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The Shakespeare Memorial costumes have been created by  Spoke and Spool (Laura Pike & Alia Parker) in association with Susie Rugg. They were heavily inspired by the New Romantics… a movement in London in the 1980’s where historical garments were refashioned into new designer wear by the likes of Vivenne Westwood. The ladies here have used vintage garments and fabrics to create costumes for the Shakespeare figure at the top and the 5 characters from his plays below him. They have used bright colours that come from the Australian landscape and are playing with the idea of recontextualisation… as Shakespeare’s work is constantly recycled, and there are many theories that he in fact recycled the work of other playrights (!). Either way, these retro-inspired costumes for the Bard and his characters reference how his work is the constant source of re-interpretation throughout the generations.

About William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) was credited with writing the canon of works hailed as the greatest ever written in the English language. He was born in Stratford upon Avon, Warwickshire. At some time between 1585 and 1592 he began a successful career in London as an actor, writer, and part owner of a playing company called the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, later known as the King’s Men. Shakespeare produced most of his known work between 1589 and 1613. His early plays were mainly comedies and histories. He then wrote mainly tragedies until about 1608, including Hamlet, King Lear, and Macbeth, considered some of the finest works in the English language. Many of his plays were published in editions of varying quality and accuracy during his lifetime. In 1623 two of his former theatrical colleagues published the First Folio, a collected edition of his dramatic works that included all but two of the plays. The actor Shakespeare retired to Stratford where he died in 1616. Alternative authors put forward for the Shakespeare plays include Francis Bacon, the Earl of Oxford, the Earl of Rutland, Queen Elizabeth I and most recently Sir Henry Neville.

Did you know that Shakespeare invented the word ‘bubble’?

About the Sculptor
Sir Bertram Mackennal was born in Melbourne, the son of a sculptor and architectural model maker. He studied in London and Paris before returning to Melbourne where he was commissioned to design the relief panels on the facade of Parliament House. He designed the medals for the Olympic Games held in London in 1908 and in 1910 he designed the coronation medal, the currency, postage stamps and military honours for King George V. Other works include the Cenotaph in Martin Place and statues of Cardinal Moran and Archbishop Kelly for St Mary’s Cathedral.

About the Statue
In 1912 the Shakespeare Society of NSW decided to mark the 300th anniversary of the Bard’s death in 1616 by erecting a memorial. Debate ensued on what form the memorial should take, and it was assumed that it would be a statue despite Shakespeare’s own statement in the sonnets that ‘not marble nor the gilded monuments of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme’.

Public subscription for the statue was quite underwhelming, only raising £1350. The executive of the Shakespeare Tercentenary Memorial Fund headed by Professor MacCallum, requested that a short Bill be introduced to Parliament to apply the money to providing facilities for Shakespeare study instead. A collection of books would be placed in the Public Library.

Although delayed by the war and financial difficulties in raising the money, the bronze figure of Shakespeare and the five subordinate bronze figures at the base – Falstaff, Hamlet, Portia, Romeo and Juliet – were cast in London, and shipped to Sydney. The statue was unveiled in 1926.

Archive research by Anne-Maree Whitaker
Additional research by Brendan Phelan and Imogen Semmler


  • Sydney Open Museum History Survey (1994), No. 15 – Prince Albert Statue
  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 22 June 1923
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 30 January 1926
  • Sydney City Council file Town Clerk’s correspondence 1912/2836

Further Reading

  • Adams, Joseph Quincy A life of William Shakespeare (Houghton Mifflin, New York, 1923)
  • Dawson, Giles E. The Life of William Shakespeare (Cornell U.P. N.Y., 1958)
  • Halliday, F.E The Life of Shakespeare  (Duckworth, London, 1964)