The Curse of the Missing Shakespeare


William Shakespeare died of unknown causes and was buried 17 feet below the floor of the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon. Legend says that he died on the exact day of his 52nd birthday. According to his epitaph, those who dare move the bones of the great Bard will be cursed for all time.
This is either a scene from MacBeath, or one of those hideous pixies from SpectroMagic.
This happened in 1616, 366 years before the opening of EPCOT Center at the Walt Disney World Resort. I’m not sure, but given that Epcot has received an unending procession of tacky bedazzled wands, tarp-covered pin trading stations, Jerusalem simulators, and the comic talents of Eric Idle and Martin Short, we may be living under Shakespeare’s haunted power to this day.
The Bard’s Ghost has shown up in our parkeology pursuits before, but this is the first time he’s turned his doomed howling on a private little corner of World Showcase.
As one would expect, there are a few Shakespeare references to be found in the United Kingdom pavilion.  The largest, though a bit obscure, is the simple country cottage found along the main road, currently home of the Twinings Tea Company.
Houses of Sticks and Bricks were also considered.  Photo courtesy of flickr.
This structure is modeled after the home of Mrs. Shakespeare herself, Anne Hathaway, who would later go on to star in famous literary classics like The Princess Diaries 2 and Get Smart, as well as a particularly memorable stint as Oscar host.
Remember the days when writers got all the hot chicks?
But the Shakespeare reference that has me intrigued today is the one that isn’t there.  It’s supposed to be.  Right up until just before opening, Shakespeare himself was planned to appear in the United Kingdom pavilion.  Witness this tantalizing excerpt from 1982:

Wherever you’ve roamed, both the high road and the low road lead to Britannia Square—not exactly a village green, but rather one of those lovely verdant rectangles that punctuate a stroll through almost any section of London.  There’s a statue of course; there almost always is.  And who rates this place of honor?

“We considered a few kings and queens, but they didn’t quite take root on American soil,” says one of the designers.

Lord Nelson held a commanding lead for a day or two, but he drew some cross fire, because a military man seemed out of place in such a serene setting. Images of the poets Lord Byron and Robert Burns were contemplated, until the spotlight fell on William Shakespeare, the most widely read and esteemed British writer.  He poses proudly above Ben Jonson’s appraisal, inscribed on the pedestal:  “He was not of an age, but for all time!”

Behind the Bard of Avon is a lovely traditional gazebo modeled after the one in Hyde Park, a perfect spot for a band concert or even a scene or two from a Shakespearean play.

This text appeared in Richard Beard’s epic chronicle, “Walt Disney’s EPCOT Center: Creating the New World of Tomorrow,” released very close to park opening.  This mouthful of a title is full of little writing gems like this.  Beard, of course, would later go on to create other inscrutable titles like “The Englishman Who Went Up A Hill And Came Down a Mountain” and “Dr: Strangelove, or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb” and “The Pirates of the Caribbean:  The Curse of the Black Pearl,” and “It.”  But he never bothered to elaborate on this Shakespeare statue.
You all know the gazebo, I’m sure.  Especially if you sign silly internet petitions like “Bring Back The British Invasion!”  (I only bother with the really important internet petitions like “Save Mr. Toad” and “Skyway or the Highway”; you know, the petitions that are actually effective).
But in spite of searching through mountains of Internet photos for Epcot Shakespeare references (all of which strangely keep bringing up the star of The Devil Wears Prada and Ella Enchanted), I have yet to find photographic proof that such a statue ever existed.  I have scoured all the models of World Showcase I can find, and yet all photographs are just heartbreakingly out of position, obscuring any backside views of the UK pavilion (warning:  be careful when searching for “backside of UK model”.  You may not get what you’re looking for).
And yet, I feel as if this little square was designed to hold a statue at some point.  Take a look at this photo below, helpfully provided by Ethel at fredandethelgotodisneyworld:
A bit more subdued than the Ed Sullivan Show.
See that sort of lame, three-sphere topiary in the middle of the green, directly in front of the gazebo?  It certainly looks like an ideal place for a statue.  The curb is shaped to highlight this area as a centerpiece.  And strangely, a leftover plant from Home Depot just isn’t doing that spot justice.
Beard’s description is certainly detailed enough, right down to describing the inscription on the plaque.  Clearly Shakespeare was Go for Launch with only months to go. So what happened to him?  Did he ever make it into the park?  Does anyone recollect seeing him, and if so, do you have photographic evidence?  Any theories on why he was removed, that don’t involve some kind of rival Christopher Marlowe statue or Gwenyth Paltrow in a mustache?
Or perhaps there really is something rotten in Epcot, besides what they serve at Electric Umbrella. Remember Shakespeare’s dying curse, and let me know if you come up with a way to undo it.  The Imagination Pavilion will thank you.

Comments (6)

  1. Glad you could check us out, Ethel Mae! And thanks for the use of the picture!

  2. I’m just now getting around to reading this post. Now I understand your angle with the photo. Very interesting piece! And I thought I knew everything there was to know about Disneyworld – hmmm…maybe I should take a look around your place for a while…

  3. That’s a good point about Sherlock Holmes. Or even the Charles Dickens characters. England has so many literary classics, it’s kind of surprising that the only one who shows up is Winnie the Pooh.

  4. Excellent post! Sounds like a case for Sherlock Holmes. Or is he absent from the UK Pavilion too?

  5. You’re right, Michael. If I’m not mistaken, that Mary Poppins topiary is now outside the convention area of the Grand Floridian. Maybe we should look there for Shakespeare?

  6. I’ve never found any evidence that the statue was placed, which makes me crazy because *why* wasn’t it?

    For a stint in the 1990s, there was a topiary Mary Poppins there, though. So, you know, same difference.

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