Collections of Distinction

Posts Tagged ‘Shakespeare’

Shakespeare Unauthorized: the Proofreader’s Forgery

Posted on October 2nd, 2016 by jmoschella in Collections of Distinction
plutarch_photo

An photograph of the BPL’s 1603 edition of Plutarch’s Lives taken in 1881 shows what was once thought to be the sixth known example of Shakespeare’s handwriting.

The BPL is home to one of the finest collections of Shakespearean rarities in the world. A selection of these books will be on display in the upcoming Shakespeare Unauthorized exhibition at the central library in Copley Square from October 14, 2016 through March 2017. 

Forgery artists, conspiracy theorists, and mischief makers of every sort have plagued Shakespearean scholarship for hundreds of years. A number of the great Shakespeare scholars of the 18th and 19th centuries, for example — from Steevens and Theobald to Halliwell-Phillipps and Collier — have been accused of everything from tampering with archival collections and lying about sources to petty theft and the brazen and seemingly compulsive forgery of documents. So pervasive is the practice of forgery and falsification in the history of Shakespearean scholarship that both collectors and scholars have been drawn to the subject of forgery on its own merits.

Like many of the major Shakespeare collections in Europe and America, the BPL holds a number of forgery specimens. In some instances, these specimens were collected for what they are: deliberate and often skillful fakes. But in other cases, the forgeries in the collections were purchased — either by the library or by previous owners — based on the assumption that they were genuine artifacts.  One particularly scandalous example, purchased by the BPL in the late nineteenth century, appeared for a time to be one of the most important Shakespearean documents ever discovered.

(more…)

Shakespeare Unauthorized: Richard II, 1598

Posted on September 28th, 2016 by jmoschella in Collections of Distinction

The BPL is home to one of the finest collections of Shakespearean rarities in the world. A selection of these books will be on display in the upcoming Shakespeare Unauthorized exhibition at the central library in Copley Square from October 2016 to March 2017. 

 

richardiia

BPL’s copy of the second quarto edition of Richard II (G.176.32)

The Boston Public Library holds copies of nine plays by William Shakespeare that were printed during his lifetime (1564-1616). The oldest among these is one of just eight surviving copies of the second quarto of Richard IIprinted in 1598 by Valentine Simmes for the publisher Andrew Wise.

Richard II is one of Shakespeare’s histories, a group of plays that primarily center around the power struggles of English monarchs and their battles over royal succession. The play is based largely on historical accounts of the final years of the reign of King Richard II of England and his overthrow at the hands of his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke. Through the self-inflicted downfall of Richard and the rise of Henry, Shakespeare explores the nature of hereditary monarchy, the limits of absolute power, and the corrupting psychology of autocratic rulership.

The language in the play is deeply poetic and many of  the passages in Richard II are considered among Shakespeare’s finest, including John of Gaunt’s  “sceptered isle” speech, the Parliament scene, Richard’s “Let’s talk of graves” monologue, and his wistful reflections from a cell in Pomfret Castle (“I wasted time, and now doth time waste me”).

(more…)

Heb Ddieu Heb Ddim: the False Folio Affair

Posted on March 2nd, 2015 by jmoschella in Collections of Distinction
firstpartoftrueh00mund_0011a

Jaggard’s Heb Ddiue device on a false folio title page

Allowing for caveats and scholarly disagreement, the corpus of surviving Shakespearian manuscript materials is comprised of just twelve words: “William Shakespeare,” or variant spellings thereof, signed six times across four different legal documents.  There are no rough drafts of his plays or sonnets, no correspondence or diaries; nothing to help us understand the inner workings of Shakespeare’s creative process.

This vacuum of evidence has been filled by centuries of speculation over everything from which printed editions most accurately reflect Shakespeare’s original intent, to whether Shakespeare himself was anything more than an elaborate fraud — a boorish country actor at the center of a plot to pass off the writing of another man as his own.

(more…)