Poets’ Corner

So Pam asked me yesterday if Westminster Abbey was haunted.  As far as I know, we only have one instance of a ghostly manifestation and that’s Elizabeth I who was probably peeved that she’d been buried in the same tomb with her “problematic” sister. But there are cultural hauntings. Poets’ Corner (the honored graveyard of writers in the South Transept) has been haunted by the absence of Shakespeare for over four hundred years. The poet William Basse suggested that his bones be translated from Stratford in 1622. Didn’t happen. They built a statue to the Bard in 1740 hoping to exorcize the ghost. Still, he troubled the space. When they buried the great Shakespearean actor, David Garrick, in 1779, it almost seemed as if they had buried Shakespeare himself, but the playwright’s presence persisted. And so he appears as a nocturnal spirit in a nineteenth-century piece of technology with two others (Scott and Byron) who had also been buried elsewhere.

 

 

 

In 1991, Laurence Olivier’s ashes were buried in the Abbey and an earlier commemorative service had suggested to Marjorie Garber that it was “as if it were the death of Shakespeare himself—only this time, much more satisfyingly with a body.” This would be the final burial in Poet’s Corner. Perhaps now the custodians of the Corner had finally laid his shade to rest . . . and yet they still hear the same question that has haunted them for so long. Where is Shakespeare?

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