I will heare that play

Published  by us  in time for the longest day, we’re delighted to be announcing the publication of A Midsummer Night’s Dream from the Bodleian First Folio on 24 June, the traditional quarter day midsummer. However you celebrate the longest days of the year, we wish you happy revels. May none of you wake with a donkey’s head!

MIDSOMMER Nights Dreame

(AS THE FIRST FOLIO TITLES IT)

One of the most enduringly popular of Shakespeare’s plays, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is taught in many schools and  on one website at least  makes it into fourth place on a list of Shakespeare’s “top ten greatest” plays.

Colman's mustard advertisement from: http://johnjohnson.chadwyck.co.uk/

A Midsummer Night’s Dream wide reach, in a Colman’s mustard advertisement from 1900: http://johnjohnson.chadwyck.co.uk/

The charm of its fairies, its quarelling lovers who pair up in the final act, and the enduring comedy of its rude “Mcehanicals”* make it a particular favourite for school and outdoor productions. Yet this is not a play of caprice and harmless make-believe: there is deliberate cruelty, manipulation, a custody battle, and a forced marriage. As Emma Smith points out in a podcast, the cross lovers explore sex and sexuality rather than celebrate marriage, sometimes to the shock of an audience expecting woodland wit and whimsy.

Theatre programme for A Midsummer Night's Dream, 1900, from: http://johnjohnson.chadwyck.co.uk/

A whimsical theatre programme for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1900, from: http://johnjohnson.chadwyck.co.uk/

First performed in the mid 1590s, this play was published in quarto versions in 1600 and 1619. You can read and compare them on the British Library’s excellent Shakespeare in Quarto website.

The version in the Bodleian First Folio has been well read. One page (folio O2) has a damaged corner. Two tears have been patched with heavy paper, probably in the early eighteenth century, in an attempt to repair the damage. Actually, though a careful repair by someone who cared for the book (possibly a member of the Turbutt family), the heavy paper risked causing further damage by putting a greater strain on the paper supporting it. This repair, and others like it, were stabilized by colleagues in Conservation and Collection Care.

Find out more

Emma Smith’s podcast on the play from her Approaching Shakespeare series uses modern and early modern understandings of dreams to uncover less expected themes of the play.

Dorothea Kehler’s 2012 book, A Midsummer Night’s DreamCritical Essays, looks at the play’s critical and performance history, and is available online through Google Books.

Our colleagues at the Folger Shakespeare Library have created excellent teaching resources on the play.

Notable film adaptations of A Midsummer Night’s Dream include those directed by:

Musical works inspired by the play include:

Wikipedia has a list of ballet and works of fine art inspired by the play.

If you are in Oxford this July, you can watch Tomahawk Theatre‘s production of the play at Oxford Castle.

* A typographic error in the First Folio renders “Mechanicals” like this (Comedies, p. 153).

The brightest Heauen of Inuention

To celebrate the end of the week that saw the launch of the updated Bodleian First Folio website with the introduction of digital text, its talented designer, Monica Messaggi Kaya, got creative with the Prologue of Henry V and the famous engraved portrait of Shakespeare.

Shakespeare - Henry V prologue

All the images and text, which are downloadable from the website, are released under a Creative Commons Attribution licence.

Make your own creative use of them, and email us the results!

For Harry, England, and…

Read the First FolioThanks to the generous donations of our supporters, last year we published a digital facsimile of the Bodleian First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays, where you can experience the first collection of his works in your own home, or download its images to your own device.

This year, to mark Shakespeare’s 450th birthday, we’re delighted to announce a new phase of the project, to publish digital editions of each of the plays. This has been made possible by a lead donation from Dr Geoffrey Eibl-Kaye, with generous support from Dallas Shakespeare Club, James Barber, and another private individual.

Thank you to you all.

We’re excited to be launching our serial publication of Shakespeare’s plays with Henry V: not just for Harry, England, and St. George, but for everyone.

As the digital editions of the plays are published, you will be able to read and reformat them more easily, search across them, and produce play-scripts and cue-scripts.

Henry V

Or

The Life of Henry The Fift.

(as the First Folio titles it)

Henry V is a play of paradoxes.

Sometimes performances interpret the text as jingoistic, highlighting its calls to arms from an impassioned Henry, who understands how to inspire and rouse his troops. Yet a close reading of the text also reveals a petulant and calculating king, who uses his insight to manipulate the people around him, and is capable of denying former friends.

The audience is taken from London to northern France, via Southampton, and in this wide sweep, the Chorus keeps reminding us that we are in the physical space of a theatre.

As the play’s title in its first printed edition (the 1600 quarto) describes, and its most memorable speeches support, this is a play about war: The Cronicle History of King Henry the fift, With his battell fought at Agin Court in France. Together with Auntient Pistoll. But it includes two affecting accounts of deaths (Sir John Falstaff’s, and the Duke of York’s), and a touching (and politically unnecessary) courting scene between Henry and the French princess Katharine (whom he is promised in marriage as the first article in the peace treaty).

Henry shows courteous respect to the Herald who delivers messages from the French camp, yet orders the French prisoners to be killed when he believes the battle is going against him: notably, this happens before he discovers the French have killed the boys behind the English lines.

Henry V and the Bodleian First Folio

In keeping with the many voices of the Bodleian First Folio, Henry V has a particular and poignant place in the life of one of the major figures in the book’s history.

Gladwyn Turbutt was the undergraduate at Magdalen College, University of Oxford who, by chance, brought the book back to the Library for advice on its binding in 1905. He subsequently worked with Falconer Madan and Strickland Gibson on a scholarly description of the book for publication.

When the First World War broke out, Gladwyn Turbutt (by then an architect specializing in ecclesiastical work) signed up. He later died at the First Battle of Ypres, leading an advance.*

Through a trying march from Le Havre towards the front line, Lieutenant Turbutt is reported as having used his knowledge of Shakespeare to entertain and encourage his men:

Mr. Gladwyn had been sent from Aldershot in command of a draft of 100 men to fill up the gaps in the 2nd Battalion. On landing at Havre, in France, these 100 men set out for the fighting line, having to march a large part of the way. […] To them during their halt he told them of how Henry V of England invaded France, and won the great battle of Agincourt.**

 

We hope you enjoy the play. Let us know what you think. Join the conversation here at our blog, or write a guest blog post and email us.

Find out more

James Mardock’s introduction to his edition of Henry V at Internet Shakespeare Editions is an excellent overview of the play and its textual history.

If you prefer your literary criticism in podcast form, Emma Smith’s
podcast
on the play from her Approaching Shakespeare series is brilliantly engaging.

Notable film versions of Henry V include:

* I am very grateful to Emeritus Professor Richard Sheppard, for sending me details of Gladwyn Turbutt’s war.

** The quotation above is taken from Turbutt’s anonymous obituary in his local parish magazine, of Shirland, Derbyshire (Bodleian Library Records, c. 1262).

How many First Folios do we need?

Emma Smith, Hertford College, University of Oxford, writes…

First Folios are in the news again. Senate House Library at the University of London is consulting on whether to sell a collection of the four Shakespeare Folios.

There has been a general outcry from scholars, alumni and library staff – and one of the points of contention has been Senate House’s description of these books as “essentially duplicates”.

Now it is true that there are over two hundred extant copies of the First Folio (we don’t know what the initial print run was, but estimates vary between around 700 and 1200). But, as many bibliographers have been keen to point out, none of these can be called a duplicate, in part because of variations deriving from the printing press, and also because of the way that the individual history, the life experiences of each volume, are recorded in its copy-specific features.

The Bodleian has two copies of the First Folio, and one has been digitized, following a public appeal. We can use this copy to identify some of its unique features – and imagine their equivalents in Senate House’s Stirling copies.

1. Binding

One of the important things about the Bodleian First Folio is that it is in its original binding. Look at the first four images which show the calfskin binding – done by the Oxford binder William Wildgoose early in 1624. You can see the damage on it, including the rip that marks where the chain which kept it secure in the library was removed (when it left the library, perhaps because it was considered a “duplicate”). You can also see the use of scrap paper to stiffen the paste-down.

2. Manuscript additions

Different readers annotate their books in different ways, and Shakespeare’s First Folio is no exception. Meisei University owns a heavily annotated copy which shows an early reader summarizing plot and speeches as he worked through the volume; many copies of the Folio carry doodles, signatures, corrections, annotations, underlinings, etc., which are all clues to readers’ engagement with the text. On image 4 of the Bodleian’s First Folio you can see a manuscript version of a missing leaf (the poem ‘To the Reader’ by Ben Jonson that is opposite the titlepage, which you can see in one of the Folger’s copies). Someone has also added another poem we haven’t been able to trace beyond this copy, so it may be that it represents an amateur addition to the work.

3. Wear and tear

Book conservators and librarians often seem as if they would really like books to be pristine, unsullied by readers. But what’s so fascinating about our copy is that it shows a good deal of wear and tear. You’ll see as you turn the digital pages that corners are often knocked off, that there are tears in the pages, and sometimes that passages are missing or obscured. These may give us some insight into which plays have been most eagerly read during the life of the book.

4. Stop-press corrections

Like most printed books of this period, the First Folio was corrected, if at all, while the sheets were being printed, and thus bound copies of a work often contain different combinations of corrected and uncorrected states. Our Folio, for instance, has an error in the stage direction when Lear dies at the very end of King Lear. You can see that it has been corrected in the Folger copy.

So, how many First Folios do we need? As many as possible, because we’ve only just begun to give this most influential of books this kind of copy-specific attention, and to think about printed books from this period as unique transmitters – not so much from author to reader, but from reader to reader, through the centuries.

Emma Smith
Hertford College, University of Oxford

“furnish and instruct great Teachers”

(Henry VIII, I, ii)

Emma SmithAfter a successful public fund-raising campaign to digitise the Bodleian’s copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio, the next stage of the project is to involve different groups of readers and help them to enjoy this great free resource.

On 22 June a workshop for teachers at KS5 on ‘Teaching with the First Folio’ took place at Hertford College. After introductions to the project and to the book from Pip Willcox and Emma Smith, colleagues worked on lesson plans showing how they might use the digitised folio in different teaching contexts.

We had contributions on a wonderful range of topics, from using stage directions to understand the power relations of a scene in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, to the toggling between ‘thee’ and ‘you’ in speeches in The Tempest. We discussed ways that the marriage of Rosalind and Orlando at the end of As You Like It isn’t as straight as we might assume if we look at the Folio texts, and the ways that editors make decisions to clarify, but also to disambiguate, possible readings.

Post-its
 26 colleagues attended: all said that they could see ways of using the resource in their teaching, and were excited and motivated to do so.

You can see some of their reactions in the post-it notes pictured (we especially liked “Inspirational: can’t wait to get started doing it!”).

Their lesson resources will be added to the First Folio site, under the same Creative Commons license as the images (CC-BY), over the summer.

post-its 5a

 

Thanks to all who made the workshop such a success. Funding permitting, we have plans for another teachers’ day, and a day working with actors to understand the Folio’s performance possibilities.


Henry Bew, Pip Willcox, James Methven

Emma Smith

The Darkness Lurking Beneath: Romeo and Juliet

 

Guest blogger, Laura Marriott, writes…

One of the most thumbed plays in the Bodleian’s copy of the first folio, which can now be found online, is Romeo and Juliet. But what is it about this tragedy that continues to resonate so powerfully across the centuries? Typically seen as an all consuming romance, the play concludes with the deaths of two star crossed lovers, who could see no future that involved themselves without the other by their side. It has undoubtedly cast a shadow over popular ides of romance since its first showing, with many of its key themes surviving in popular romantic culture today. From Jane Austen’s tales of confusion being righted in marriage to the appropriate person to nearly every Hollywood rom-com with it’s happily ever after.

However surely this is missing the key part, the tragedy that made this one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays. The multiple deaths and suicides from Romeo and Juliet seem to have fallen by the wayside with most romances now ending with the wedding itself, cutting off the flow of blood before it has even begun. If you puncture the surface of Romeo and Juliet you can see the darkness lurking beneath. Even before you get to the high mortality rate of its characters the play throws up troubling questions about the difference between Elizabethan society and our own.

Starting with the question of age. It is repeated throughout the play that Juliet will shortly be 14 when her parents think she is ready to marry, but no age is ever given for either of Juliet’s potential suitors, Paris and Romeo. It is perfectly conceivable that they were older than her, possible even in their twenties or thirties, which shines a slightly different light on our star-crossed lovers. This is rounded off by the fact that Romeo and Juliet do not actually see each other properly until they are married. When they first meet they are wearing masks, then it is by moonlight for the infamous balcony scene, and then Juliet is hidden behind a veil as they marry. However when you then consider how little time they spend with each other during the play, this is perhaps less surprising.

The only modern production that I have seen that brought the darkness to light and juxtaposed it beautifully with the central love theme was Romeo and Juliet in Baghdad, performed by the Iraqi Theatre Company at the RSC last year. This version had an aging Paris as would-be suitor and although this Romeo knew his Juliet (and had certainly seen her before) the innocence is retained. They are not physically intimate, and rely on the language of passion and elevating of objects – a silken scarf that passes between them – to illustrate their feelings for each other.

Set in a background of a family feud in war-torn Baghdad, Romeo and Juliet’s delicate love story is heightened by the sharp contrast of the insecure, dangerous setting. This is further emphasized by the use of real gun shots which shook the audience out of their preconceptions and made one really aware of the danger lurking beneath if these two were to pursue their love affair. There is no elopement and suicide for this pair of star-crossed lovers, but instead a deadly bomb blast. They die together having been unable to live together, and this ending, perhaps more than most, highlights that their fate is out of their hands, that there could be no happy ever after for Romeo and Juliet.

Laura Marriott

Beware the Ides of March

Guest blogger, Anneli James, writes…

On 23 April, I was teaching singing to a lovely year 6 boy at my favourite primary school. He has just got a merit for his Grade 1 singing and we were choosing new pieces for him to learn, and especially a suitable one for the school concert.

We debated the pros and cons of singing a well known song that people would enjoy hearing, against the fact that they would know if he made a mistake. Shortlisted, but rejected, were: ‘Consider Yourself’ (Oliver!), ‘No Matter What’ (Whistle Down the Wind, although apparently more notably covered by Boyzone), and ‘Summer Holiday’ (Summer Holiday).

Finally, and somewhat as a last resort, I asked if he’d like to sing Lin Marsh’s ‘Beware the Ides of March’. I told him it was a song about Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar. In great excitement my pupil exclaimed, “Shakespeare! Wasn’t he a Tudor? And he wrote stuff! We are doing Tudors in class. Won’t an audience be impressed if I can sing something by Shakespeare?” He asked me to play him the song.

It is exciting, slow and menacing in a minor key with plenty of piano tremellos. We discussed the plot briefly, and chatted about Shakespeare writing a play about something that was ancient history even to him. ‘Beware the Ides of March’ beat all the other shortlisted songs, by virtue of the Shakespeare connection.

My pupil went home very happily to try and get his head around complicated words like Caesar, Cassius, conspiracy, prophecy. The song will be featured in the June concert — wish us luck! And a big congratulations to the wonderful class teacher who inspired them with such excitement about Shakespeare. It just seemed a wonderful thing to happen on his birthday!

Anneli James

Jacobi’s Lear: a heartbreaking vision

Guest blogger, Angela Cartwright, writes…

Like many, no doubt, I find myself drawn to dramatic productions of King Lear. It’s not so much that I yearn for something new and fresh (after all, the text off the page in any interpretation is bound to entertain), but there’s always the possibility that this might occur. Not necessarily throughout an entire production but somewhere.

And in this regards, Sir Derek Jacobi’s performance as Lear in Michael Grandage’s 2010 production for the Donmar Warehouse did not disappoint. For me, there was one moment in particular that was simply unforgettable.

It’s all too familiar: the storm is heard brewing at the end of Act II and it then forms the backdrop for Act III. And it is usually such a dominating feature that it can be quite difficult to hear the speeches clearly above the cataclysmic racket. Certainly, I’ve seen many productions where Lear has personified the storm by shouting and blustering his way through the well-known speech: “Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks!”

But not this production and not Jacobi.

Instead, the sound of the storm fell away dramatically and the audience seemed entirely still as well as silent as the world of Lear assumed a hushed and altogether disturbing atmosphere. And only then did Jacobi begin. His delivery of this speech was absolutely spellbinding and also quite frightening. Rather than opting for an outward display of rage, Jacobi’s Lear quietly internalized the metaphoric storm and in this way offered a harrowing glimpse into the devastating effects of an ailing mind.
Never before had I been so confronted and affected by the pitiable spectacle of this king – this man – losing his 5 wits and much, much more besides. And as a consequence, tears – hitherto unbidden so early in the play – were called forth and shed, because of the rather surprising and overwhelming pathos generated by this heartbreaking vision.

I’ve wondered whether this interpretation — and perhaps also my response to it — was informed by the reality our aging society and its increasing demands on an ailing health system. There may well be something in that but, that being said, the truth of the matter is that the play itself accommodated this interpretation. And to my mind, the fact that this play could deliver something so seemingly modern and breathtakingly real — after so many centuries and countless productions — is more than enough proof of its brilliance.

Angela Cartwright

Shakespeare, or Something Like It

Guest blogger, Sarah Leeves, writes…

Learning a foreign language is quite an achievement. To be honest, I could never get my head around French, let alone why the chair was feminine and the floor was masculine, or whatever. This is how some people, including my Dad, feel about Shakespeare.

“It’s just a load of arty nonsense,” says Dad. “Why not say exactly what you mean? To the point. It’s just too posh.”

So a few plays, written for “the common people” by a “common” man and performed to the masses as a primitive form of TV is too posh…go figure! But that is the problem, people think Shakespeare is too posh and the language is foreign.

Now don’t get me wrong, Othello isn’t an easy read. I’ve stumbled over “I kiss’d thee ere I killed thee, no way but this; / Killing myself, to die upon a kiss” (V, ii) countless times; first off, there are too many “e”s for me to cope with. But I enjoy reading it – a play written hundreds of years ago that STILL has relevance today – not that we all settle arguments with rapiers nowadays, but that segregation and prejudice are still problems. STILL. And apparently society has progressed…?

For GCSE, I directed A Midsummer Night’s Dream with a Bollywood backdrop and a brilliant modern soundtrack. The performance was choreographed with familiar dance routines and the costumes were plush and Eastern. I got an A (thank you). The school and the audience loved it. Why? Because it was relevant and relatable (SPOILER: in actual fact, I didn’t change any of the language or the scenarios, I just changed the costume and the scenery). Audiences love familiarity and when something is alien to them, the language for example, they quickly panic, switch off and go back to Eastenders. With my piece, the audience loved the costumes and the recognizable music so they were immediately hooked. That meant the script worked its magic and enchanted without them even noticing. Fab.

What I’m trying to say, granted in a round-about way, is that Shakespeare is for everyone; it’s clever, relevant and accessible. Once you break down the language “barrier”, it’s plain sailing. It’s only a barrier if you let it be so, like deciding not to go to the gym because it’s raining (put a coat on and just do it). The same can be said for Shakespeare, minus the coat: make a cup of tea, sit down and actually READ IT. Slowly. Maybe I should take my own advice and give French another go…

So to conclude, Shakespeare is as much for today as it was many years ago. If Gnomeo and Juliet has taught me anything other than gardens are magical places, it’s that people secretly love Shakespeare – they just won’t admit it.

Sarah Leeves

This candle burns not clear

Andrew Honey, one of the Bodleian’s conservators who worked on the First Folio, writes…

This candle burns not clear: ’tis I must snuff it

Henry VIII, III, ii

Andrew Honey and Sarah Wheale study First Folios

Andrew Honey and Sarah Wheale study First Folios

Recent attention has rightly focused on the ‘Bodleian’ copy of the First Folio (Arch. G c.7) but some final checks of the catalogue records, in advance of the images being published, gave me the chance to see the Bodleian’s other copy – the ‘Malone’ (Arch. G c.8). I spent two memorable mornings with Sarah Wheale and Pip Willcox collating the two copies. This involved a leaf-by-leaf comparison of them against each other and against the published descriptions, checking for anomalies and differences.

If the Bodleian copy stands as witness to the early reception of the plays, then the Malone copy marks the start of modern Shakespearean textual scholarship. It belonged to Edmond Malone (1741–1812), the editor of Shakespeare whose unprecedented documentary and textual research led him to consult the early quartos and folios of the plays more thoroughly than any scholar before him in order to establish an authoritative text.

At first sight Malone’s copy, clad in a late eighteenth-century binding that he commissioned, looks more pristine than the well-thumbed but carefully preserved Bodleian copy. Closer examination, however, reveals a greater degree of repair and ‘improvement’. The repairs seem to have been carried out as part of the binding process and some pages are now discoloured in places – probably the result of the partial rinsing (with new bleaching agents that were just starting to be used in this period) to remove blots and annotations from books.

The book has other more mysterious marks which seem to be later than the rebinding.  As we carefully worked though the volume burn holes were spotted in places and groups of round stains could be seen. Surely these cannot have happened after the book entered the Bodleian in 1815, where all readers and staff solemnly swear an oath that they will not “kindle therein any fire or flame” – could they have been caused by Edmond Malone’s nighttime reading?

Unfortunately Edmond Malone did not live to see the ‘snuffless’ candles that emerged in the 1820s with plaited wicks: his nighttime reading would have required constant tending of his candle. Maureen Dillon in her illuminating Artificial Sunshine: a social history of domestic lighting (London: National Trust, 2002) explains that “the best-quality tallow candles could last for at least twenty minutes before snuffing, while the cheapest tallow candles, if a decent flame was to be kept and guttering avoided, needed snuffing every few minutes”.

The burn marks in the Malone copy are small, and appear to be caused by small embers falling onto the opened book and lying there momentarily before being extinguished. Other burn holes, decreasing in size, are found in the leaves underneath the first hole but are not found on the leaves facing the largest hole.

The yellowish round stains have the appearance of wax or tallow and fall as circular spots which have made the paper translucent in places. Could this be evidence of Malone’s distracted management of tallow candles whilst he read? The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography records that he seriously damaged his eye-sight by combing through the corporation archives at Stratford by dim candle-light; his First Folio would seem to suggest that he read it on occasion under similarly difficult lighting conditions.

Andrew Honey (with thanks to Abigail Williams)