Thursday, 1 December 2011

The Shakespeare Window. “What light through yonder window breaks?” “Ay, ay, a scratch. Marry, ‘tis enough”

By S. Rowe
The purpose of the poster was to use the Shakespeare Window to explore and challenge visitor ideas of what constitutes “vandalism” and to suggest why we occasionally deem some acts of vandalism as a positive addition to an object or place, as opposed to negative. In particular it questions how age, authorship and intention of the vandalism play a role in how we perceive it. Many thanks to Ann L Ethelridge for the use of her photos.
Target audience: Visitors to Shakespeare’s birthplace and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s exhibition space.

S. Rowe will discuss details on why she decided to pursue 'The Shakespeare window' below. She will also tell us some really interesting information she found during her research. 


  1. The initial idea for my poster stemmed from a visit to Shakespeare’s birthplace many years ago. As a visitor, I saw first hand how the window was received by the public in a positive way and was celebrated by the Trust. When the topic for the poster was discussed, the positive experience of the “vandalism” of the window came back to my mind and I thought it would be really interesting to explore why the graffiti on the Shakespeare window was seen as a positive, rather than a negative addition to its history.

    My main ideas are that it is the authorship, time-context, intention of the vandal and the significance (or lack-thereof) of a place or object prior to vandalism which changes our perspective of it. It is also my view that the “tradition” of an act plays a large role in defining how we view vandalism.

    For example, on the window most of the signatures are at least 100 years old, they include famous literary figures, the intention of the vandals was to venerate rather than vandalise, the window prior to the vandalism was “just a window” (it is not actually dated to the time of Shakespeare, but much later) and importantly, the signing of the window appears to have become a tradition. These factors appear to contribute to changing our view of the vandalism from a negative to a positive, and in fact many people would not class it as vandalism at all.

    Through my exploration of graffiti, and in particular historical graffiti, the prior significance of an object or place plays a really big role in how we view vandalism. I know Laurie explored the historical graffiti on ancient Egyptian monuments, which offers a really interesting comparison. Much of the graffiti there is very old; the main intention of the vandals was perhaps not to damage but to mark a pilgrimage to the sites, to say “I was here”; and some of the vandals are noted in history. Unlike the window’s graffiti, there is a real feeling of animosity towards these “eyesores”. Why is this? It is my opinion that the significance of the sites prior to the vandalism shapes our perception of it as negative. The graffiti has damaged something were viewed as historically and aesthetically significant prior to the act of vandalism.

    A really interesting and current example of graffiti/vandalism on a place of significance is Oscar Wilde’s tomb which was kissed and signed by those wishing to “venerate” rather than “vandalise” the tomb/Wilde.

    The kiss marks and graffiti have now been removed. Personally I thought that the kiss marks and graffiti added a really interesting statement from the fans of Oscar Wilde and I, dare I say it, quite liked it! (although as discussed in the video it was causing irreparable damage to the stone).

    It would be interesting to hear your views on the tomb and its graffiti, how you feel about the Shakespeare window and comments on my ideas in general!

  2. * Cassy not Laurie! Sorry both!


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