Saturday, May 19, 2012

Remembering Shakespeare at Yale

I just spent a very enjoyable afternoon at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library (shown above) at Yale University. This is an incredible building (the picture doesn't do it justice). I am amazed how all of these very rare books are displayed so openly (albeit in climate controlled areas behind unbreakable glass) instead of the fabled vaults of such institutions as the Folger or the Huntington.

This library is currently doing an exhibition called "Remembering Shakespeare" until June 4, 2012 and I would urge anyone who is able to do it to go see it. More information is available at

The exhibition explores how Shakespeare came to be remembered as the "world's most venerated author". It was curated by Professor David Kastan of the English department at Yale and by Kathryn James, the Beinecke Library curator.

There are an amazing number of items in the exhibition, including two First Folios, copies of the Second, Third, and Fourth Folios, quarto editions of most of the plays, and copies of the Sonnets, Venus and Adonis and Lucrece. There are also copies of many other plays of the time, listed as "collaborations", but which many Oxfordians see as the work of Edward de Vere.

Then there are multiple items regarding how Shakespeare has been seen throughout history, including a (somewhat snide) small section on "Denying Shakespeare" which includes Delia Bacon's book and a letter to her from Nathanial Hawthorne urging her to publish the book, as well as a copy of Twain's Is Shakespeare Dead.

Of particular interest to me was a sample of some of William Henry Ireland's celebrated forgeries, conceived in a desperate need to show that there was SOMETHING in the life of William of Stratford that could link him to the plays that bear his (or a similar) name. These were presented in combination with Edmund Malone's disappointed (but scholarly) proof of the false nature of all of it.

There was a nice section on Charles Dickens and his relationship to Shakespeare (but omitting the fact that he was a "doubter" of Shakespeare's identity).

There was a big section on David Garrick's Stratford Jubilee of 1769 and the impact that had (the beginning of Bardolatry).

There were copies of many of the source texts of Shakespeare. There were 19th century political cartoons based on the works. There was Samuel Johnson's Dictionary, based heavily on Shakespeare's use of the language.

I could go on and on, but let me just say that this is a one-of-a-kind exhibition and I am very glad I was able to see it.