Central Park

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William Shakespeare

History

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found postedwithin the park.

Who is this monument dedicated to?

William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-on-Avon in April 1564. His father, John Shakespeare, was a glove-maker and commodities trader who became a prominent local alderman and bailiff before suffering declining fortunes. His mother, Mary Arden, was the daughter of a prosperous landowner. Little is known of Shakespeare’s upbringing; he was locally schooled, likely at the King Edward VI School in Stratford, acquired a practical knowledge of Latin and Greek, and read the Roman dramatists.

In 1582, he married Anne Hathaway, and they had a daughter, Susanna, and twins Judith and Hamnet. Hamnet died in boyhood. The first account of Shakespeare’s professional accomplishments appears in 1592, when rival playwright Robert Greene, in his book A Groats-Worth of Witte, referred to the rising actor and dramatist as “an upstart crow, beautified with our feathers…” In 1594, Shakespeare was a charter member of a theatre company known as the Chamberlain’s Men (as of 1603, the King’s Men) who performed mainly at London’s Globe Theater. He held a one-tenth interest in the Globe, and many of his plays were performed there before it burned in 1613 during a production of his Henry VIII; Shakespeare retired to Stratford around this time.

Though he died in 1616, Shakespeare was enormously prolific. In his relatively short career, he authored 13 comedies, 13 historical dramas, 6 tragedies, 4 tragic comedies and 154 sonnets. Many of his plays have become classics, and his poems are revered for their mastery of language and verse. Thus, this modestly educated man of the Elizabethan age left an indelible mark on the English language and Western culture.

In addition to the sculpture, Central Park has other Shakespearean associations. In 1890, Eugene Schieffelin released 80 starlings into the park because they were mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays (as of 2021 there were over 150 million of them in America). In 1915, the Shakespeare Society assumed maintenance of a rock garden, built in 1912, near West 79th Street. In 1934, the Shakespeare Garden, which features plants named in the bard’s writings, was relocated to the hillside between Belvedere Castle and the Swedish Cottage. The Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park festival has been staged in Central Park since 1957.

How was this monument created?

In 1864, for the tricentennial of Shakespeare’s birth, a group of actors and theatre managers, including leading Shakespearean actor Edwin Booth (1833–1893), laid the cornerstone for this statue. Through a competition, the group selected John Quincy Adams Ward (1830-1910) in 1866 as sculptor. Later referred to as the “Dean of American Sculptors,” Ward would make nine sculptures for New York City’s parks.

The sculpture committee held several fund-raising benefits, including a performance of Julius Caesar. Jacob Wrey Mould (1825–1886), a principal designer of the structures and ornamentation within Central Park, designed the statue’s elaborate pedestal, sourced from Scotland. Ward combined a classical pose with many details of Elizabethan dress, and he relied on numerous images of Shakespeare, especially a bust in Stratford. The sculpture was cast in Philadelphia in 1870 at the Robert Wood & Co. foundry. It was unveiled in 1872, first on a temporary base. Some commentators found the work a noble effigy, while others derided it as a costume piece.

In 1986 a replica was cast for the Carolyn Blount Theater in Montgomery, Alabama, home to the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, and Montgomery benefactor Winton M. Blount established a maintenance endowment for the original. The Central Park Conservancy conserved the sculpture in 1995.

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William Shakespeare Details

  • Location: Literary Mall
  • Sculptor: John Quincy Adams Ward
  • Description: Portrait statue on pedestal
  • Materials: Bronze, Westerly granite, Rockport granite
  • Dimensions: H: 17'11" W: 8' D: 8'
  • Dedicated: April 23, 1872
  • Donor: Demar Barnes, Public subscription

Please note, the NAME field includes a primary designation as well as alternate namingsoften in common or popular usage. The DEDICATED field refers to the most recent dedication, most often, butnot necessarily the original dedication date. If the monument did not have a formal dedication, the yearlisted reflects the date of installation.

For more information, please contact Art & Antiquities at (212) 360-8163

Directions to Central Park

Know Before You Go

Ice Skating Rinks
Harlem Meer Center (formerly Lasker Rink)

The Harlem Meer Center is closed in order to rebuild the facility to increase access to nearby communities and enhance year-round programming. For more information, visit Central Park Conservancy's Rebuilding Harlem Meer Center page.
Anticipated Completion: Spring 2024

Outdoor Pools
Harlem Meer Center

The Harlem Meer Center is closed in order to rebuild the facility to increase access to nearby communities and enhance year-round programming. For more information, visit Central Park Conservancy's Rebuilding Harlem Meer Center page.
Anticipated Completion: Spring 2024

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