The Sculpture Trail

at Shakespeare’s Great Garden at New Place

American Friends co-sponsored the donation of the educational sculpture trail in the Great Garden at Nash’s House and New Place. The Garden is open to the public, its beautiful landscaping and flower beds attract people at all times of year.

This historic property is where the eight bronze monuments by American sculptor Greg Wyatt, each inspired by a Shakespeare play are permanently placed. The eight plays interpreted in bronze are:

The Garden is open to the public free of charge, attracting people of all ages and backgrounds, tourists and residents alike inviting them to view and touch the sculptures, relate the bronze relief text on the sculpture to the imagery and relate the play to the sculpture. The viewers are drawn to reflect and interact so that a dialog and involvement is generated, the very intention of the sculptor.

The following conversations/observations were made by Professor Wells in conversation with Rev Dr Paul Edmondson, and later by Anna Griffiths:

The Tempest © (Greg Wyatt, 1999)

This was the first sculpture to be installed in the Great Garden of New Place. The Tempest, Shakespeare’s final solo-authored play, is nevertheless printed first in Shakespeare’s First Folio, and was very likely written on or near the site of the sculpture. Representing as it might do a self-portrait of Shakespeare, Wyatt’s work is intimately connected to its location: overlooking land that used to belong to the great genius himself. All of the sculptures suit their pastoral environment by looking treelike, but this one perhaps more than any of the others resembles a solid oak, appropriate for Shakespeare’s elemental play about the nature of drama and creativity itself. As a play The Tempest is essential to our understanding of Shakespeare; as a sculpture there is something almost totem-like in its mysterious command. The representation of the head looks both god-like and like the head of man asleep, or perhaps even drowned? Here, the sculpture is richly suggestive of the famous lines ‘We are such stuff / As dreams are made on, and our little life / Is rounded with a sleep’, the opening storm, and the drowned father of whom Ariel sings, suffering a ‘sea-change / Into something rich and strange.’ A pair of wings suggests the spirits and goddesses, and another face emerging from the sculpture might be Ariel’s own, re-calling his imprisonment in a cloven pine tree. The Epilogue spoken by Prospero, etched into the back, encourages further the Prospero-Shakespeare relationship, heightened by the sculpture’s exquisite location.

Professor Stanley Wells: “These statues go on yielding up their secrets.”

Rev. Dr Paul Edmondson: “Somehow in bronze, Greg has managed to capture both the storm and the waves of the sea.”

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Hamlet © (Greg Wyatt, 2000)

This is the only one of the sculptures, so far, not on a plinth. This means that it competes with King Lear in size and stature, befitting its place as many people’s first choice in the Shakespeare canon. The quotations are from the famous ‘To be, or not to be’ speech, which here has inspired Wyatt to depict Hamlet’s torment as a reflection on the ghost of his dead father, and his murderous uncle. Old King Hamlet and Claudius are represented together and connected. Part of Old Hamlet’s face is missing; he has been cruelly poisoned in the ear. The intimate proximity of the two men emphasizes the cruel act of killing a brother, as well as a king, which forms the crux of the tragedy. Death permeates the play and here there is a gnarled hint of Yorick’s skull, perhaps the most famous memento mori – ‘Remember your end’ – of the entire Renaissance, reminding us of Hamlet’s extraordinary dialogue with the gravedigger. The sword could almost be real, and seems to invite viewers to attempt to draw it. Excalibur-like, this would have us imitating the action of Hamlet, and being implicated in his revenge narrative. Since the sword can never be drawn, we are at once reminded of a constant hesitancy and delay, as we, like Hamlet, ‘lose the name of action.’

Professor Stanley Wells: “This enigmatic and intriguing sculpture forces viewers to look at it from all angles, and puzzle out its significances, just as Hamlet puzzles over the nature of existence.”

Rev. Dr Paul Edmondson: “Like all of Wyatt’s sculptures, the viewer wants immediately to reach out and touch it. And by so doing, this one draws them close to grotesque effects of death and revenge.”

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King Lear © (Greg Wyatt, 2001)

Lear and the Fool are the main focus of this sculpture. The quotation ‘Rumble thy bellyful’ takes us out onto the blasted heath with the awful suffering of a banished king, father, and old man. Lear is shown wearing a crown, suggesting that he still thinks of himself as a king at this point. He is large and strong, but also old and tired. Like Lear’s mind, the tree is cleft in two. The pointing finger with its ring of royalty might suggest the many accusations which circulate through the drama, or it might represent Lear’s enigmatic final lines ‘Look there. Look there.’ The jagged pieces could represent the broken kingdom, or the scarred face of Dover Cliff, which would make present Gloucester’s suffering in the sculpture as well. A skeletal arm is depicted on the right, connected to one of the fools. This suggests not only the death of Lear’s Fool, but also the ways in which the Fool reminds Lear of his mortality. Through his depiction of a second Fool, Wyatt is able to convey the presence of the Fool within and without Lear. Another face next to the Fool might be that of Cordelia, who it’s often thought could double with the Fool in a performance. Fossil-like in its appearance, the sculpture evokes something fundamental about the state of being at the heart of the play.

Professor Stanley Wells: “This tall sculpture, towering over our heads, captures something of the greatness and status of King Lear as a play.”

Rev. Dr Paul Edmondson: “There seem to be places to hide in this sculpture, just as there are in the play, but in the end it’s impossible to escape from human suffering.”

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Julius Caesar © (Greg Wyatt, 2002)

Brutus’s line ‘That lowliness is young ambition’s ladder’ is seen at the front of the sculpture, which seems very much connected to the quotation. Figures are seen climbing up a ladder, with faces above them; this is a sculpture full of vibrant political energy. Do we see a worried face? Is this Caesar or Brutus? Or, perhaps we are to think of both, just as they compete for the audience’s attention and sympathy. Brutus might well reach the top of ‘ambition’s ladder’, but he too will fall. A face on the left seems to suggest the ‘lean and hungry look’ of Cassius. Here are several people at once, all fractured by the political talk, conversation debate, and intrigue, which weave the play together. At the back of the sculpture the handles of at least three swords seem to suggest the assassination of Caesar, but also remind us of the later suicides. A robe of state can be seen which might be creased (as power becomes tired and suspicious), or show chains of office, perhaps even the chains of ambition which connect and motivate the main characters in the drama.

Professor Stanley Wells: “This sculpture is one of multiple perspectives, full of intrigue and subtle questions.”

Rev. Dr Paul Edmondson: “This is an exciting portrayal of conspiratorial figures struggling for power.”

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Falstaff and Henry IV © (Greg Wyatt, 2006)

“What is honour? A word. What is in that word ‘honour’? What is that honour? Air. A trim reckoning!”

Falstaff, Henry IV

Anna Griffiths: Out of all of Shakespeare’s comic characters Falstaff is the most celebrated and perhaps the most popular. He is fat, cowardly, lazy, dishonest and drunken and some of his antics would see him not out-of-place in our recent “Shakespeare’s Villains” series. Despite this he is witty and likeable, and he seems to show a genuine affection for the young Prince Harry, who ultimately betrays this.

Henry IV by Greg Wyatt in New Place’s Great Garden

Two contrasting sculptures inspired by the Henry IV plays and Falstaff, made by Greg Wyatt stand side-by-side in the Garden at New Place (currently next to the large spoil heap, which is a product of the ongoing Dig).

In Falstaff inspired by the first part of Henry IV we see a familiarly buoyant Falstaff, standing above a barrel. Engraved on the reverse is Falstaff’s speech stating that he has no use for honour.

This figure is quite different to that in the statue Henry IV which is inspired by the second part and depicts the disillusioned knight. The most striking part of the ‘Henry IV’ sculpture is the reverse where you see a red tube running up and down from a nose and throat through a heart and straight into a barrel. This sits between an extract of Falstaff’s articulate speech on the benefits of a drink. “A good sherry-sack hath a two-fold operation in it.”  (Henry IV Part II)

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The Winter’s Tale © (Greg Wyatt, 2008)

Anna Griffiths:  The dramatic device of including a “play within a play” is common to the works of William Shakespeare, including one of his best loved comedies A Midsummer Night’s Dream and one of his best loved tragedies, Hamlet.

In this post I am looking at The Winter’s Tale, which was Greg Wyatt’s final sculpture for the Great Garden of New Place, Stratford-upon-Avon. Here we are presented with a similar theme: that of a sculpture within a sculpture. And not just any sculpture at that… this is one that comes to life!

PAULINA: Music; awake her­­―strike!

‘Tis time; descend; be stone no more; approach.

Greg Wyatt’s The Winter’s Tale is inspired by the final scene of the play where Paulina presents Leontes with the life-like statue of his wife, Hermione, whom he has thought dead for the last sixteen years.  Paulina calls for music and the statue appears to come to life before the eyes of Leontes and the audience. Ambiguity surrounds this scene of the play and you can certainly argue that this was never a real statue and that it was always the real Hermione who must have spent sixteen years in hiding. But when looking at this sculpture it is more the illusion of a statue coming to life that is important.

The Winter’s Tale by Greg Wyatt can be seen, along with a series of other fantastic sculptures inspired by the works of William Shakespeare, in the gardens behind the site of New Place and Nash’s House.