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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: April ::
Re: Burial Customs
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0278.  Sunday, 9 April 1995.
 
(1)     From:   Kenneth S. Rothwell <
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        Date:   Saturday, 8 Apr 1995 10:07:19 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0275 Q: Burial Customs
 
(2)     From:   David Joseph Kathman <
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        Date:   Saturday, 8 Apr 1995 12:24:27 -0500
        Subj:   Burial customs
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kenneth S. Rothwell <
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Date:           Saturday, 8 Apr 1995 10:07:19 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 6.0275 Q: Burial Customs
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0275 Q: Burial Customs
 
Dear Gloria Wilson, Macabre as it seems, owing to the short supply of
consecrated ground, one's tenure in a churchyard could be limited. John Donne's
"The Relique" brings it home sharply: "When my grave is broke up againe/Some
second ghest to entertaine,/ (For graves have learn'd that woman-head/To be to
more than one a Bed)." Presumably that's why the better off (including Will
Shakespeare himself) got themselves entombed nicely inside the church. Years
ago on a sentimental journey to Rothwell, England, near Cambridge, the local
vicar kindly took us down into the crypt to look at the stored bones of our
ancestors. Sobering. Yours for fewer momenti mori. Ken Rothwell
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Joseph Kathman <
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Date:           Saturday, 8 Apr 1995 12:24:27 -0500
Subject:        Burial customs
 
Regarding Gloria Wilson's query about the practice of digging up old graves to
make new ones in Shakespeare's time:  this was in fact not an uncommon thing,
both in London and in towns like Stratford, where Shakespeare is buried. This
is the reason for the famous curse on Shakespeare's gravestone:
   "Good frend for Jesus sake forbeare,
    To digg the dust encloased heare:
    Bleste be the man tht spares thes stones,
    And curst be he tht moves my bones."
The curse was meant to dissuade sextons, a notoriously superstitious lot, from
digging up Shakespeare's bones to make new graves; there used to be a charnel
house adjacent to Holy Trinity Church containing all the bones which had been
dug up (according to a 1694 letter, "so many that they would load a great
number of wagons.")  The curse achieved its purpose, as no one has
(deliberately) disturbed Shakespeare's grave; however, when an adjacent grave
was being dug in the early 1800s, someone accidentally broke through into
Shakespeare's, but the hole was quickly covered up for fear of the curse.
 
Dave Kathman

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