The matter’s in my head

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The next thing I was planning to put up was a review of Something Rotten,  but the documentary on Channel 4 earlier this week revealing that scientists investigating Shakespeare’s grave believe that it is missing his head has obviously got to take priority…

In case you haven’t seen the headlines, the story goes like this. Scientists conducted a radar survey of graves in Holy Innocents Church. There has long been speculation about Shakespeare’s grave, which is shorter than normal (and has no name on it – definitely one for the conspiracy theorists!). In 1897 The Argosy magazine ran a story claiming that grave robbers had removed Shakespeare’s head from his grave back in 1794*. And the survey results show that the head of the grave had indeed been disturbed, and everyone has rushed to put two and two together…

I am not necessarily willing to dismiss it entirely out of hand – it’s not like famous heads haven’t turned up in odd places before now – Oliver Cromwell’s head has its own separate Wikipedia page to the rest of his body, after all. And I can imagine, in slightly more morbid and less squeamish times, that the head of Shakespeare could be seen to have some significant value. Or someone was really going all out for that production of Hamlet.

On the other hand, the skull, if removed, has never turned up (which Oliver Cromwell’s did). The local legend – of a spare skull in a crypt fifteen miles away – explored by the archeologists in the Channel 4 documentary turned out to be that of a 70-year-old toothless woman. And – quite rightly in my view – the priest at Holy Trinity has refused any further, more intrusive, excavations. After all, the only words carved on Shakespeare’s stone are a wish to be left alone:

Good friend, for Jesus’ sake forbear,

To dig the dust enclosed here.

Blessed be the man that spares these stones,

And cursed be he that moves my bones

Perhaps it will be a mystery for the next four hundred years…


 

* It strikes me that there may be a certain amount of spurious accuracy involved in this story but alas my back catalogue of Victorian magazines seems to be incomplete…

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3 thoughts on “The matter’s in my head

  1. Lynn Love

    Curses – missed this doc. Though I do sometimes find C4’s docs are heavy on padding and frustrating for that. You don’t think the head’s missing, then? Would fit with the shortness and the disturbance. Who knows, he could be doing the rounds with a little theate company as we speak. Now, if someone could find that, they could do a facial reconstruction – that would finally settle the query over what the Bard looked like!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think it may be repeated this week Lynn – so check out the schedules (and 4OD, or whatever the catch-up thing is called) often has things for quite a while.
    I don’t know if the head is missing or not, and I don’t think the evidence was conclusive one way or the other. The vicar of the church refused to allow any digging to confirm the theory, which I very much respect him for. It really isn’t like Shakespeare’s value lies in his mortal remains, rather than his intellectual ones. I’m happy to keep things mysterious!

    Like

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