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 Beverley Sherry

Portraits of Shakespeare himself in stained glass are numerous, and in an earlier essay I wrote about a notable Australian example, Ferguson & Urie’s 1862 Shakespeare window for George Coppin’s Apollo Music Hall in Melbourne.[i] Here I wish to focus upon actual characters from the plays, those portrayed at Cumbooquepa, Brisbane and Southwark Cathedral, London.

Shakespeare’s Women at Cumbooquepa

Now part of Somerville House, a girls’ school, Cumbooquepa was built as a residence in 1890 by William Stephens for his mother, widow of a leading Brisbane pioneer, Thomas Blacket Stephens (1819-1877). Stephens, whose monogram is inscribed in the windows at Cumbooquepa, was a member of the Legislative Council and held posts as Colonial Secretary, Postmaster-General, and Secretary for Lands, and was also an influential newspaper proprietor, owning the Brisbane Courier and founding The Queenslander. The name “Cumbooquepa” was chosen by him for his first (modest) home on this site in recognition of the local Aborigines’ name for waterholes behind the house.[ii]

This first Cumbooquepa was demolished, to be replaced by the present building in 1890, designed by G.H.M. Addison of the Brisbane and Melbourne firm of Oakden, Addison & Kemp. The stained glass is attributed to William Montgomery (1850-1927), who worked with the same firm at this time in designing stained glass for North Park (1889) at Essendon, Melbourne. In 1890 Montgomery had also designed the huge Shakespeare window at Norwood in Melbourne, now unfortunately no more because Norwood was demolished in the 1950s.[iii]

The Norwood window included a vast assemblage of characters from the plays. The handling of Shakespearean characters at Cumbooquepa is quite different and more dramatic, although the design does suggest the work of Montgomery, especially the interest in costume and the handling of lead-lines.[iv] Montgomery was a masterly draughtsman and placed a high value on lead-lines, as he explained in an address to the Victorian Institute of Architects in 1907:

It is not easy to over-rate the extent of the gain this black line adds to the colour. I imagine a window, a coloured window, one blaze of contrasting hues, brilliant, as only glass can be, with the light streaming through it – how the mass of conflicting and dazzling rays could confuse and hurt the eye if they were not sorted out, as it were, and given coherence and repose by the strong, dark lead-line.[v]

Whether Montgomery was indeed the artist for Cumbooquepa or not, the stained glass there exemplifies his ideas on design.

The house was designed with an imposing foyer paved in black-and-white marble, and stained glass has been imaginatively incorporated into this architectural space.


Figure 1: Entrance of Cumbooquepa (1890), Brisbane  Photo: Courtesy of Somerville House

Set in alcoves around the foyer are four life-size figures of Shakespearean heroines: on either side of the front door, Viola from Twelfth Night and Rosalind from As You Like It; Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing and Portia from The Merchant of Venice at the opposite end of the foyer, which opens onto a breezeway.  All four figures are defined boldly through the lead-lines and rich colours; at the same time, the individual character of each heroine is skilfully evoked.


Figure 2: Rosalind  Cumbooquepa, Brisbane. Attributed to William Montgomery, c.1890. Photo: Courtesy of Somerville House


Figure 3: Detail, Rosalind  Cumbooquepa, Brisbane. Attributed to William Montgomery, c.1890. Photo: Courtesy of Somerville House


Figure 4: Detail, quotation below Rosalind  Cumbooquepa, Brisbane. Attributed to William Montgomery, c.1890.   Photo: Courtesy of Somerville House

This is a purposeful Rosalind, the dominating character of As You Like It. She holds a written paper in her hand, presumably one of Orlando’s love poems that she has removed from a tree (Act III. ii). As suggested in the play (Act III. ii), she is distinctly blonde. A strong but complex heroine, she confesses, in the quotation below her portrait, “I could find in my heart to disgrace my man’s apparel . . .” (Act II. iv), a reminder of her disguise in the Forest of Arden, although the artist has chosen not to show her in male attire. The elaborate monogram TBS is for Thomas Blacket Stephens.


Figure 5: Beatrice  Cumbooquepa, Brisbane. Attributed to William Montgomery, c.1890. Photo: Douglass Baglin

The man-hater Beatrice looks with a disdainful backward glance, presumably at Benedick, who calls her “My dear Lady Disdain” in the opening scene of Much Ado About Nothing. In a reversal, later in the play, he declares to her, “I do love nothing in the world so well as you. Is that not strange?” A softened “Lady Disdain” replies edgily with the quotation (not reproduced here) below her portrait: “As strange as the thing I know not. It were as possible to say I love nothing so well as you. But believe me not, and yet I lie not; I confess nothing, nor I deny nothing” (Act IV. i).


Figure 6: Detail, Viola  Cumbooquepa, Brisbane. Attributed to William Montgomery, c.1890. Photo: Courtesy of Somerville House

This portrait, which can be magnified on screen, exemplifies the artistry at work in these windows: the confident handling of lead-lines and striking use of pot-metal glass, red and gold predominating, but note the two jewel-like blue buttons. In addition, details are finely painted onto the surface of the glass – the book, the pot and delicate flower, the curtain, the back of the padded chair, the fluted columns, the elaborate folds of Viola’s costume, her collar and necklace, her hands, and above all, her facial features. The artist has captured the spirit of Viola, the saddest-looking of the four heroines at Cumbooquepa. Her short hair and cap suggest her disguise as page-boy to Duke Orsino in Twelfth Night.


Figure 7: Detail, quotation below Viola  Cumbooquepa, Brisbane. Attributed to William Montgomery, c.1890. Photo: Douglass Baglin

The disguised Viola is in love with Duke Orsino but cannot reveal her love, as evidenced in the quotation below her portrait: “She never told her love . . . ” (Act II. iv). This is one of Viola’s most moving speeches, imbued with dramatic irony, because she is here speaking to the Duke with veiled reference to herself. The quotation applies perfectly to the mournful figure of Viola portrayed in this window.


Figure 8: Portia Cumbooquepa, Brisbane.  Construction behind the window obscures Portia but this photograph shows well how stained glass has been incorporated into the architecture. Attributed to William Montgomery, c.1890.    Photo: Courtesy of Somerville House


Figure 9: Portia Cumbooquepa, Brisbane. Photograph taken from behind and reversed. Attributed to William Montgomery, c.1890. Photo: Courtesy of Somerville House

A strikingly beautiful Portia holds a golden casket in her hands – “All that glisters is not gold” (The Merchant of Venice Act 11. vii). Below her portrait the quotation (not reproduced here) refers to the dictates of her father’s will and the caskets from which her suitors must choose: “In terms of choice I am not solely led / By nice direction of a maiden’s eyes. / Besides, the lottery of my destiny / Bars me the right of voluntary choosing” (Act II. i).

These four windows demonstrate the imagination and skill of an artist who knew the text of Shakespeare’s plays, understood the differences of these four heroines, portrayed them in stained glass accordingly, and chose quotations that add meaning to each portrayal.

A bust of Shakespeare appears above the four female characters. In addition, two jesters, Feste from Twelfth Night and Touchstone from As You Like It, are depicted in fanlights.


Figure 10: Shakespeare  Bust surmounting the portrait of each Shakespearean heroine Cumbooquepa, Brisbane. Attributed to William Montgomery, c.1890.Photo: Courtesy of Somerville House   


Figure 11: Touchstone   The jester from As You Like It, above the front door of Cumbooquepa, Brisbane. Attributed to William Montgomery, c.1890. Photo: Courtesy of Somerville House

That early pioneer of Brisbane, Thomas Blacket Stephens, has left his mark everywhere in the windows, his monogram TBS worked elaborately below every portrait. Stephens did not live to see this splendid residence nor was he to know that the Brisbane High School for Girls (founded in 1899) moved to Cumbooquepa in 1919. The official name of the school then became Somerville House, in honour of Mary Somerville (1780-1872), a distinguished Scottish scientist and mathematician. There is a nice fitness that the stained glass portrays four of Shakespeare’s characteristically enterprising women.  

Shakespearean Characters in Southwark Cathedral, London

The later nineteenth century, when the Cumbooquepa windows were made, was a buoyant period for stained glass and in 1897 a Shakespeare memorial window was made for St Saviour’s Church in Southwark; the church became Southwark Cathedral in 1905. Historically, Southwark is known as Shakespeare’s stamping ground, where his plays were performed in the Globe Theatre on the south bank of the Thames. In more recent times, the association with Shakespeare has been strongly revived through the New Globe Theatre, which opened in 1997 and is a few blocks from Southwark Cathedral.[vi]

The 1897 window was made by the firm of Charles Eamer Kempe in three lights. It depicted the Muse of poetry in the centre light with the dove of the Holy Spirit above her, flanked by Shakespeare in the left light and the poet Spenser in the right.[vii] This window was destroyed in an air raid during World War II. A sculpture beneath it, portraying a relaxed Shakespeare, survived.


Figure 12: Statue of Shakespeare, Southwark Cathedral.   By Henry McCarthy, 1912. Photo: Christopher Parkinson

To replace the lost 1897 Shakespeare window, a new window was made, and signed, by Christopher Webb (1886-1966) and installed in 1954. It has been considered “stunningly unusual”.[viii] Also in three lights, this window has no religious associations and does not include a portrait of Shakespeare. Rather, it is devoted solely to celebrating Shakespeare’s creative genius: 21 characters from the plays are portrayed and, across the base of the window, Jaques’ “Seven Ages of Man” from As You Like It are represented. When magnified, the photographic image reproduced here reveals the mass of detail delineated by the artist.


Figure 13: Shakespeare window, Southwark Cathedral, London   By Christopher Webb, 1954.  Photo: Christopher Parkinson

The dominating figure is Prospero in the centre light, the lordly magician of The Tempest, sometimes seen as the older Shakespeare’s alter ego. The figure of Ariel flies upwards in a stream of light above Prospero and a grotesque Caliban cringes at his feet. To the left and right of Ariel, the initials W and S (for William Shakespeare) appear, and worked across two quatrefoils at the top are lines from a speech of Prospero, “These our actors, / As I foretold you…” (The Tempest Act IV.i).  With his mouth open, eyes and hands directed upward, he seems to be speaking the lines. Flanking Prospero, in the left and right lights, are characters from the comedies and the tragedies. From the top of the left light these appear in order: Bottom, Puck, and Titania (A Midsummer Night’s Dream); Malvolio, Olivia, and Maria (Twelfth Night); Falstaff (Henry IV); Portia (The Merchant of Venice); and Jaques and Touchstone (As You Like It). The right light portrays: Romeo and Juliet; Richard II; Richard III; Othello; King Lear; Lady Macbeth; and Hamlet.[ix]

The photographing of this window – as of all stained glass and works of art in general – relates to a landmark essay of the twentieth century, Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1935). Benjamin laments the depreciation of the authenticity, the “aura”, of an original work of art through photographic reproduction. At the same time he acknowledges that photography “can bring out those aspects of the original that are unattainable to the naked eye yet accessible to the lens”.[x] Benjamin lived too early for the internet and might have marvelled at today’s digital technology. True, the unique “aura” of Christopher Webb’s window exists only in its setting at Southwark Cathedral but the extraordinary detail of his work is accessible through Christopher Parkinson’s photography.

The artist, Christopher Webb, has endeavoured to encompass as much as possible in this window and, while the overall effect might seem crowded, the work has been meticulously planned.


Figure 14: Detail, Shakespeare window, Southwark Cathedral   From A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Bottom, Puck, and Titania; from Twelfth Night: Malvolio, Olivia, and Maria. By Christopher Webb, 1954. Photo: Christopher Parkinson

Figure 14 shows Bottom with his ass’s head, the trickster Puck who has managed this metamorphosis, and Titania asleep. The scene from Twelfth Night shows Malvolio smiling, in yellow stockings, and cross-gartered – three things Olivia cannot abide (Act II. v) – while Maria, the deviser of the joke, titters in the background.


 Figure 15: Detail, Shakespeare window, Southwark Cathedral    Falstaff (Henry IV); Portia (The Merchant of Venice); Jaques and Touchstone (As You Like It). By Christopher Webb, 1954. Photo: Christopher Parkinson

Figure 15 shows Falstaff typically larger than life. Portia is disguised as a young lawyer for the trial scene in The Merchant of Venice (Act IV. i). The philosophical Jaques, who gives us the “Seven of Ages of Man” (As You Like It Act II. vii), is deep in thought; his subdued attire and rather cynical expression contrast with the gaiety of the jester Touchstone, whose colourful costume is in tune with Falstaff’s.


Figure 16: Detail, Shakespeare window, Southwark Cathedral   Romeo and Juliet; Richard II; Richard III; Othello. By Christopher Webb, 1954. Photo: Christopher Parkinson

In Figure 16, the little tableau of Romeo and Juliet at the top, in gentle golden colours, suggests the balcony scene (Romeo and Juliet Act II. ii). Richard II is anguished, looking in a mirror as in Richard II Act IV. i; and a despairing Richard III is un-horsed (Richard III Act V. iv). Othello, a figure of heroic dignity, has a darker skin tone than the other characters; his stockings match the pink of his Moorish cummerbund; and he is tense, speaking in anger.


Figure 17: Detail, Shakespeare window, Southwark Cathedral   King Lear; Hamlet; Lady Macbeth. By Christopher Webb, 1954. Photo: Christopher Parkinson

King Lear is portrayed as a wild old man who has discarded his crown. A serious young Hamlet contemplates Yorick’s skull as in the graveyard scene of Hamlet (Act V. i). The barefoot, blank-eyed Lady Macbeth, her hair down in plaits and a long taper in her hand, is sleep-walking (and talking). All this is noted, particularly her eyes, by witnesses (Macbeth Act V. i). The crow and bat are her appropriate companions.


The Shakespeare windows at Southwark Cathedral and Cumbooquepa share a delight in Shakespeare’s characters and manifest both artists’ knowledge of the plays. Yet they are very different works. The Cumbooquepa windows focus upon women, four individual characters in four separate windows that are defining elements of an architectural interior; stained glass as an architectural art is on display here. The Southwark work provides a cornucopia of characters – the noble, the vile, the comic, the tragic – within one window, all drawn with acute attention to detail. The unique “aura” of both works can never be lifted out of their respective contexts in Brisbane and London, but digital photography and the internet have made possible the pictorial reproduction offered here.

Finally, the Cumbooquepa and Southwark Cathedral Shakespeare windows have a common connection with the Second World War. The original 1897 Shakespeare window in the Cathedral was destroyed by German bombing in 1941 and replaced with the new window by Christopher Webb. In 1942, Australia was under threat of Japanese bombing and Cumbooquepa was commandeered by the United States Army, East Asian Command as their Headquarters. Brisbane did not suffer bombing but the 1890s Shakespeare windows at Cumbooquepa were carefully removed and stored. At the end of the war, the school returned to Somerville House and the windows were reinstalled in Cumbooquepa.[xi]

[i]  “Shakespeare in Stained Glass”, Glaas Inc Research 2016: https://glaasincresearch.wordpress.com/2016 here /06/22/shakespeare-in-stained-glass/

[ii]  An interesting article on Cumbooquepa appeared in The Queenslander 11 February 1932, p. 5: http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/23146436?searchTerm=Cumbooquepa%20Shakespeare&searchLimits; see also Elgin Reid’s entry on Stephens in the Australian Dictionary of Biography http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/stephens-thomas-blacket-4644

[iii]  On Norwood, see my essay, “Shakespeare in Stained Glass” https://glaasincresearch.wordpress.com/2016/06/22/shakespeare-in-stained-glass/

[iv]   I have made this tentative attribution in my book Australia’s Historic Stained Glass (Sydney: Murray Child, 1991), p.45.  For a comprehensive study of Montgomery, see Bronwyn Hughes, “Designing Stained Glass for Australia 1887-1927: The Art and Professional Life of William Montgomery” (PhD thesis, University of Melbourne, 2007).

[v]  Royal Victorian Institute of Architects’ Journal, 5 (1907), p. 156.

[vi]  Southwark Cathedral has long claimed Shakespeare as its “most distinguished parishioner” – Kenneth London, Stained Glass in Southwark Cathedral (London: Southwark Cathedral, 1993), p. 32.  Shakespeare’s birth place naturally claims him too and stained glass windows in the Swan Wing of the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon portray particular actors dressed for their favourite Shakespearean roles, while another series of windows depicts the “Seven Ages of Man’ – see http://theshakespeareblog.com/2014/12/the-swan-wing-takes-flight/

[vii]  For a photograph of the 1897 window, see Brian Walsh, “Shakespeare in Stained Glass: The Shakespeare Memorials of Southwark Cathedral and ‘Local’ Bardolatry”, Borrowers and Lenders: The Journal of Shakespeare and Appropriation 7.1 (2012): http://www.borrowers.uga.edu/783058/show. This essay focuses mainly on the appropriation of Shakespeare by the Cathedral in the nineteenth and early twentieth century.

[viii]  Walsh, “Shakespeare in Stained Glass”, p. 22.

[ix]  London, Stained Glass in Southwark Cathedral, identifies the characters more fully than Walsh.

[x]  Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1935), in Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Schocken Books, 1968), p. 220. Also at http://web.mit.edu/allanmc/www/benjamin.pdf;

[xi]  Janet Hogan, Historic Homes of Brisbane (Brisbane: National Trust of Queensland, 1979), p.79.

Acknowledgements. Thanks to Somerville House, especially the school’s archivist Kate Bottger, for help with the Cumbooquepa windows. Photographs by the late Douglass Baglin are gratefully acknowledged. Christopher Parkinson has generously provided his photographs of the Shakespeare window at Southwark Cathedral.

Beverley Sherry is an Honorary Associate at the University of Sydney