Cursed be he that moves my bones … but what about the altar rail?

The BBC reports from the Church of Holy Trinity, Stratford, that plans are once again afoot to move Shakespeare’s grave … or rather … not to move it.

What makes the Shakespeare’s-Grave-Staying-Right-Where-It-Is story interesting, of course, is the possible impact on planning decisions of the curse inscribed on the playwright’s slab:

     Good frend for Jesus sake forebeare,

     To digg the dust encloased heare;

     Bleste be the man that spares thes stones,

     And curst be he that moves my bones

Was Shakespeare the author of his own epitaph?  Is there a link between these words and the anxieties over exhumation and the mistreatment of corpses found in so many of his plays? 

Shakespearean biographies and editions often skirt the question of authorship by asserting that the epitaph is conventional and formulaic — something that any local versifier could have composed.  Yet no one seems to have been able to produce a remotely similar tomb inscription in support of the claim that Shakespeare’s is conventional. 

Perhaps, then, it is time for the first Cuppe of Newes Challenge.  Can anyone supply an English tomb inscription from 50 years either side of Shakespeare’s death which resembles the one in Holy Trinity Stratford?  Can anyone find an inscription which:

1) makes no reference to the soul of the deceased but dwells entirely on the fate of his physical remains;

2) contains the threat of a curse, not against vandals or church-robbers, but against a church official (the sexton) in pursuit of his normal duties?

Either of the above would be interesting.  Both together will result in some sort of prize.  Answers in the comments section below!

Published in: on May 29, 2008 at 8:32 am  Leave a Comment  

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