Many thanks to Matt Hunter, graduate student in the Yale Department of English and author of the exhibition blog from its opening on February 1 through his final post yesterday, on April 29. As the semester comes to a close, and students and faculty turn to writing and taking and grading exams and papers, I am taking the blog’s final month for a curator’s (or co-curator’s) exhibition tour of Remembering Shakespeare, on view at the Beinecke Library through June 4. In the exhibition’s last few days, I’d like to turn back for a closer look at some of the highlights of the exhibition (and some which couldn’t be included in the exhibition itself).
Two sketches, loaned by the Yale Center for British Art, are among the most extraordinary items on display in the exhibit. Drawn by the Czech engraver Wenceslaus Hollar around 1638, these two drawings show London, as seen by a viewer from Southwark cathedral, on the south side of the Thames, looking to the west and east across the city. To the east, the bustling urban landscape of Southwark, and what is now the Tower Bridge; to the west, towards what is now the Tate Modern, the Globe Theatre can be seen in the middle distance, a round building alongside its neighbor, the Swan Theatre.
The drawings capture one last glimpse of the Globe before its destruction, first shut down by the Puritans in the onset of the English civil war and then sold soon after as tenement housing. And yet the theatre’s seeming stability in this drawing is also misleading. The Globe, built in 1599, had already burned once in 1613 and been re-built; the Globe—now “Shakespeare’s Globe”—re-opened in 1997 in almost the same spot. Seen together, these drawings show the Globe as it would have been understood by theatre-goers at the time: as one building in the extraordinary, and extraordinarily volatile, landscape of London in the early seventeenth century.