Shakespeare Connected - Shakespeare and Literary Pilgrimage
8. Shakespeare’s Desk, and fragments cut from it
This school desk, traditionally known as ‘Shakespeare’s desk’, was originally to be found in the King Edward VII Grammar School, Stratford, and may be contemporaneous with Shakespeare. At some point the initials WS were carved into the fabric, but this may well have been subsequent elaboration. The desk itself was given to the Birthplace in 1863: The Minutes from A Meeting of the Birthplace Committee at the Town Hall on Thursday 23rd April 1863 state: ‘The Committee are likewise indebted to several other donors for important relics relative to Shakespeare and his native town; amongst these articles may be particularly noticed is “Shakespeare's Desk” lately removed from the Grammar School, and placed in the museum.’ It appears in the catalogue of 1864 which inventoried all the items on display at the Birthplace. This fragment is said to have been sawn off by a former pupil of the Grammar School, presumably before the desk went on display. That said, as this other fragment exemplifies, it was not uncommon for tourists to beg fragments of furniture, surreptitiously hack chips out of doors or windows, snip samples of hangings, or to pick leaves or flowers from the locality and press them; many accounts record the guide either turning a blind eye in exchange for a handsome tip, or outright selling such relics. The porphyry sarcophagus shown as ‘Juliet’s tomb’ in Verona shows the same sort of depredations as does this desk.
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