June 4, 2012

“ To the memory of my beloued, / The Author / Mr. William Shakespeare: / And / what he hath left us,” begins Ben Jonson’s second dedicatory poem to the first folio edition of Shakespeare’s works in 1623. And, as Remembering Shakespeare reveals, the question of what, precisely, he has left us has persisted over five centuries. Although the value of this legacy has seldom been in dispute, its meaning has never been fixed, whether in Shakespeare’s lifetime, or following his death, in the memories of his colleagues and contemporaries, or still later, as subsequent ages, including our own, continued and continue to remember and re-imagine him.

Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, histories, & tragedies. Published according to the true originall copies
(London, 1623).  From the collections of the Elizabethan Club, Yale University.

“Reader, looke / Not on his Picture, but his Booke,” wrote Jonson. And yet, as the Yale University collections demonstrate, the publication of any book, let alone a book offering itself as a definitive edition of Shakespeare’s works, was only ever the consequence of the always unpredictable circumstances of both the theater and the print shop in which Shakespeare’s remarkable imagination was made visible to readers and audiences. In notebooks, in variant editions, in performances and adaptations, Shakespeare’s memory was written in always shifting lineaments, for motives which often had little if anything to do with Shakespeare’s own.


And yet, the “Booke” of Shakespeare where, as Jonson knows, Shakespeare remains alive, became the book of all books. “Are you not an idolater of Shakespeare?” wrote the author Mary Russell Mitford to a friend in 1811, “I am sure you must be. I would rather give up all the other books that were ever written, retaining his alone, than sacrifice his and retain all the other works of all other authors.” And in 1926, the imagined Judith, Shakespeare’s sister, would for Virginia Woolf effortlessly invoke another universal: all the words not written, published, read, remembered, by authors who existed outside of a literary canon that had come itself to be epitomized by an author whose own works only circumstantially, and inevitably with the aid of others’ agency, came into print or performance.

 From Thomas Dowse’s late sixteenth-century quotation from Lucrece to Maynard Mack’s mid-twentieth-century Yale English 34 syllabus (and Walter Wilson Greg’s Shakespeare crossword puzzle) lies one trajectory of the many possible histories of the “Booke” of Shakespeare. It is a history peculiarly traced through the material histories of the many books of Shakespeare, as, over the past three centuries, they have come together in the Yale University collections gathered in this exhibition.

June 3, 2012

The infant Shakespeare, attended by Nature and the Passions, John and Josiah Boydell, Shakespeare gallery, Pall-Mall, and no. 90 Cheapside, Printed by W. Bulmer and co., Cleveland-row, St. James’s, 1803.  From the collections of the Beinecke Library, Yale University

June 2, 2012

As Cole Porter knew, Shakespeare was embedded in post-war American popular culture. “Brush up your Shakespeare,” instructs a “Bowery Waltz” in the 1948 Broadway musical, Kiss Me Kate, “Start quoting him now / Brush up your Shakespeare / And the women you will wow.”

Brush up your Shakespeare / words and music by Cole Porter (New York, N.Y. : Buxton Hill Music Corp., c1949).   Sheet music, for voice and piano with chord symbols and diagrams for ukulele, from the collections of the Beinecke Library, Yale University

June 1, 2012

Laurence Olivier’s 1944 film of Henry V famously used Shakespeare’s play not only as a mark of the civilization to be protected by the Allies in the Second World War but also as a patriotic spur for a nation exhausted by war. Released late in 1944, in an England then in the fifth year of war, the movie began with a shot of a marble stone on which is engraved: “To the commandoes and airborne troops of Great Britain, the spirit of whose ancestors it has been humbly attempted to recapture in some ensuing scenes, this film is dedicated.”

From the Souvenir Performance Program Collection, 1840 – 1950, Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Library, Yale University

America too used Shakespeare as a symbol of what was at stake. Even as James Michener’s 1947 novel was being adapted for the New York City stage as South Pacific (1949), the war-time locale exerted its effect on Shakespeare too, as in this promotional article “Mr. Shakespeare Goes To The Jungle” reporting on Maurice Evans’s performance before “the GI audience in Hawaii.”

May 31, 2012

“A Shakespeare Crossword Puzzle” was completed (or almost completed) by bibliographer and Shakespeare scholar Walter Wilson Greg, at some point after its publication on Christmas Eve in the early twentieth century.  Greg then tucked the puzzle away in his copy of an 1865 edition of Pericles.  Greg’s library was later acquired by the American literary historian and bibliophile, James Marshall Osborn.

May 30, 2012

As we have seen over the course of the exhibition, Shakespearean texts were continually interpreted and re-written for different audiences, in different media, often with radically different conclusions drawn by author or artist.  The Yale University Art Gallery has highlighted one example of this process in a display drawn from their permanent collections, on view through June 10, of the American artist Edwin Austin Abbey’s drafts and revisions towards his final painting of a scene from Richard III.

Edwin Austin Abbey’s “Richard, Duke of Gloucester, and the Lady Anne,” 1896.  From the Edwin Austin Abbey Memorial Collection, Yale University Art Gallery.  Call number: 1937.2224

Below, a scene and study towards the portrait.

Duke of Gloucester and Lady Anne, scene from Richard III
.  From the Edwin Austin Abbey Memorial Collection, Yale University Art Gallery.  Call number: 1937.2218

Study for Richard, Duke of Gloucester and Lady Anne.  From the Edwin Austin Abbey Memorial Collection, Yale University Art Gallery.  Call number: 1937.2220

May 29, 2012

Actors of Hamlet from the mid-nineteenth century, in another image from the Yale Center for British Art exhibition, While These Visions Did Appear.   As we have seen already, with Henrietta Bowdler’s The Family Shakespeare, from 1807, and with prints like “The Lover of Shakespeare,” where Shakespeare sits alongside the embroidery table and harp in the parlor, by the early nineteenth century Shakespeare had entered into the well-ordered English household, there to play with or educate the children, or to lift the mind and spirits of other family members.

Charles Hunt, Children Acting the ‘Play Scene’ from “Hamlet,” Act II, Scene ii, 1863. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund