Shakespeare Epitaph

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akasha124's profile pic

akasha124 | (Level 1) Assistant Educator

Posted on

Shakespeare wrote his own epitaph which reads,

"Good Friends, for Jesus' sake forbear,
To dig the bones enclosed here!
Blest be the man that spares these stones,
And curst be he that moves my bones."

During Shakespeare's time, when a cemetary was full, grave diggers would dig up the bones of the bodies previously buried in the cemetary and burn them to make room for the new ones.  This disgusted Shakespeare, so he wrote his epitaph accordingly to discourage anyone from digging him up.

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The literal meaning of the epitaph is something like "for Jesus' sake, don't dig me up.  You're blessed if you leave me alone, you're cursed if you dig me up."

The meaning of this epitaph, which he wrote himself, is that Shakespeare did not want anyone to dig up his body or bones and move them after he was buried.

In those days, when graveyards were full, it was common to dig up some corpses in order to have space to bury a new corpse.  The corpse that had been dug up would then usually be burned.  This practice disgusted Shakespeare.  It is said that this is why he wrote the epitaph that he did.

thetall's profile pic

thetall | (Level 3) Educator

Posted on

"Good Friends, for Jesus' sake forbear,
To dig the bones enclosed here!
Blest be the man that spares these stones,
And curst be he that moves my bones."

In his epitaph, which he oddly wrote himself, Shakespeare was pleading with the people not to disturb his final resting place. It was common practice during that period, for dead bones and coffins to be exhumed and burned in order to create space for burial of new corpses. Shakespeare viewed this practice with disdain. In this regard he decided to inform the public of his stand on the practice. He blessed those who respected his wishes and cursed those who would disobey his last request.

The epitaph could also serve as his last piece of literature. In my opinion, the epitaph may be viewed as his attempt to speak or express himself beyond the grave. This may explain why he chose to do it himself. During that period, his epitaph would have likely been written by a friend who worked in the same field. However, He clearly rejected this option.

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ms-charleston-yawp's profile pic

Noelle Thompson | High School Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted on

An epitaph, of course, is the set of words written on someone's gravestone.  Shakespeare, being a great writer, (the greatest writer of all time?) wrote his own.  It is quite strange.  Let's look at the text first:

Good Friends, for Jesus' sake forbear,
To dig the bones enclosed here!
Blest be the man that spares these stones,
And curst be he that moves my bones.

Shakespeare apparently had a profound respect for the dead in that he was very upset by the current practice of "disposing" of dead bodies and skeletons and graves and coffins that have been at rest for a while in order to simply make "more room" for the new dead.  One has to wonder if Shakespeare felt this way because of the vast number of characters who died due to severe tragedy during his plays. 

In regards to the playwright's specific epitaph, of course Shakespeare felt as strongly about his own bones as he did about others; therefore, he felt called upon to make this statement.  Paraphrased (Shakespeare begins with a kind greeting) it basically says, "Friends, for God's sake, don't even consider removing the bones that lie here.  I offer a blessing to those who heed my warning and a curse to those that don't."

If you would like to know a bit more about the specifics of Shakespeare's epitaph, Shakespeare is buried in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford, England.  The soul of Shakespeare (while it was still on earth) requests that his remains STAY at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford, England.  Luckily for Shakespeare, even as late as 2008 when Holy Trinity church was renovated, those particular bones weren't touched.

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