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.

Man-eating Money Maniacs

Sprint for Shakespeare has taken a life of its own, if a quick Google search is anything to go by. We’re delighted that it has caught so many people’s imaginations.

The generosity of the public enabled the Bodleian to buy back its original copy of the book in 1906. The Library Records (shelfmarks c. 1259, c. 1260, c. 1261, and c.1262) contain many touching letters from donors, large and small, some of which we have already quoted from. We’ll publish more of these letters throughout the campaign.

But pleas for philanthropy, or (to use today’s terminology) crowd-funding, were not met with universal sympathy. The headmaster of a Surrey school liked neither the approach nor the subject matter: “why all this fuss about Shakespeare?” Our champions — actors, directors, teachers, and academics — argue more eloquently against accusations of “literary provincialism” than I could.

Read the letter and make your own mind up about the debate!

SURREY   7 2 [19]06

Dear Mr Librarian,

I have to thank you for the circular which I received from you this morning about the repurchase for the Bodleian of the fist folio Shakespeare. My finances do not permit of my offering any contribution, but it may amuse your eminence to read why I should not offer anything if I could.

Supposing the book to be worth three thousand pounds, or three millions, the present possessor ought to present it to the Bodleian, if it is a question of the honour of the Library. And he ought to do that even if he was very hard up himself. That is the way my sentiment looks at the matter.

Secondly, having due regard to the cost of existing in this present wicked world, it is quite absurd that any copy of any book should command such a price. Only the man-eating money-maniacs of America could have started such an inept fashion. Look at the cou[n]terfeit presentments of their physiognomies in this week’s “Sketch” – if you ever come in contact with so vulgar a production) – and say whether such soulless animals deserve to be dignified with the title of Man. By all means let them have EVERYTHING that can be bought for money – the Pope’s tiara and the King’s crown and a majority in the House of Commons – and a free passage across the Styx. And let them have the Shakespeare, if the present possessor’s sentiment and conscience allows him to let them have it. The only cure for covetousness is satiety – and the Styx.

Thirdly, I have myself the same passionate love for good books that you yourself have – you, the embodied Bodleian. But if I want a Shakespeare, the University Press gives me a far better copy than Mr Turbutt’s for the sum of six shillings. And when I do not want it any longer, I can safely give that copy to any intelligent boy who wants to know something about English; and when I want Shakespeare again, the University Press will provide me with a second one (it is really now the seventh) at the same modest figure. Books of historic interest should of course be in your charge; but they should be always presented – the donor does himself an honour by giving to the Bodleian, and he ought to feel insulted by the mere suggestion for of his taking money for his gift, as though he were dealing in cattle or dirty South African shares. If I were starving and possessed the Medicean Vergil, I would give it into your charge and scorn to say anything about the starvation. I will send you by return of post the most valuable book I possess, if you want it, and have not got it; it is a Vulgate printed by Froben of Basle, November 1st, 1495.

Fourthly, why all this fuss about Shakespeare? If you were offered genuine manuscripts of the lost plays of Sophocles, I can imagine that heaven and earth ought to be moved to put them where they could be seen by competent persons and properly edited. The University Press would then provide us, who love Sophocles and decent literature, with copies, much better for practical purposes than the originals, at a reasonable sum. But why all this fuss about Shakespeare? Isn’t it an artificially induced furore? Does it not remind you of the intense enthusiasm for printing millions of copies of the English Bible – an enthusiasm which is the special characteristic of a class of people who are as ignorant as sin of the real meaning and history of that collection of books? Why should the great, the dignified, Bodleian Library lend itself to the encouragement of such literary provincialism?

With genuine respect, and half-genuine sorrow (to fool with words after the Elizabethan style) I subscribe myself

Yours sincerely

Conservation Diary — Day 2

Nicole Gilroy writes…

Today we decided on the exact laminate of papers to use for our repair patch, and made up some acrylic colour to match the repair in with the leather of the original. This means that the repair will not be visually obtrusive, though it will be clear on close inspection what we have done. We have also secured some lifting fragments of the paper label on the spine.

Colour-testing laminates

Creating a colour match for the repair patch

The joint repair bridges between the spine of the text-block and the board, secured with wheat-starch paste in an existing split between the layers making up the paste-board. We need to carefully judge the pressure with which we position the repair, so that the board function is supported without creating tensions elsewhere in the joint.

Nicole Gilroy attaches the laminate

Applying the joint support patch

We have photographed the position of the three detached leaves at the back of the volume, and started work to uncrumple them and reveal the obscured text. This involves relaxing the creases in the paper using a mixture of water and alcohol on a fine brush, and then unfolding the turned-over text, and gently restraining under felts until dry. As with the rest of the treatment, this is absolutely minimal, and we are only treating areas where text is obscured. We are finding it an interesting discipline to “sit on our hands” where, in most of our usual work, we would judge it was appropriate to do more in-depth treatment.

Champions Visit

Today we were delighted to welcome great friends of Sprint for Shakespeare to the Bodleian’s Conservation Workshop. Vanessa Redgrave

Nicole Gilroy, Margo Annett, Thelma Holt and Vanessa Redgrave explore the First FolioVanessa Redgrave, Thelma Holt and Margo Annett visited the First Folio in its temporary home, accompanied by Richard Ovenden, Associate Director of the Bodleian. Nicole Gilroy and the team of conservators, Arthur Green, Andrew Honey, and Julie Sommerfeldt, explained details of the book’s history, and the work they are carrying out.

Maximilian Gill, Jessica Norman, Vanessa Redgrave, Jeremy Neumark Jones, Jordan Waller, and Ruby Thomas with the First FolioWe were lucky enough to be joined by the cast and creatives of Oxford University Dramatic Society‘s Much Ado About Nothing (produced by Thelma Holt). Aidan Grounds (Producer), Maximilian Gill (Director), Jordan Waller (Benedick), Ruby Thomas (Beatrice), Jeremy Neumark Jones (Claudio), and Jessica Norman (Hero) chatted to Vanessa Redgrave before filming part of Act 1, Scene 1 with the BBC Oxford television crew:

What, my dear Lady Disdain! are you yet living?

Vanessa Redgrave and Jeremy SternJeremy Stern conducted interviews with Richard Ovenden and Vanessa Redgrave: if you are local to the Oxford area, watch the 6.30 news on BBC1 tonight to see more!

We’re enormously grateful to Vanessa Redgrave and Thelma Holt for all the support they are lending our campaign. It was a joy to be able to show them and our other guests our work underway.

Much Ado About Nothing opens at the Bodleian on 7 August 2012, before going on tour to Stratford-upon-Avon (The Dell), London (Southwark Playhouse), Guildford (Mill Studio, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre), and Tokyo (Saitama Arts Theatre). Tickets for the Oxford run are available from the Oxford Playhouse.

Conservation Diary — Day 1

Nicole Gilroy, who heads the team of conservators working on the First Folio, is keeping a diary of their work. Read more about the work here as it progresses.

Nicole Gilroy, Arthur Green, Julie Sommerfeldt and Andrew Honey examine the First FolioThe First Folio has arrived in the Conservation workshop and our stabilization work has begun. The first task was to examine the book closely and to plan the treatments needed to protect it during photography.

This is a very unusual project, because the repair we carry out will be extremely minimal, so much so that after treatment the volume will still not be fit to be handled normally, such as might be expected in a reading room. This is for two reasons: one being that the time available is very limited (we have the volume in our workshop for only two weeks),  but most importantly, the unique damage to this copy of the First Folio is crucial evidence of its history and usage.

The volume has never been rebound, and apart from some paper patches added in the eighteenth century by its previous owner, the collector Richard Turbutt, it has never been repaired. Far be it from us, then, to interfere with it more than is absolutely necessary.

Still, there are some causes for major concern associated with the plan to photograph every page of the volume. The photograph taken in 1905 to illustrate the publication The Original Bodleian Copy of the First Folio of Shakespeare (The Turbott Shakespeare), put out by the Clarendon Press, shows a tear in the leather along the joint of the upper board.

The First Folio in 1905Sadly, over the past 107 years that tear has extended to half the length of the board, with breaks to the actual sewing supports meaning that the attachment of the board is very fragile indeed. Even with the utmost care in handling, opening and supporting the book repeatedly for photography will still cause the board attachment to deteriorate, and to repair a detached board is not a process that can be done without significant interference to the structure of the book.The First Folio in 2012

Our first job, before even looking at any treatment needed to the leaves of the textblock, is to support the board attachment and take the strain of opening away from the last remaining piece of leather. Today and tomorrow we are working on creating a suitable laminate of toned Japanese paper that we will attach at the joint of the textblock, and which will support the opening of the board while preventing further tearing of the leather.

King Lear in Quarto and Folio

Will Sharpe writes…

Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies, the book that has come to be known more familiarly around the world as the First Folio of Shakespeare, was published in 1623 by the stationer Edward Blount, and printed by the father-and-son duo William and Isaac Jaggard. Its bringing to light, however, was down to an apparent labour of love on the part of two of the principal actors in Shakespeare’s theatre company, John Heminges and Henry Condell.

It is not beyond the realms of possibility that Shakespeare, sensing the approach of death, might himself have asked his friends to see his works into print, although arguments about Shakespeare’s attitude towards the printing of his works remain frustratingly opaque. Lukas Erne, among others, has argued, in his book Shakespeare as Literary Dramatist, that Shakespeare cared very much about his own presence in the London bookshops, while it has been a longstanding narrative attaching to Shakespeare, still upheld in many corners, that he virtually let the manuscript pages he had written flutter into the breeze behind him, such was his apparent indifference to posterity.

This is of course an offshoot of the Romantic vision of Shakespeare as genius, as unworldly creator, and the more usual view of him as a non-literary author in the modern sense has been, since the 1980s, to reemphasise his role as theatrical professional, writing scripts for a company that then held control of them as business assets (their business being live performance). The Folio is justly regarded as one of the most important books in the English language, not least because it ensured the survival of around half of Shakespeare’s plays. All of the following were first printed in, and therefore rendered to posterity by, this book:

  •  All’s Well That Ends Well
  • Antony and Cleopatra
  • As You Like It
  • The Comedy of Errors
  • Coriolanus
  • Cymbeline
  • 1 Henry VI
  • Henry VIII
  • Julius Caesar
  • King John
  • Macbeth
  • Measure for Measure
  • The Taming of the Shrew
  • The Tempest
  • Timon of Athens
  • Twelfth Night
  • The Two Gentlemen of Verona
  • The Winter’s Tale

The rest had already been individually printed in quarto format – small, flimsy books that were cheap to produce – though some of these differ quite dramatically from their Folio counterparts.

There are many reasons for this, and every Folio text has a different genetic history (the fullest and best account can be found in the Oxford University Press study, William Shakespeare: A Textual Companion).

To choose King Lear as probably the highest profile case, no other Shakespeare play that exists in multiple formats bears such strong evidence of revision from Quarto to Folio, apparently informed by attempts to perform it on stage, and this is just one of the ways in which the Folio can also tell us about Shakespeare’s work as both creative artist and pragmatic theatre professional.

The 1608 Quarto, called The True Chronicle History of King Lear lacks about 100 lines that are in the Folio text, which calls itself The Tragedy of King Lear, but notably contains about 300 that aren’t, including the ‘mock trial’ scene in the hovel on the heath during the storm.

Somewhere around 1610, Shakespeare almost certainly adapted his original text for a revival, making the aforementioned additions and cuts and altering many words and phrases within speeches.  There are thus many “substantive” differences (i.e. differences in individual words) between Quarto (Q) and Folio (F), which can be illustrated by comparing Lear’s opening line from each:

Q – ‘Meanwhile we will express our darker purposes.’

F – ‘Meanwhile we shall express our darker purpose.’ (I, i)

The Oxford Shakespeare prints the two texts separately, such are the complexities of the linguistic and structural differences between them, though the tradition in editing has been more towards conflation.

Painstaking studies show that the Quarto text bears strong linguistic parallels with the plays that chronologically precede it (All’s WellTimonOthello), while the language of the Folio text is more akin to Shakespeare’s late ‘Romance’ plays (The Winter’s TaleCymbeline and The Tempest), thus strengthening the claim for the date of revision being around 1610.

There is no evidence for performances of this revival, but we can say with near certainty, based on the Folio text, that they must have taken place. The substantive readings of F are perceived by many as superior to those of Q, while Q’s ‘mock trial’ scene has repeatedly proved an immensely powerful moment in performances of the play, speaking directly to twentieth-century audiences informed philosophically by the ‘theatre of the absurd’, pioneered by writers such as Samuel Beckett as a way of illustrating the desperate futility of man’s existence (a huge thematic concern in King Lear).

That the scene was cut from Shakespeare’s later adaptation may suggest that it didn’t have the same poignant resonance with Jacobean audiences, though whatever the case may have been, the Folio can nonetheless be seen by this example to be, among many other things, a valuable source of evidence for theatre historians as well as literary critics.

The Folio takes its soubriquet from the folio format in which it is printed, characterised by a single folding of the sheets of paper – very expensive at the time – that are to be bound together, hence bigger books, using more paper and at much greater cost to the publisher. It was mainly reserved for Bibles, as the publisher was certain of recovering costs on them.

Printing plays from the unsavoury public theatres in folio was virtually unheard of, though Ben Jonson’s much-derided Workes of 1616, the year of Shakespeare’s death, is the notable precedent. There was obvious financial gain to be had – the Folio cost 15 shillings unbound or a pound if it was bound, depending on the binding – yet it was also a risk. It clearly paid off, however, and were it not for the efforts of all those involved in the venture our knowledge of Shakespeare would, quite literally, be half of what it is today.

Some of the most global, inexhaustible artworks we have would have been – but for the careful mechanical labours of a group of men in a London printing house between 1621 and 1623 – lost within the great vault of history.

Images of the Folio already abound online, but the Bodleian’s copy still retains the cover in which it was bound in 1624 when the library took ownership of it, and the page damage shows the reading habits of a cohort of seventeenth-century students handling the book as utilitarian object not priceless cultural artefact. It made a long, partially mysterious journey away from the library, returning again in the early twentieth century, and is, in other words, more valuable as a material witness to its own reception and survival than as a conveyor of text (many “clean” copies of the Folio survive). The conservation team is therefore applying a minimal interference policy to preserve that record for bibliographic study. The book’s fragility means that it would be a story in which few could share; but this exciting online digitisation project will ensure that it is one that can potentially reach, and inspire, the whole world.

Will Sharpe