Shakespeare and terror
In Robert Louis and Fanny Stevenson’s burlesque novel The Dynamiter, a terrorist plot is hatched to plant a bomb in Leicester Square. The objective of the terrorists is carnage and fatality: ‘the seats in the immediate neighbourhood are often thronged by children, errand-boys, unfortunate young ladies of the poorer class and infirm old men - all classes making a direct appeal to public pity, and therefore suitable with our designs’. The choice of target, over any other crowded spot in London, is determined by the fact that the square contained (as it still contains) a statue of Shakespeare: Our objective was the effigy of Shakespeare in Leicester Square: a spot, I think, admirably chosen ... for the sake of the dramatist, still very foolishly claimed as a glory by the English race, in spite of his disgusting political opinions. The statue is a stone copy of the marble effigy, commissioned by public subscription, executed by Peter Scheemakers, and erected in Westminster Abbey in 1741. In its original time and place it functioned to commemorate the pre-eminent genius of English culture. But it was also a signalling of Shakespeare’s official reception into the structures of national authority and power, constituted by church, state and monarchy. A suitable target, therefore, even in its displaced locus of London’s West End, for a terrorist bent on symbolically assaulting the imagery of British imperial power; and killing a few innocent people in the process.