On the Site of a Mulberry-Tree, planted by William Shakespeare, felled by Rev. F. Gastrell

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1853 July
Rhyme: abbaaccadeffed
Meter: iambic pentameter
Genre: sonnet


◦ Gregory, Life and Works of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, II. 138

◦ Lewis, The Trial Book Fallacy, 131-134

◦ Caine, Recollections of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 122-124


Editorial glosses and textual notes are available in a pop-up window. Line numbering reflects the structure of the Penkill Proof Text.

Scholarly Commentary


The sonnet is one of DGR's weakest, and he did well to remove it from the 1870 volume. One can see how he might have imagined it belonged in the book, but as the collection evolved through the proofs of 1869-1870 its inappropriateness was exposed (if not its aesthetic weaknesses as well).

Textual History: Composition

DGR wrote the sonnet when he visited Stratford in July 1853 and sent a copy in a letter of 19 July to W. B. Scott (see Fredeman, Correspondence, 53. 44 and Scott I. 291-293 ). Another fair copy is preserved in the library of the Delaware Art Museum.

Textual History: Revision

On 21 February DGR resolved to remove this sonnet from his book, commenting two days later to Swinburne that it “must come out, as among several rejected of a semi-comic sort” (see Fredeman, Correspondence, 70. 32 ). It was “ out of harmony with all the others”, he thought (see Fredeman, Correspondence, 70. 31 ). The text he did publish (in the The Academy in February 1871) was altered slightly by WMR when he came to reprint it in the 1886 collected edition: the final line's “tailor's” was altered to “Starveling's” in order not to give offense to tailors.

Printing History

DGR put the sonnet in his Penkill Proofs in August 1869 and kept it in the subsequent proofs for the 1870 Poems until he had the proofs for the first edition pulled at the beginning of March 1870, where it does not appear. DGR published it in The Academy in February 1871, and it was put among the collected works by WMR in 1886, but with an emendation by WMR from DGR's original text.


Baum's note on the occasion of the sonnet is succint: “The Rev. Francis Gastrell demolished New Place, and with it the tree, in 1759 because he was annoyed by sightseers and by high taxes. He died in 1768. Unlike Richard Sheppard and Richard Turpin, the notorious eighteenth-century highwaymen, he does not appear in the Dictionary of National Biography” ( Baum Poems, Ballads, and Sonnets, 372n ).


Though DGR leaves the matter implicit, the Shakespearean significance of the mulberry tree is relevant to the sonnet. The legend of the mulberry involves the tale (out of Ovid) of Pyramus and Thisbe, which was the basis for Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and which Shakespeare treated in a comic vein in the earlier A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 9-1853.raw.xml