This engraving by Andrew Miller (1741) shows the life-size memorial statue of Shakespeare which was erected in ‘Poets’ Corner’ of Westminster Abbey in that same year. Shakespeare is shown pointing to a scroll containing lines adapted from Prospero in The Tempest. It is one of the first suggestions that the magician Prospero could be identified with the playwright, both conjuring a theatrical vision that will soon dissolve before our eyes.

This idea gained momentum in the Romantic period when Samuel Taylor Coleridge proposed that Prospero was ‘the very Shakespeare himself … of the tempest’ (1811–12). It was supported by the notion that The Tempest (first performed in 1611) was the last play Shakespeare wrote before he renounced his ‘potent Art’, as Prospero renounces his magic in the final Act (5.1.50). However, it is now recognised that The Tempest was not Shakespeare’s final work. Before his death, he wrote several other plays in collaboration with John Fletcher – Henry VIII (1612–13), the lost play Cardenio (1612–13) and The Two Noble Kinsmen (1613).

Lines adapted from The Tempest

These lines are shown on the memorial scroll in the engraving:

The Cloud wrapp’d Towers,
The Gorgeous Palaces,
The Solemn Temples,
The great Globe itself,
Yea all which it inherit,
Shall dissolve,
And like the Baseless Fabrick of a Vision
Leave not a Wreck behind.
– Shakspear

The final part appears as follows in Shakespeare’s play:

And like this insubstantial pageant faded
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep. (4.1.155–58)