Pinckney Marcius-Simons (USA, 1867-1909)
Watercolour illustrations painted onto the pages of an 1886 French edition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Trans. Paul Meurice), 1908. Image courtesy of the Folger Shakespeare Library. More here.
OK, I have SO MUCH material to share with you about my visit to the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C., but we’ll just start with an overview of WHAT, exactly, the Folger Shakespeare Library is.
Visiting the Folger Shakespeare Library is TOTALLY FREE, as the Folgers gifted it to the public. There is a gift shop, though, stocked with all sorts of awesome Shakespeare stuff, so you’re not liable to escape unscathed. There are different Shakespeare exhibits rotating through the Great Hall, so there’s always something new to see.
There are several books about the Folgers’ collecting adventures, but the only one I’ve read so far is The Millionaire and the Bard, by Andrea Mays. I recommend it.
On this episode of Shakespeare Unlimited, we hear from Emma Smith, professor of Shakespeare studies at Oxford University and the author of The Making of Shakespeare’s First Folio. Smith talks about the London print shop that produced the First Folio, 17th-century printing practices and copyright issues, the actors from Shakespeare’s company who collected the plays and the financial risk they were taking, and other aspects of the process for creating the book that gave us Shakespeare.
I was tagged by po-flo back in November, and I’m still working through my backlog of tags. Sorry this is so late! I don’t really have a favorite color, so I went with all of them! I really love rainbow books. Can’t get enough.
Back in August the Folger Shakespeare Library unsealed their almost 80,000 digital image archive! An absolute treasure-trove of material related to Shakespeare, the collection contains books, theater memorabilia, manuscripts, art, and more for your online perusal.
Through the Digital Image Collection, you can:
Compare 19th-century productions of Shakespeare with today’s through historic photographs and promptbooks
Look at letters written by Queen Elizabeth I
Examine rare paintings in “up close and personal” detail
OK, so now that you all know what the Folger Shakespeare Library is, it’s time to come with me on a very special tour… into the depths of the Folger’s vault!
Yes, somehow the Folger had mistaken me for an actual important person and arranged a private tour of the otherwise inaccessible vault for me. My guides on this expedition were the wonderful Abbie Weinberg and Alan Katz.
I was also accompanied by my own personal paparazza, Kate Pitt, who took this photo of me, Abbie, and Alan at the door of the vault. It looks exactly like you would expect and want a vault door to look. The vault itself, however…
I exaggerate, of course. As a former library employee, I was actually expecting slightly disheveled stacks with overcrowded shelves, and that’s what I got. Which doesn’t take away from the SHEER MAGIC of rounding the corner and seeing laid out on a table, waiting for you…
Once again I exaggerate. Alan and Abbie were, in fact, extremely tolerant and even encouraging of my high-pitched noises of over-excitement and general flailing.
The table of wonders that Abbie and Alan have selected for me to peruse. This is pure kid-in-a-candy-shop stuff here. (Photo by Kate Pitt.)
First quarto of King Lear, with extremely busy title page!
First Folio! Right in front of me! Not hiding behind a glass case!
Close-up of the cover of the Bishops’ Bible that was in Queen Elizabeth’s private chapel, including her marks engraved on the clasps and other hardware.
Abbie obligingly flipped through the Folio to my favorite scene, 1 Henry IV 2.4, origin of the “Peace, good tickle brain” line. And then THIS happened:
Yes. I booped a First Folio.
You can actually turn the pages and everything, but I was far too nervous to do that, so I settled for a tiny boop in the margins of the Good Tickle Brain page. Also, before you ask, no you don’t have to wear gloves when you handle a Folio. Apparently the lack of tactile sensation in your fingers when you wear gloves actually causes more damage to the pages than the oils in your skin.
So I have now made skin-to-page contact with a piece of paper that came off Jaggard’s press in 1623. It was pretty amazing.
Face to face with a First Folio. (Photo by Kate Pitt.)
Looking for the “good tickle brain” page. (Photo by Kate Pitt.)
FOUND IT! (Photo by Kate Pitt.)
Tadaaaaa! (Actual boop not pictured, because once I booped the page I literally leapt backwards and started flailing my arms around.)
Tune in again next week as I wrap up my fantastic adventures at the Folger, including a few more unexpected gems in the vault and a summary of my Free Folger Friday talk!
The Folger Shakespeare Library is a little marble shoebox of a building tucked right behind the Library of Congress and the United States Capitol in Washington, DC. You’ll know it by the bas-reliefs of Shakespearean scenes under the windows on the front of the building. You may be drawn to notice it first, however, by some kind of commotion out on the law: a crowd of high-school students hurling Elizabethan insults at each other, a mob of middle schoolers chanting parts of Macbeth for voice class, a group of armed junior- and senior-high-school teachers learning stage combat from a fight choreographer who wears a t-shirt that boasts ’Real Men Teach English’ or maybe the local elementary school’s fifth-grade class practicing Hamlet. ‘Yo! A hit! A very palpable hit!’
Peggy O’Brien, “Doing Shakespeare:
‘Yo! A hit! A very palpable hit!'”
At the Shakespeare Theatre Association conference last week Michael Witmore, director of the Folger Shakespeare Library, gave an absolutely fantastic speech. Everything he said resonated with me, but this was by far my favorite quote.