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The Shakespeare Room

‘Thou art a Moniment, without a tombe,
And art alive still, while thy Booke doth live,
And we have wits to read, and praise to give’

From: Ben Jonson’s To the memory of my beloved, the Author, from the First Folio, 1623 

The Shakespeare Room is one of the most unknown and unusual public venues in Sydney. The room is located in the Mitchell Wing of the State Library, overlooking Shakespeare Place.

Women being photographed in room with wood panelling, stain glass windows and ornate ceiling.

Shakespeare Room in the Mitchell Wing

In 1912 members of the Shakespeare Society of NSW met to plan the commemoration of the 300th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in April 1916. A lavish ball and other activities raised close on £500 ($1000) to establish a memorial library and commission a statue to commemorate the famous poet and playwright.

Work on the project to build a memorial library was delayed by the onset of the First World War and it was not until the early 1940s that the Shakespeare Room was finally constructed.

The Shakespeare Room is designed in the style of the Tudor period. Its plaster ceiling is modelled on Cardinal Wolsey’s closet at Hampton Court Palace. The intricate design of the ceiling and the frieze features Prince of Wales feathers, Tudor roses, rosettes, mermen and mermaids, dolphins, vases and fleurs-de-lis (lilies).

The stained glass windows adorning the room — depicting the seven ages of man, from As You Like It (Act II, Scene VII) — were crafted by Arthur Benfield.

The timber is Tasmanian oak and blackwood, treated to look like English oak. Shakespeare’s coat of arms is carved above the entrance doorway, and the coat of arms of Queen Elizabeth I appears inside the room, with the Latin motto Semper eadem (‘Always the same’) and the inscription Honi soit qui mal y pense (‘Shamed be he who thinks evil of it’ or ‘Evil to him who evil thinks’), the motto of the Order of the Garter. Hogden Brothers made the special joinery in this room, and Charles H Sherline was the woodcarver (Sherline’s father had carved some of the panels on SS Titanic).

The Shakespeare Room contains a small collection of books by and about Shakespeare and the Library continues to acquire material for the Shakespeare Tercentenary Library.

The Shakespeare Room is temporarily closed to the public, except for private functions.

Stained glass window

From As You Like It,  Act II. Sc. 7 

Jaques: ALL the world ’s a stage,    
And all the men and women merely players:    
They have their exits and their entrances;    
And one man in his time plays many parts,    
His Acts being seven ages. At first the Infant,            
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.    
Then the whining School-boy, with his satchel    
And shining morning face, creeping like snail    
Unwillingly to school. And then the Lover,    
Sighing like furnace, with a woful ballad            
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a Soldier,    
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard;    
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,    
Seeking the bubble reputation    
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the Justice,          
In fair round belly with good capon lined,    
With eyes severe, and beard of formal cut,    
Full of wise saws and modern instances,—    
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts    
Into the lean and slippered Pantaloon,            
With spectacles on nose, and pouch on side;    
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide    
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,    
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes    
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,            
That ends this strange eventful history,    
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,    
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.