Sir Walter Scott, John Keats, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe and I have something in common. We’ve all made the pilgrimage to Warwickshire, England to honor William Shakespeare.
Some pilgrims take the “Sacred Way of English Literature,” wandering along a footpath to the hamlet of Shottery, finding inspiration as the young Shakespeare did when he was on his way to court Anne Hathaway. In the famous half-timbered Tudor cottage with a thatched roof rests the high-backed wooden settle which Will and Anne are said to have sat upon before the fire, under the watchful eyes of her parents.
But the greatest feelings of anticipation and excitement are reserved for the star attraction — the home on Henley Street in nearby Stratford-upon-Avon where the playwright was born in April 1564. To commemorate their visit to this hallowed shrine, many of those Victorian-era authors scratched their names on a window in the room where Shakespeare was born; I bought a sterling silver flower pin in the gift shop. But as we walked where he did and saw things that he had seen in the home where his father, John, also made and sold gloves, we all felt his presence pervade these legendary surroundings.
Shakespeare’s influence is being felt even more strongly this year. Many commemorative events are under way to mark the 400th anniversary of the playwright’s death on April 23, 1616.
Young Will, a new statue of Shakespeare was unveiled in Stratford-upon-Avon in February. The First Folio, the first printed collection of Shakespeare’s plays that was published in 1623, is visiting all 50 states in a traveling exhibition organized by the Folger Shakespeare Library. And over 100 Shakespeare-related titles are being published this year, including the Hogarth Shakespeare series, in which bestselling authors like Margaret Atwood, Anne Tyler and Tracy Chevalier retell some of Shakespeare’s plays as modern-day novels.
But not all quadricentennial pilgrimages lead to Warwickshire. Closer to home, visit Kenyon College to see “Shakespeare 400,” a special exhibition at Greenslade Special Collections & Archives exploring Shakespeare’s accomplishments and his place within literature.
One display case focuses on sources that inspired Shakespeare, such as the Latin texts of Ovid, the Greek dramas of Aeschylus, and The Reports, written by Shakespeare’s contemporary, Sir Edward Coke. Another celebrates the world to which Shakespeare was responding. A 1635 edition of Gerardus Mercator’s Atlas and Johannes Kepler’s Tabulae Rudolphinae from 1627 illustrate this age of global exploration that popularized maps of the earth and skies, travel logs and navigational treatises.
During Shakespeare’s lifetime, stage plays were not considered serious literature. However, seven years after his death, two actors in his company published the text of 36 of his plays in a folio-sized volume, arranging them into comedies, histories and tragedies. The Second Folio was a corrected page-for-page reprint of the First Folio, followed by the publication of the Third Folio in 1663 and the Fourth Folio in 1685.
Other Shakespeare-themed texts in the exhibition include Tales from Shakespeare, a children’s edition of Shakespeare plays by Mary Lamb that was first printed in 1807; a facsimile of Shakespeare’s signature, part of a collection of Shakespearean papers and letters that were forged by William Ireland and published in 1796; and pressed flowers that were collected from Shakespeare’s garden in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1907.
A Federal-style secretary and bookcase, produced around 1820 for Kenyon’s founder, Philander Chase, contains Shakespeare-themed merchandise like rubber ducks, bears, action figures and pop-up versions of the Globe Theatre.
A Shakespearean magnetic poetry kit, a poseable Shakespeare action figure, a Shakespeare punching puppet, and other Shakespeare-themed merchandise like bandages, sticky notes, lip balms and air fresheners are available for purchase in the Kenyon College Bookstore.
“Shakespeare 400” is on view through August 12 at Kenyon’s Olin and Chalmers Libraries during Greenslade Special Collections & Archives’ open hours, Monday-Friday 9 am–12 pm and 1–4pm. Related events taking place at Kenyon this semester include a sonnet-writing competition, film screenings and discussions of Shakespeare-based movies, a cooking event featuring early-modern recipes, and lectures discussing the global elements of Shakespeare’s works.
Even closer to home, the Westerville Public Library is also offering some special programming to mark the Shakespeare quadricentennial. On Thursday, April 7 from 6:30 to 8:00 pm, join others at the library to watch In Search of Shakespeare, a documentary series with a companion book by Michael Wood, that follows Shakespeare’s life and explores how he created his work that was shaped by his times. Otterbein English Professor Norman Chaney will lead a discussion and lecture titled “Shakespeare’s Life, Language and Legacy” at the library on Monday, April 25 from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m.
“The Coming Shakespeare Extravaganza,” from the December 16, 2015 edition of the Wall Street Journal, provides more information about the Shakespeare quadricentennial.
You can imagine how much is planned in Great Britain to commemorate this event. What I’d like to see most is “Shakespeare in the Royal Library,” on view at Windsor Castle until January 1, 2017. The exhibition draws on material in the Royal Library, including works of Shakespeare collected by the royal family, such as a copy of Shakespeare’s Second Folio with annotations by Charles I and George III; accounts of performances at Windsor Castle; and art by members of the royal family inspired by Shakespeare’s plays. Click here for digital representations of the items included in the exhibition.
For more on Shakespeare, check out The Genius of Shakespeare and Soul of the Age: The Life, Mind and World of William Shakespeare, both by Jonathan Bate; 1599: Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare; A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare and The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606, all by James Shapiro; Shakespeare: The World As Stage, by Bill Bryson; and Shakespeare: The Biography, by Peter Ackroyd.
Miami University Libraries, my previous employer, made its copies of all four folios digitally available; you can see them here.
The Great Courses: How to Read and Understand Shakespeare is a series of 24 30-minute lectures given by my friend Marc Conner, interim provost and the Jo M. and James Ballengee Professor of English at Washington and Lee University. Watch and listen to Marc give you a set of tools that will help you reach your own comprehension of the plays, comprehend Shakespeare’s poetic language, discover his characters and stories, and learn about his world, including how theater and stagecraft were practiced during his day. It’s available for borrowing through the Columbus Metropolitan Library, after a certain “power patron” requested its purchase. Click here to reserve it.
“Approaching Shakespeare’s Kings: Understanding Shakespeare’s Stage,” a lecture Marc gave as part of Washington and Lee University’s July 2015 Alumni College on Shakespeare’s kings, discusses how the conventions of the stage allowed Shakespeare to express his political beliefs, using the historical tragedy Richard II to show how Shakespeare explores kingship in his plays. You can watch it here.
If you’d like to discover more about the Shakespeare homes in the Stratford-on-Avon area, see Anne Hathaway’s Cottage: Its History, Contents and Traditions, by F.W. Bennett; Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, by Wilfrid J. Osborne; In Honour of Shakespeare: The History and Collections of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, by Levi Fox; On the Trail of William Shakespeare, by J. Keith Cheetham; Shakespeare’s Shrine: The Bard’s Birthplace and the Invention of Stratford-upon-Avon, by Julia Thomas; Walking with William Shakespeare, by Anne-Marie Edwards; and Shakespeare’s Gardens, by Jackie Bennett, Andrew Lawson and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.
The Shakespeare Birthplace is one of the literary pilgrimage sites described in Freud’s Couch, Scott’s Buttocks, Brontë’s Grave, by Simon Goldhill. “Women Re-Read Shakespeare Country” is a chapter in Literary Tourism and Nineteenth-Century Culture, edited by Nicola J. Watson.
Two new books about Shakespeare’s First Folio have been published, just in time for the anniversary: Shakespeare’s First Folio: Four Centuries of an Iconic Book and The Making of Shakespeare’s First Folio, both by Emma Smith.