’ (Walker, John Heminge and Henry Condell, 26). One of the residential blocks in the Barbican is called ‘Shakespeare Tower’ (see my Shakespeare Myth [Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1988], ‘Introduction’).
  11. The illustration in Walker’s pamphlet (facing p. 25) enhances this effect by showing the Folio enlarged and re-scaled relative to the monument.
  • John Weever, Ancient Funeral Monuments (London, 1631), B1r.
  • Maguire, ‘Composition/Decomposition’, 142.
  • Maguire, 139.
  • Maguire, 138.
  • Walker’s phrase ‘Age has not dimmed its brightness’ echoes Shakespeare’s Cleopatra (‘Age cannot wither her’) and anticipates Binyon’s now famous ‘Age shall not weary them’ from ‘For the Fallen’.
  • The Times, 30 December 1940, p. 1
  • Hauer and Young state that the church was hit on 29 December, but the Times

reports appear to indicate that it was on the following night. Phoenix of Aldermanbury (353).

  • Quoted in Hauer and Young, Phoenix of Aldermanbury, 354–55.
  • Especially in Angus Calder’s The Myth of the Blitz (London: Jonathan Cape, 1990).
  • Quoted in The Times, 12 September 1940, p. 1.
  • ‘Defence of the Islands’, Collected Poems.
  • T.S. Eliot, ‘Little Gidding’, Collected Poems, 220.
  • Walker, John Heminge and Henry Condell, 13.
  • A grocer and a publican, as they are sometimes scathingly described.
  • Thomas Hardy, Jude the Obscure (London: Penguin, 1995), 118.
  • ‘Ruined City Churches’ calls for ‘a memorial to the thousands of Londoners who died in the Blitz for whom those walls of calcined stone were once not monuments, but tombs’.
  • Dylan Thomas, ‘A Refusal to Mourn the Death by Fire of a Child in London’,

Deaths and Entrances (London: J. M. Dent, 1946), 8.

  • Jennifer Wallace, ‘Tragedy grapples with gap between human meaningfulness and despair’, Times Higher Education Supplement, 6 September 2002, p. 16. Later expanded as ‘“We Can’t Make More Dirt …”: Tragedy and the Excavated Body’, Cambridge Quarterly 32:2 (2003), 103–11.
  • Eliot, ‘Little Gidding’, Collected Poems, 220.
  • ‘I.M.S.’, ‘On Worthy Master Shakespeare and his Poems’ (1632), in William Shakespeare: The Complete Works, ed. Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), xli.
  • Eliot, ‘East Coker’, Collected Poems, 196.
  • Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited (London: Penguin, 1945), 203.
  • Martin F. Chaplin, ‘The Memory of Water: An Overview’, Homeopathy 96:3 (July 2007), 143.
  • Martin F. Chaplin, ‘The Memory of Water’, 144. See also my ‘“Dressing Old Words New”: Shakespeare, Science, and Appropriation’, Borrowers and Lenders: The Journal of Shakespeare and Appropriation 1:2 (Fall/Winter, 2006).
  • For the difficult relationship between place and the sacred see my ‘Rome, Multiversal City: The Material and the Immaterial in Religious Tourism’, Cross Currents 59:3 (Autumn 2009) (New York: Wiley Blackwell), 342–48; and ‘“The undiscovered country”: Philip Pullman and the “Land of the Dead”’, Literature and Theology 21:3 (September 2007), 276–92.
  • ‘History is a pattern / Of timeless moments’. See ‘Little Gidding’, Collected Poems, 222.
  • Walker, John Heminge and Henry Condell, 4.
  • The Times, 15 August 1944.
  • Eliot, ‘Little Gidding’, Collected Poems, 221.
  • Eliot, ‘Little Gidding’, Collected Poems, 221.
  • Eliot, ‘Little Gidding’, Collected Poems, 223.
  • Eliot, ‘Little Gidding’, Collected Poems, 215.
  • Eliot, ‘Little Gidding’, Collected Poems, 215.

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