Shakespeare At The BPL (Part III) : Quick Book List

For the really curious, here’s a list of books they’re showing at the exhibit:

  • A First Folio

First Folio, 1623

  • Q1 A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Q1 A Midsummer Night's Dream

  • Q1 Merchant of Venice
  • Q1 Richard II
  • “False Folio” Henry V  (I was unclear from the description exactly what this one’s story was)
  • Q2 Hamlet
  • Q2 Hamlet
  • ??  Lear (no specific mention, the writeup speaks only of the conflated quarto/folio editions)
  • Q1 Much Ado About Nothing, showcasing where the actor Kemp’s name appears in the script instead of Dogberry.
  • “Bad Quarto” Pericles, not quite sure what that means
  • Benson’s collection of Shakespeare’s Poems (1640), which included some of the sonnets where he apparently changed the pronouns to something more appropriate so that the man would be addressing a woman
  • A Third Folio (1664), which includes a number of apocryphal plays including Sir John Oldcastle, and Thomas Lord Cromwell.

1664 Third Folio

  • Pope’s 1725 Complete Works (in Six Volumes)

Pope, 1725

  • A handwritten David Garrick (1756) where he has created his own prologue to Winter’s Tale, in which he claims that to remove the first three acts of the play is “to lose no drop of that immortal man.”
  • Zachariah Jackson’s 1818 publication on correcting some “700 errors in Shakespeare’s plays.”
  • An illustrated Oxford edition from 1770, opened to showcase Lear, III.6
  • Illustrated Songs of Shakespeare from 1843, showing As You Like It IV.2
  • Ovid’s Metamorphoses, 1513
  • Geneva Bible, 1560
  • Holinshed’s Chronicles, 1587
  • Don Quixote, 1620 (English translation)
    Don Quixote
  • As in my previous post, two Samuel Johnsons, and an illustrated edition from America in the 1800sMiranda, Prospero and Caliban

I think I was most in awe of the Quartos, which contained tiny little details I’d never thought, like how each had a specific printing such as “1598,Valentine Simmes for Andrew Wise, and to be sold at his shop in Paules Churchyard at the sign of the angel.”  Or the “foul” version of Ado that shows Kemp’s name.  I don’t understand why it’s not taken more seriously, I kept hoping somebody would come over and want to talk to me about the different pieces.  Maybe that’s more for museums than libraries, I suppose.

Boston Public Library Visit Part II : Oh Look, A Mistake

UPDATE 8/17/2008: I’ve just been in touch with Scott Maisano, the professor from UMass Boston who setup the exhibit.  I asked him about the “mistake” I found, and he clarified how it happened.  After the cards were printed and as the exhibit was being set up, a grad student found another copy of the Samuel Johnson (the 1795 Philadelphia).  They did not have time to print a new card, but did not want to leave the book out, so they put it in the case alongside its 1802 Boston cousin.  Scott tells me that they’ll be reprinting the card :). Just got back from the BPL where I took a bunch of notes and pictures (albeit it with my cellphone), I’ll try to put those up when I have more time.  I want to tell a better story. Miranda, Prospero and Caliban I’m about ready to leave, and I ask the librarian if this is all the Shakespeare material, motioning around me to the wall cases.  She says yes.  As I’m leaving I walk past a very large standalone case and spot a picture of Caliban.  Sure enough, I’d missed a case.  “You forgot to mention this one,” I tell her with no small glare.  She doesn’t seem to care. There are three books in the case, which is titled “Coming To the USA”.  One is a very large illustrated volume (where Caliban came from), but I don’t care all that much about it because we’ve had a few hundred years for people do their own versions, there’s nothing really special about that one to me. Sharing the case, though, are two smaller volumes with the name Samuel Johnson on them.  Now I’m interested.  Particularly because only one of them is documented.  “Odd,” I think, “But I suppose they are just two different versions of the same book.”  Except, in rare books, are any two really the same? The documented one is presented thusly:  “published by Munroe and Francis in 1802, the first edition published in America.”  The book itself does say Boston 1802 but makes no reference to first edition at all. The undocumented one clearly states on its title page “Philadelphia, first American edition, MDCCXCV.” That’s 1795, folks. Looks to me like a graduate student screwed up a little bit!   The Munroe and Francis is titled this way:  The Dramatick works of William Shakespeare Printed complete with Dr. Samuel Johnson’s preface and notes, to which is prefixed the life of the author.”   The Philadelphia version as follows:  The Plays and Poems of William Shakespeare, Vol 1, Collected from the latest and best London editions, with notes by Samuel Johnson, LLD to which are added a glossary and the life of the author.  embellished with a striking likeness from the collection of his Grace the Duke of Chandos.”   (I may have made a couple of transcription errors in there.)   I thought it was pretty neat.  Glad I didn’t miss that case.

Today's Game : Shakespearean Self-References

Ok, here’s the game.  Find a quote in one play that looks like it’s a reference to another one.  Chances are it wasn’t, but then again who really knows, right? The most obvious one, perhaps, is when Macbeth says that he will not “play the Roman fool” and fall upon his sword….exactly like Brutus does at the end of Julius Caesar.  That one only half counts, since it’s obviously more a historical reference than Shakespeare directly referencing himself.  (There’s also the part in Hamlet where Polonius speaks of having played Caesar.) I thought of this thread during AYLI it the other day, since the character playing Jaques also played Bottom last year, and there’s a Jaques line where he says “If it do come to pass that any man turn ass….” which of course is exactly what happens to Bottom. Lastly, I think it’s funny to imagine that Amiens’ song: Blow, blow, thou winter wind.
Thou art not so unkind
As man’s ingratitude;
Thy tooth is not so keen,
Because though are not seen,
Although thy breath be rude.
Is actually a reference to Lear: Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow! But of course I realize that would be pushing my luck :).  Can’t you just imagine Lear on the heath breaking out into song?

Shakespeare At The Boston Public Library

The universe is treating me kindly this week.  Over the weekend, I broke my ipod.  Knowing that there is an Apple store on Boylston street, I walk the 5 or 6 blocks there Monday morning.  On the way I pass the Boston Public Library.  “Oh,” I think, “that’s where that is.”  My only other BPL experience was a field trip in high school, and I was hardly looking at cross streets.    (For the curious, Apple gives me new ipod.  Nice.) Today, coworker Beryl asks if I know anything about the travelling Shakespeare exhibit currently at the BPL, which apparently includes a First Folio.  “No…” I say, grabbing my sunglasses and ipod and heading for the door, “I did not.” Took me a little while to find it, as they’ve got it buried way in the back corner of the third floor in “Rare Books.”  It is very under publicized, I saw maybe one sign saying “Oh yeah, Shakespeare that way.”  I finally find the room, empty except for myself and someone I thought was doing research but who turns out to be a librarian. Lining the walls are maybe 12-15 glass cases, each with a single book (or a small handful) prominently displayed, along with a placard stating what it is.  I don’t know if it was planned this way or not, but I start reading with the closest case, which actually turns out to be Third Folio.  The First is at the farthest end of the room.  While I’m reading, a woman and a man come in, scan the cases quickly, and then go speak to the librarian, a conversation that I can only half make out.  There’s a gesture made to the floor above (something I hadn’t even noticed), and I hear “…personal library….not on display….digitizing…..”  There’s mention of a brochure.  The librarian motions to a case nearest her, and I hear….”original handwriting.”  This confuses me, just a wee bit.  The description of the exhibit did say “and books from Shakespeare’s time that he would have used as sources” or something to that effect (I did see a Hollished’s Chronicles, which was cool).  But as we all know, he left no books of his own.  And forget about “original handwriting.” So I walk over to the librarian when the couple leaves and I ask, “Did I hear you mention a brochure about the collection?” “Yes, right here,” she says, gesturing me to a pile of brochures….about John Adams. Apparently Will is sharing the space with Mr. Adams. Before leaving I ask the librarian if, when I return, it is ok to take photographs and notes, and whether a laptop would be permitted (trying to be quiet and polite, you see).  “No flash,” she says.  “You can use your laptop out here, but not in the reading room,” (which adjoins the room I am in). “Are there any other special volumes in there that are not on display out here?” I ask. “Well, mostly reference.  I mean, some of the reference books are on display out here, but if you needed something special, then you call downstairs, and they bring it out to you.” “So then, I would need something special that I wanted in that room?  I couldn’t just go in because I wanted to touch a First Folio?”  I am joking with the woman. “Well you could,” she says.  “They are public.” “Thanks,” I tell her.  “I’ll think about it.” I really am thinking about it.  It’s not like I’m going to get much chance to flip through an original First Folio that often.  But I do actually have a day job, it’s not like I have hours to go through the hassle of getting a reservation, providing ID, and all other sorts of nonsense just so I can say I touched one. I plan on going back at a later date with camera and laptop so I can take better notes.  I thought some of the descriptions were interesting, such as how they specifically mention that Merchant of Venice, although called a comedy, is actually “extremely cruel” in the Merchant’s treatment of Shylock. Any questions I should ask, or specifics I should look for?  The woman at the desk didn’t seem to have much interest in the Shakespeare (I realize that she was digitizing the Adams collection), so whatever I find would be in the placards and whatever pages of the works happen to be shown.

How Much Does The Source Material Count?

I was going to put this in the “what makes it funny” thread, but thought it might stand better on its own. Once upon a time, after I’d seen one of my first productions of Les Miserables, a friend asked for a review.  I remember responding, “Well you have to figure, the source material that the show is working with is just so good, that any review is going to start at about a 7 out of 10, and is going to have to work pretty hard to get below that.”  The same is true for something like a Jesus Christ Superstar.  In my own little world, when you’re working from great literature, you’re starting with a leg up on the competition.  Alan may already tell me I’m an idiot, who knows. Anyway, just now a coworker asked me for a review of the Boston As You Like It, which as my readers will know I gave a “meh” review.  When it came to the question of whether I would recommend somebody else see it, I found myself giving a similar answer:  “You have to realize that you’re talking to someone who already loves this stuff so much that I’m going, either way.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Shakespeare show that was so bad that I regretted it.” Which gets me back to the “funny” thing, which is basically the same general idea – where does the quality lie, in the printed word, or the performance?  We all know that you can have a line that is funny on the page that just dies in performance, or vice versa – something that looks stale on the page that comes to life when delivered.  Is it possible to explain the balancing act that goes on between the two?  Can you ever really have a “bad” Shakespeare show, or is it a completely different review if you say “The acting and directing were bad, but the source material is good.”

Starring Helen Mirren as Prospera? Ok, TheShakespearePost scooped me on this one.  Julie Taymor, who I’d noticed did her own Tempest a little while back, is looking to do it again.  This time with a twist – Helen Mirren to play Prospera, Miranda’s mom. “It goes back to the 16th or 17th century, and women practicing magical arts of alchemy, who were often convicted of witchcraft. In my version, Prospera is usurped by her brother and sent off with her-four-year daughter on a ship. She ends up on an island; it’s a tabula rasa: no society, so the mother figure becomes a father figure to Miranda. You have the power struggle and balance between Caliban and Prospero; it’s not about brawn, but about intellect.”

What Makes A Good Shakespearean Comedy?

I mean right now, to present day audiences.  What’s a good comedy, and why?  Is Shrew better than Much Ado?  Twelfth Night over As You Like it?  Say that you had opportunity to get all the comedies in front of a group of people who otherwise aren’t Shakespeare fans, and who were just looking to be entertained / get a laugh.  Which come out on top of the pile? Is it the slapstick?  Do people need to be falling over each other and wrestling in the mud? Or maybe it’s a “timeless issues” thing, like the battles between men and women, or everything that surrounds a “romantic comedy”?  People laugh at what they recognize to be true, so to speak.  I still contend that this is the primary reason for the popularity of Shrew. Does the writing and the dialogue count for much?  If you have one guy out on the stage saying witty things, will he carry the audience’s good favor and end up at the top of the pile?  Or most often does the witty dialogue go over people’s heads? I’m curious if we can get a discussion going on the subject.  Recently Alan was hyping the value of Shrew over in a different thread.  Having just seen AYLI for the first time, I can say that I thought a line like Rosalind’s “Don’t you know I am a woman?  When I am thinking, I must speak” (or however it was said) would have brought the house down, but it barely registered.  But the simple exchanges between Jaques and Orlando: “Rosalind is your love’s name?”
  “Yes, just.”
“I do not like her name.” and “I was seeking for a fool when I found you.”
   “He is drowned in the brook: look but in, and you shall see him.” Got a much better reaction.  The second in particular, Jaques didn’t even have to follow up with the “There I shall see mine own figure” to get the laugh, people understood it without that. 

Lorem Ipsum William Shakespeare

When marketing and design folk need generic copy to fill space, they use something called “Lorem Ipsum”, a sort of greek gibberish that pours out of generator scripts in as long and varied a length as you need it: Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Sed vel nibh id augue tincidunt feugiat. Integer auctor ante at sapien volutpat ultrices. Donec congue. Suspendisse pellentesque. Proin vitae augue. Aliquam sapien metus, cursus vel, rutrum vel, pharetra eu, felis. Donec sed diam sed eros ullamcorper commodo. Duis faucibus ante eget justo. Aenean sollicitudin purus sollicitudin arcu. Nulla a turpis id tortor congue gravida. Praesent sodales cursus est. Nullam eu enim. Sed dolor nunc, accumsan ut, mattis vitae, consectetuer sit amet, ipsum. Etiam scelerisque nisi porta risus. Donec velit. Curabitur lobortis, dui quis condimentum bibendum, dui metus lacinia tortor, nec tincidunt lacus diam sed est. Cras et arcu ac nisi auctor pretium. As a software developer I tend to work more in objects and actions than in actual copy.  Right now for instance I’m doing a database of relationships between people and educational institutions, so I’ve got a database full of stuff like “Gertrude is the parent of Hamlet, Claudius is the husband of Gertrude.  Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are former friends of Hamlet.  Horatio is a friend of Hamlet. Horatio and Hamlet are students at Wittenberg….”  and so on, for testing the various branches of the system.  (Like, Gertrude as the mother of a student might by default be allowed certain permissions, whereas her new husband does not get those same rights.  Similarly, Horatio’s friendship with Hamlet allows for functionality that R&G no longer get…) I find it fun, and I like to think I’m educating my coworkers 🙂

Rotten Tomatoes Does Shakespeare Rotten Tomatoes, a popular movie review website known for unapologetically telling it like it is when it comes to the movies, has put up it’s “Top 30 Shakespeare Movies.”  Fans and purists alike are sure to find stuff to infuriate :). I am only disappointed in one thing, and that is that they seem to have gone through their database and grabbed everything that mentions Shakespeare.  So for instance Lion King is on the list (and ranks relatively high), but it’s hardly a Shakespeare movie.  It’s only borderline Hamlet-inspired, at best. Also worth mentioning is Ethan Hawke’s Hamlet, which we were trashing last week.  Yeah, it’s 30 out of 30.