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).

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)

Conservation Diary — Day 10

Nicole Gilroy writes…

Nicole Gilroy shows the First Folio to visitors Francesca Heaney, Steve Rodgers, Richard McCabe and Tim Kirtley

Nicole Gilroy shows the First Folio to visitors Francesca Heaney, Steve Rodgers, Richard McCabe and Tim Kirtley

The two weeks have flown by, and, fortified by a good breakfast at Mick’s Café, the team started on the final day of the stabilization work. We reviewed the work that has been done and we are happy that the splints and joint support are functioning as we intended.

The Maltby's box

The Maltby’s box

Measurements of the book were taken so that a new tailor-made box can be ordered for it: suitable housing is crucial to the preservation of rare books, and though the First Folio has a rather fine presentation box, made for it by the Oxford firm Maltby’s on its return to the library, the box is damaged and is no longer protecting the book as well as we would like.

A custom-made box covered in hard-wearing linen cloth will be constructed for the book, and in true Bodleian style the old box, in its own card box, will be retained alongside it on the shelf!

 
 

Emma Smith and The Guardian's Maev Kennedy

Emma Smith and The Guardian’s Maev Kennedy

We have had some fantastic responses to the project from the media, with journalists from the local news as well as The Guardian and BBC Radio 4 visiting to see our work. The team were delighted to host a visit from Vanessa Redgrave who has given her enthusiastic and heartfelt support to the project. This has made the workshop a busy place over the last two weeks, and we have greatly enjoyed sharing our work with these and many other visitors.

Andrew Honey and The Guardian's Frantzesco Kangaris

Andrew Honey and The Guardian’s Frantzesco Kangaris

Next week the project moves on to the next exciting phase: the digitization itself. The work of the Conservation team is not over, as we will be working closely with our specialist photographers to ensure the safety of the book while getting the best possible images.

Our brief time with this very special book has sparked our interest in many areas: the binding methods and techniques, the paper quality, the material used for repair patches and much more. We look forward to seeing the plays online when the work is complete, and will be following up the threads of evidence that we have been able to pick up during our work.

I hope these notes have been interesting and have given a glimpse of the sort of work that goes on in the Conservation workshop: a combination of history, archaeology, technical analysis, photography, and an awful lot of thinking and talking. Only when we have done all of that do we pick up our brushes and spatulas and carry out the repair.

Sabina Pugh, Julie Sommerfeldt, Arthur Green, Vanessa Redgrave, Andrew Honey, Nicole Gilroy and Thelma Holt

Sabina Pugh, Julie Sommerfeldt, Arthur Green, Vanessa Redgrave, Andrew Honey, Nicole Gilroy and Thelma Holt

Conservation Diary — Day 9

Nicole Gilroy writes…

The final intact bifolium, before treatment

The final intact bifolium, before treatment

We are coming to the end of the treatment needed.

The final bifolium of the book had shifted out of position and protruded from the edge, causing damage to the corner.

The book's final intact bifolium, during work

Nicole Gilroy and Julie Sommerfeldt work on the book’s final intact bifolium

The final intact bifolium, after treatment

The final intact bifolium, after treatment

We have relaxed the spine fold and repositioned the bifolium so that the edges are back within the textblock and in their proper position.

We have also evaluated the success of our splint repairs and are pleased with the way that they allow the leaves to flex properly again.

Final leaf of Titus Andronicus before splint repairs

Final leaf of Titus Andronicus before splint repairs

Final leaf of Titus Andronicus after splint repairs

Final leaf of Titus Andronicus after splint repairs

Last leaf after treatment

Last leaf after treatment

The 3 detached leaves of Cymbeline (around the re-positioned bifolium) will be replaced in position, loose, at the back of the book. In our usual work, we would re-attach loose leaves, repairing the torn spine folds and hinging the loose leaves back into position. But we felt that such repair was undesirable in this case, and would stand out against the minimal approach to the rest of the volume, so they will remain loose. As the book will not be handled by readers as an ordinary book would be, the risks of unattached leaves can be balanced with the principle of minimal interference.

Conservation Diary — Day 8

Nicole Gilroy writes…

As we have looked closely at the edges of the book, we have noticed that there is a break in the textblock: this is usually caused by a split in the sewing or spine linings or adhesive.

A clear break in the  kettle stitch (part of the sewing) at the tail end of the book

A clear break in the kettle stitch (part of the sewing) at the tail end of the book

It is common to see this in the middle of a book, and we have been wondering when this damage occurred, and if it is getting worse, as we thought it might be after going through the book leaf by leaf.

The break in the text-block showing as a step in the edges of the book

The break in the text-block showing as a step in the edges of the book

Yet again, the photographic record of the condition of the book soon after its return to the Bodleian has come to our aid: this time the photograph taken to show the original position of the book in Duke Humfrey’s library, fore-edge out as it would have been chained, clearly shows the ridge along the fore-edge demonstrating that the text-block break had already happened at that point.

The original position of the volume

The volume (marked with an X) in its original position in Duke Humfrey’s Library, showing the text-block break as a ridge in the lower fore-edge. Photo taken soon after the book’s return to the library in the early 20th century.

The edges of the book tell us more than just the condition of the sewing. There are some distinctive ripples along the edges that have made us think a little more about how it was bound.

We know from the size of the leaves that very little was trimmed from the edges, but the edges were certainly trimmed slightly and sprinkled red, though this has now faded and worn.

The edges of a book could have been trimmed in one of two ways in the 17th century: with a draw-knife (a hand-held two-handled knife); or with the relatively new invention, the plough (which involved setting the book up in a horizontal press and running a blade in a jig along the edges creating a neater trim).

The edge of the book

The edge of the book, with possible evidence of trimming using a draw-knife

The rippled edges of the First Folio, with their slight horizontal scoops, suggest that the quicker (therefore cheaper) method of the draw-knife may have been used, perhaps hinting at a more workaday binding rather than an expensive one. This, in combination with the evidence of less-than-perfect paper selection makes us think that this book was not quite the luxury item we might have thought it was.

Conservation Diary — Day 7

Nicole Gilroy writes…

Today we had another great opportunity to share our work with visitors, including Dr Emma Smith whose research is the inspiration for the project.

We talked about the evidence of very minimal trimming on the edges of the book: ours is the second largest copy of the First Folio, with the largest being only ⅛ inch wider than ours, and the same height. This must have been at the request of the library — binders were keen to trim as much as possible from the edges of books to sell the waste for board-making and other purposes.

Nicole Gilroy, using splint repairs to support torn areas of the text

Nicole Gilroy, using splint repairs to support torn areas of the text

Here are some details of the splint repairs we are using to support the damages areas of the leaves. We use paste cooked from wheat-starch. This is a purified version of the flour paste Turbutt would have used for his repairs, but ours has the gluten removed.

Applying a splint repair to a torn area

Applying a splint repair to a torn area

Gluten is the component of flour-and-water paste that creates stiffness and possible discolouration in the resulting adhesive. We want our repairs to be as flexible and invisible as possible, which is why we remove the gluten from our paste. These gluten-free repairs are also easily reversible, should it become necessary to reverse them in the future.

Pasting out a repair splint

Pasting out a repair splint

Conservation Diary — Day 6

Nicole Gilroy writes…

Today we have continued our work repairing and supporting the most vulnerable areas of the book.

Corner of leaf requiring unfolding to reveal obscured text

Corner of leaf requiring unfolding to reveal obscured text

Historically, it was common to patch damage in books and to paper documents by pasting neat squares of good quality writing paper over the damage.  Unfortunately, if the repair is heavier and stronger than the paper it supports, then it often causes further tearing or even loss to the original.

Tear requiring support to avoid further damage when turned

Tear requiring support to avoid further damage when turned

When we repair paper we now use a very fine, long-fibred Japanese paper and avoid hard-cut edges, instead feathering or shaping the edge of the repair to avoid creating further stress lines in the delicate original material.

Heavy paper repair applied by Richard Turbutt, which has caused further tearing

Heavy paper repair applied by Richard Turbutt, which has caused further tearing

This third image demonstrates an important principle that we follow in paper conservation: that the repair should not be stronger than the material to which it is applied.

Images of our repairs to the leaves of the First Folio to come tomorrow!

Conservation Diary — Day 5

Nicole Gilroy writes…

Romeo and Juliet, page 69, in 1905

Page 69 of Romeo and Juliet as it was when the volume came back to the Bodleian in 1905.

The first week is over, and we have now worked through the entire volume  turning over obscured text, and noting all the splint repairs that we feel need to be done in order to turn the pages without causing further damage. We are confident that we have enough time next week to complete these repairs, so that we can move to the digitization phase of the project on schedule.

We have been amazed at the physical observations that we have made as we go through the volume. The paper is in places extremely thin and often of second grade quality, with creases, pleats and papermaker’s flaws visible throughout. This has made the leaves particularly vulnerable to heavy use, and in many places the whole lower corner of the leaf has torn or broken away, one can almost imagine, in someone’s fingers.

Romeo and Juliet, page 69, in 2012

The same page today. Despite the extreme fragility of this leaf, the condition has not deteriorated.

We have an excellent image of the condition of page 69 of Romeo and Juliet in The Original Bodleian Copy of the First Folio of Shakespeare (The Turbott Shakespeare). Incredibly, it appears that the leaf is now, after 107 years, in identical condition, including the crumpled edge and extent of the tears.

It is fascinating to us, as conservators tasked with protecting the Libraries’ collections that although extreme damage was caused to the paper of the textblock during the first 40 years of its existence, the most serious damage caused in the more recent years (since 1905) has been to the attachment of the upper board, while the state of the paper seems to have remained constant. A strong reminder to us all of the importance of careful book handling and the use of suitable book supports when working with our Special Collections!

Conservation Diary — Day 4

Nicole Gilroy writes…

Today we finished straightening turned-over areas of text in the Histories, and will start on the Tragedies tomorrow. As we work through the volume we have been noting the areas that need splint repairs, and once we have been through the entire volume tomorrow we will review the repairs needed and make sure there is time to complete them all. We have also noted several features of interest that will not be clearly recorded by the digitization, such as tears that appear to have occurred during the papermaking process and which we will photograph if time allows.

Nicole and Arthur examine a tear

Nicole Gilroy and Arthur Green examine a tear, which turns out to be a flaw that occurred during the making of the paper rather than damage that has happened during handling of the book. This kind of information will be hard to examine on the flat, digitized images, and so we are recording it as much as possible during our treatment.

We had more visitors today, and the fascinating conversations continue – we discussed the separation of the plays into Comedies, Tragedies and Histories and when this distinction would have come about, and also discussed the other copies of the First Folio, particularly those in Oxford (at Queen’s and Wadham Colleges) and what level of use, repair and rebinding they display.

Conservation Diary — Day 3

Nicole Gilroy writes…

Today we examined the joint support patch, now that it is completely dry, and we are happy that it is doing its job. This means that we can open the volume more confidently and start to go through and reveal obscured text by unfolding areas of damaged paper, and also to make a note of leaves that will require splint repair.

Nicole Gilroy showing the volume to visitors

Nicole Gilroy showing the volume to visitors

It is a real treat to be able to go through this book leaf by leaf, and we are spotting all sorts of interesting features such as the bright red colour of the original edge sprinkling that has crept in between some of the leaves, and the variation in style of Turbutt’s old paper repairs – sometimes big rough patches and sometimes smaller more delicate repairs.

Andrew Honey explaining the paper treatment of the final three detached leaves

Andrew Honey explaining the paper treatment of the final three detached leaves

We had a group of visitors to see our work today, and we explained what we had done so far. We have another group of visitors tomorrow, and we are enjoying meeting the variety of people with an interest in this book and the project, from within the University but also from the Globe, the Shakespeare Institute and elsewhere.