Colin Burrow (ed.), The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Sonnets and Poems

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pg 728 Epitaph on Himself

  • 1Good friend, for Jesus' sake forbear
  • 2To dig the dust enclosèd here.
  • 3Blessed be the man that spares these stones,
  • 4And cursed be he that moves my bones.

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Critical Apparatus
epitaph on himself
Shakespeare died on 23 April 1616. These lines are carved on the stone slab covering his grave in Stratford. The lines were presumably intended to prevent his bones being added to the large charnel house at Stratford Church. William Segar, The Book of Honour and Arms (1602), 231, notes: 'the violation of Monuments funeral, have ever been reputed a crime infamous: and every generous mind desiring to eternize the memory of his own virtue, or the honour of his noble Ancestors, cannot endure so great indignity'. These lines are attributed to Shakespeare himself in Folger MS V.a.180, fo. 79v (c.1655–6), and in Folger MS V.a.232, p. 63. A version is in Shakespeare Birthplace Trust MS ER.93, p. 177: 'Blest be the man that shaides these Bones | And Curst be hee that moues these stones'. Whether or not they are by Shakespeare, they are the most practically effective lines attributed to him, since no one has yet opened his grave. Dowdall, who visited the church in 1693, quotes the church clerk as saying that the sextons did not dare touch Shakespeare's grave (Adams, 'Shakespeare as a Writer of Epitaphs', 80), and William Hall in 1694 notes: 'there is in this Church a place which they call the bonehouse, a repository for all bones they dig up … The Poet being willing to preserve his bones unmoved, lays a curse on him that moves them … Nor has the design missed of its effect' (Bodleian Rawlinson MS D.377, fo. 90, quoted in Allusion Book, i, p. xiv)."
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