Ancient Funeral Monuments

Making Shakespeare –  Remembering Shakespeare

#46 John Weever, Ancient Funeral Monuments (1631)

In 1599 the young Cambridge graduate John Weever published a book of epigrams, including one in praise of Shakespeare written in the form of a Shakespearean sonnet. It reflects Shakespeare’s reputation as a love poet: it alludes to the first encounter between Romeo and Juliet in which their playful banter about saints and pilgrims leads to a kiss. (This passage also inspired the title of The Passionate Pilgrim—see item 26). Weever soon abandoned poetry, however, and became an antiquarian, traveling around England researching funeral monuments. After three decades of study, he published his work in 1631—fittingly, the year before he died. Weever visited Stratford and recorded the inscriptions on Shakespeare’s gravestone and funeral monument in his manuscript notes, although they are not included in the published volume. The remarkable title-page engraving, which is modeled on a funeral monument, features the skeleton of the “first Adam” (still holding the forbidden apple from the Garden of Eden) and the “second Adam,” Christ holding a cross with his foot on the serpent. At the bottom there is an illustration of a churchyard of the kind that Weever spent years visiting. The title-page states that the book was “Composed by the Travels and Study of John Weever,” and includes the fitting motto “Spe labor levis,” which can be translated as “hope lightens labor.”

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