We can't be sure that William Shakespeare visited Dover but there is a scene in King Lear which takes place near the town. The old Earl of Gloucester, who has been cruelly blinded, comes to Dover, wanting to end his life. He knows of a cliff overlooking the sea and asks to be led there. The man he asks is, unknown to him, his son Edgar, whom he had banished. Filled with pity for his father, Edgar makes him believe he does in fact climb the cliff and throw himself off. Gloucester is unharmed, but there are some powerful descriptions of the view from the top of the cliff, now known as Shakespeare Cliffs.
Over the years since, many writers have passed through Dover on their way to mainland Europe:
Daniel Defoe (author of Robinson Crusoe), writing in 1724 in A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain, was not impressed by Dover: "Neither Dover nor its Castle has anything of note to be said of them," he remarked, adding that the harbour and the pier were "ill repaired, dangerous and good for little". The town was considered more favourably in 1823 by William Cobbett who commented in his Rural Rides that he found the town of Dover to be "like other sea-port towns; but really much more clean, and with less blackguard people in it than I ever observed in any sea-port before. It is a most picturesque place, to be sure".
In 1816, Lord Byron fled from England following accusations of adultery and other such 'crimes'. He stayed in Dover for two nights before sailing for Ostend. Waiting for the wind to change, Byron passed the time by visiting St Mary's churchyard where Charles Churchill, a well-known poet, had been buried in 1764. The experience moved him to write an elegy Churchill’s Grave. In 1818, Byron began his famous poem Don Juan which also contains several references to the town.
On 7 November 1820, William Wordsworth, with his wife and sister, Dorothy, landed in Dover to their great relief. Their boat had struck the rocks just outside Boulogne, leaving them stranded. Fortunately they had been rescued by carts once the tide had turned and Wordsworth's delight at being safely back in England inspired him to write two sonnets At Dover 1820 and After Landing - The Valley of Dover 1820.
In 1851, the Victorian poet Matthew Arnold arrived in Dover with his new wife and stayed in the town before setting off on honeymoon; he captured the scene from his window at night in verse and so came the poem, Dover Beach, published in 1867.
George Eliot stayed at Sydney Villas in East Cliff, Dover in the spring of 1855. She set herself a rigorous routine, translating in the mornings, walking up Castle Hill or along the beach in the afternoons, then returning to her lodgings to read and translate again. She wrote in a letter that she was enjoying the "perfect quiet" and "a bright sun shining on cliff and softly rounded hill and fringed sea".
Charles Dickens was a frequent visitor to East Kent. He knew the Lord Warden Hotel well enough to mention the proprietors - Mr and Mrs Birmingham - in his short piece The Calais Night Mail of 1865. He tells of being in Dover, waiting on board the night packet "for the South-Eastern Train to come down with the Mail". He describes the "many gay eyes of the Marine Parade" twinkling in the distance and then the arrival of the train itself: "A screech, a bell, and two red eyes come gliding down the Admiralty Pier."
And who could forget the lyrics from The White Cliffs of Dover, written in 1941 by Walter Kent and Nat Burton? Vera Lynn made the words famous with her version in 1942 to lift the spirits of the troops during the Second World War. The song has become a powerful and evocative reminder of 'home', peace and freedom, although we know there never will be bluebirds here (as they are native to north America, not Britain!).