Recap @ NU: “In the Shadow of Shakespeare: 400 Years”

This post offers a recap of “In the Shadow of Shakespeare: 400 Years,” a single-evening exhibit and program on non-Shakespearean anniversaries held on April 7, 2016 at Northwestern University, and coordinated by the NU Early Modern Colloquium. Photos are courtesy of Elizabeth Rodriguez, English PhD candidate at NU and producer and host of the podcast Rude Tudors.


One of 2 copies at Northwestern: Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, Comedies and Tragedies (London, 1647). Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections, L Kestnbaum B379p.

2016, as you probably know, has been defined largely as “the year of Shakespeare.” All over the U.S. and the English-speaking world (and beyond), universities, schools, libraries, theaters, and cultural institutions of all kinds – even restaurants (!) – are celebrating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. “Too much, or not too much: That is the question,” began a December 2015 Wall Street Journal article on this year’s worldwide celebration. For those answering “Not too much,” the First Folio is coming or has come to a city near you, thanks to a program put together by the Folger Shakespeare Library.

And if we can understand all this excitement as a kind of Renaissance earthquake jolting us from our modern sensibilities (one can hope), Chicago is arguably its epicenter. With 850 events at 120 sites across the city, and featuring more than 1,000 artists from around the world, Shakespeare 400 Chicago is an impressive feat. As someone who studies the literature and culture of the Renaissance, I’m lucky to live in the midst of all Chicago’s Shakespearean enthusiasm, and I’ve also been glad to participate in writing for City Desk along with several of my colleagues and other early modernists in the greater Chicago area. Like a number of universities, Northwestern has its own program, too: ShakespeaRevel.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAll 19 items included in this open exhibit featured a label written up by a PhD student. The display highlighted Beaumont and Cervantes, but also featured a broader context: works by King James I, Michel de Montaigne, Samuel Purchas, Edmund Spenser. The stationer William Stansby was responsible in some way for several of these items.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANU faculty and students examine early printed books selected for “In the Shadow of Shakespeare.”

But in coordinating “In the Shadow of Shakespeare: 400 Years” at Northwestern, and in a way intended not to undermine, but to accompany and expand these citywide festivities, my early modernist colleagues and I wished to ask: “What else?” and “Who else?” Here, we hoped to join the  conversation surrounding the Beaumont400 Conference at King’s College London, the “Dare to Tell” Ben Jonson conference at the University of St Andrews, and Cervantes programs at the Newberry Library, the University of Pennsylvania, and other institutions too numerous to list (see #Cervantes400). We know Shakespeare’s life came to an end in 1616, certainly. But what about the Elizabethan theater entrepreneur Philip Henslowe, whose diary has been a major source for our knowledge about Renaissance drama? He died the same year. Or Francis Beaumont, Shakespeare’s playwright contemporary, also dead in 1616? Or the English writer and voyager Richard Hakluyt, who died that year as well?

Of course, 1616 also witnessed the publication of Ben Jonson’s Workes, a dramatic folio without which it is difficult to comprehend the importance of Shakespeare’s First Folio (even as we dust off forgotten copies here and here). The year 1616 also saw the opening of the Cockpit Theater in London. Going beyond England, what about Miguel de Cervantes, Spanish playwright arguably as influential as Shakespeare in the history of Western literature? Died in 1616. Or Tang Xianzu, a Chinese playwright responsible for the Mudan Ting (The Peony Pavilion) and commemorated in a recent edited collection? There’s another. And what about 500 years ago? Thomas More’s Utopia and Lodovico Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso both saw print for the first time in 1516.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMiguel de Cervantes, The [Second Part of the] History of The Valorous and Witty-Knight-Errant; Don-Quixote, of the Mancha, trans. Thomas Shelton (London, 1672-75), Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections, Large 863.3 C41dXs.4

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“In the Shadow of Shakespeare” attracted faculty, students, & staff from Art History, Classics, English, French & Italian, Gender & Sexuality Studies, NU Libraries, Spanish & Portuguese, and Theater and Drama.

To broaden this year’s 1616 conversation in Chicago (and beyond), “In the Shadow of Shakespeare” featured a PhD student-curated exhibit of 19 early printed books featuring some (not all) of the figures listed above. In this way, it built upon ongoing collaborations at Northwestern between humanities faculty, graduate students, and librarians, especially Renaissance Books, Midwestern Libraries in 2014-15.  Significantly, it also included a series of brief talks by early modernist faculty from diverse fields: William West (English and Classics), Jeffrey Masten (English & Gender & Sexuality Studies) Dario Fernandez-Morera (Spanish & Portuguese), Sylvester Johnson (African American Studies & Religious Studies), Kelly Wisecup (English), Paola Zamperini (Asian Languages & Cultures), and Sophie Lemercier-Goddard (visiting this month from the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon).

Limited to five minutes apiece, each speaker posed insightful and provocative questions: If we’d retained seventeenth-century dramatic tastes and valued Beaumont above Shakespeare today, what might we quote instead of “To be, or not to be?” What can we learn from closely examining the clothing in Simon van de Passe’s 1616 engraving of Matoaka (Pocahontas)? How could an electronic edition of Samuel Purchas’s writings expand our knowledge of early modern culture, religion, and race? What were the dramatic afterlives of More’s Utopia? Beginning in Shakespeare’s London and expanding outward to the Mediterranean, the Atlantic World, and the Far East, “In the Shadow of Shakespeare” illustrated the many advantages of delving into a single year in time – across countries, languages, and modern departmental disciplines – and using local collections to inspire curiosity and intellectual exchange. Perhaps we’ll do it all again in 2023, while the rest of the world zeroes in ever-closer on the First Folio.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe exhibit also featured this messy copy of Spenser from the same decade. Do you like early handwriting? Edmund Spenser, The faerie qveen. The shepheards calendar (London, 1617), Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections, Large 821.3 S74f1617.

Beyond the people mentioned above, there are many people to thank for the success of “In the Shadow of Shakespeare.” The Early Modern Colloquium is deeply indebted to: Scott Krafft, Jason Nargis, and the library staff at the Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections; Tonia Grafakos and the Northwestern Preservation staff; Sarah Pritchard, Dean of Libraries and Charles Deering McCormick University Librarian; Kasey Evans, English Department faculty liaison to the EMC; graduate students Anne Boemler, Meghan Costa, Rebecca Fall, Lee Huttner, Simon Nyi, Raashi Rastogi, Jason Rosenholtz-Witt, and EMC Co-Coordinator Emily Wood; at the Kaplan Institute for the Humanities, Postdoctoral Fellow Danny Snelson, Graduate Assistant Ira Murfin, and Director Wendy Wall; for library logistics, Suzette Radford, Kolter Campbell, Clare Roccaforte, and Drew Scott. Finally, support for this program came from all the EMC’s 2015-2016 sponsors, including English, French & Italian, the Kaplan Institute for the Humanities, Religious Studies, Science in Human Culture, Spanish & Portuguese, Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences, and Ed Muir.

“Rare” Books in the Bookstacks?

This post is a follow-up to a photograph I tweeted a couple days ago, and will give me space to respond to a few comments. While browsing the stacks at Northwestern this weekend to get a sense of the editorial history of plays by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, I came across this item:


This book is more than 250 years old. It contains the first and second of ten volumes in The Works of Beaumont and Fletcher, edited by Lewis Theobald, Thomas Seward, and Thomas Sympson. Both were released in 1750 in London for Jacob and Richard Tonson as well as for S. Draper. The Tonson family was renowned for its London bookselling business during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and is especially famous for its relationships with Milton and Dryden. The first volume contains A King and No King, which some critics have pegged as a royalist play (along with the 1647 Beaumont and Fletcher folio more generally), so one might wonder about this editorial project’s appearance sixteen years before the American Revolution. That’s meant to be suggestive; with a few very noteworthy exceptions (Margreta De Grazia’s Shakespeare Verbatim perhaps foremost among these), the study of eighteenth-century editions of Renaissance dramatic texts has received relatively little study. As Jeffrey Masten stated recently in a seminar, it’s usually all about the first editions, and this attitude overlooks chances to study the various contexts in which texts are re-printed and re-read.

John Vincler wondered about the binding on this Beaumont and Fletcher. “It’s that they are often in 50 yo library bindings that is most unfortunate. I always wonder about prev. binding,” he tweeted. So do I. This volume fortunately does not have a library binding (by Heckman or any other similar company), and it’s worthwhile to note that the first two volumes of the series are bound together. The spine is fairly ornate and features some gold-tooled lettering.

100_2296 100_2293

The binding seems roughly contemporary with the leaves, and a clue on a flyleaf indicates who the binder is:


I’m occupied by another project right now, so I’m probably not going to follow through on this lead, although some hasty googling showed me that James MacKenzie was a London bookbinder working roughly in our period here.

Some take-aways. I’ve seen handpress-era books in the stacks before, so discovering this book this volume wasn’t a total surprise to me. I do think this is an unusual find, however, and it’s proof that you don’t always need to go to a Special Collections reading room to conduct research on specimens of early printing (it’s often essential, though, and I’m a dedicated advocate). I’m keeping the book at my open carrel for now. It’s not an emergency that a book this old is exposed to students’  sometimes-unruly reading habits (I’m reminded of an anecdote of William Empson, who had to purchase a new copy of Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus for the London Library after smearing it with toast and jam while reading*). John Overholt, curator of early modern books and manuscripts at Harvard’s Houghton Library, tweeted that if he found a book like this in the stacks he would probably send it to remote storage, “but it’s probably fine in the stacks too.” Ben Pauley likewise recognized the space-“rarity” ratio in many Special Collections to be problematic. In his words, “Can’t save ’em all.” No, we can’t – but we should be keenly aware of the significant number of old books (in period bindings) in the stacks that are becoming older – and possibly “rarer” (?) – with each passing year. Of course, this means there’s a lot of work to do from literary scholars, historians, bibliographers, and librarians.


* In William Sherman, Used Books: Marking Readers in Renaissance England (Philadelphia: U of Penn. Press, 2008), 155.

Reading Rare Books Online

For many researchers today (whether academic or simply curious), one of the greatest benefits of recent technological progress is the ability to conduct archival research at home, in your pajamas, or at two in the morning. (Or, all three at the same time.) For readers with access, electronic databases including Early English Books Online (EEBO) offer thousands of early and rare printed materials that can be downloaded to a home computer, printed out, consulted in a PDF reader, or marked electronically. I recently read Robert Tofte’s poetry collection Laura (London: 1597) on my iPad, for instance.

The EEBO database consists of thousands of early titles originally published between 1475 and 1700 (the periods covered in the short-title catalogs of Pollard & Redgrave and Wing), which were formatted onto microfilm in the 1930s by the University of Michigan and have since been digitized. After a centuries-long journey through manuscript, print, microfilm, and digital media, the text images are sometimes poor in quality and therefore hard to read. Below is an example of the kind of “show-through” you can find in an EEBO document (this is taken from the 1644 edition of John Milton’s The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce:

Milton, EEBO Text

Despite these occasional exigencies, EEBO is ultimately an invaluable resource, and it continues to grow. Beginning in 1999, a collaborative effort between ProQuest LLC, the University of Michigan, and Oxford University known as the TCP (Text Creation Partnership) began to key the full texts of first-editions in order to make them searchable by keyword. Now in its second phase, the TCP seeks to bring its total to 70,000 titles and includes the collaboration of over 150 libraries. I’ve had the pleasure to hear Martin Mueller speak recently on EEBO, and I share his enthusiasm for a project that certainly has its “noise,” but that probably promises more good than ill. In fact, it opens up a new generation of scholars to the textual and editorial practice that has been mostly taken for granted in the academy for decades. It does matter what editions we read.

And yet. We must temper our enthusiasm, for although EEBO is an invaluable resource, it does not and will not replace archival research. At least, not yet. There are physical aspects of rare books that cannot be fully conveyed through these digitized microfilm copies, such as watermarks, physical dimensions, and bindings, each of which offer important clues about the production, consumption, and circulation of a given book. Additionally, EEBO images (often from copies in the British Library and the Huntington Library) represent a very small sample of the surviving copies of a given publication. Far from being identical, copies of early books often have very subtle differences in terms of press variants and error corrections. Fortunately, scholars and librarians are becoming increasingly aware of the value of retaining “duplicate” copies of early books in the effort to digitize them. Claire Stewart recently pointed me toward this HathiTrust duplicates report, which acknowledges the value of “duplicates” for scholars in certain fields (see p. 6). It’s my belief that the effort to digitize our cultural heritage will lead us back toward the material, the physical, and the artifact, and I’m thinking more about this after reading Bethany Nowviskie’s MLA 2013 paper, published just yesterday.

EEBO is not alone in its home-delivery of rare books to readers and researchers. Other projects including GoogleBooks, HathiTrust, and the Internet Archive contain millions of printed books from earlier eras, and in some cases allow readers to download the whole artifact. I want to use the rest of my time here to show some of the potential and limitations of the Internet Archive, however, mainly in order to call attention to some of its unusual features. Here is what you find when you search for John Milton’s The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce: a copy of the 1645 pirated edition held by the Boston Public Library. I came across this in November while researching Milton’s pamphlets:

Milton, Internet Archive
The Internet Archive allows you to do with this book some of the same things you can do in EEBO. For instance, you can page through the artifact in its entirety; you can download it to your computer; you can peruse the ASCII text (although EEBO’s TCP project currently only has available first-edition keyed texts, so this one would not be there). However, this online archive allows you to do some different things as well that come slightly closer to the archival visit. For instance, the images of the artifact appear in color, as opposed to black-and-white (although you have the choice to download the PDF here in color or in black-and-white). The resolution of the images is not excellent. There is, however, a two-page layout and a page-turning animation effect that you can opt for, which I have found found for modern texts in iBooks, but less commonly among early modern digital archives. You can also “play” the book as a slideshow and watch the pages turn rhythmically, one after another. It’s a bit mesmerizing. I admit I’m not sure how useful it is to be able to “play” and “pause” a book like this, though. Below is an image of the “page-turn,” although you have to see it in action to really get the full effect.

Milton, Internet Archive (page turn)
The final aspect of this interface I’ll consider here is perhaps among the most promising, but the least successful. If you press the sound button in the top-right corner, you can hear a simulated, female voice read the text. This could be a useful feature, but the OCR delivery of the text is confused by the typography of this early modern book, and systematically garbles the “long s” into an “f” sound. There are other problems with it as well. Olin Bjork and John Rumrich have recently collaborated on a Paradise Lost audiotext, and their work suggests that the visual and the aural can indeed work together productively in a hypertextual archive site. The Internet Archive’s current “iffues” suggest that we still have many years and hard work ahead of us, but we should not sacrifice the effort on account of the “noise” we will inevitably encounter.

Some First Thoughts

Ciao, world!

Because this is my first post on this blog, I’ll establish some helpful facts about who I am, what I do, and what you can learn about from this website. From then, I’ll write an introduction of sorts.

Who I am. My name is Andrew. I live in Chicago and I am a doctoral student in the Department of English at Northwestern University. Before coming here to work with Northwestern’s Renaissance specialists, I lived and studied in Boston (where I earned my B.A.) and North Carolina (my home state, where I also earned my M.A.).

What I do. I often think about language and literature, but I really like to read and study old books. More specifically, I examine artifacts published in Europe between 1500 and 1700. I’ve been involved already in the “bookish” academic groups at both the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC and Rare Book School at UVa. Nowadays you can often find me propping up a seventeenth-century folio in the reading room at Chicago’s Newberry Library. (I’ve also begun a collection of unusual, autographed, or hard-to-find books, centered mainly around a few first-edition Hemingways – but nothing too rare, really.) In the spirit of my book-historical approach, I am also getting involved with a few online textual analysis tools (I’ll mention these later).

What you can learn, or find out. The title of this blog is “Vade mecum,” which is Latin for “go-with-me.” In that sense, this website is designed to be a handy and useful window into the wonderful world of rare books (mostly in the Chicago area, mostly at the Newberry) and the oddities I encounter there. I’m therefore writing somewhat in the tradition of the Folger Library’s blog The Collation (which I highly recommend). If you’re involved in an academic community somehow, then you might learn about a particular artifact that could be of interest for your research. If you’re simply a lover of books and curious about the mysteries (and often, headaches) associated with dusty, hands-on archival research, well, this place is for you, too.

Something of an introduction.  We live in a remarkable time as human beings. I’ll clarify with the help of Ralph Waldo Emerson:

“If there is any period one would desire to be born in, is it not the age of Revolution; when the old and the new stand side by side and admit of being compared. . . . This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it.”

The “age of Revolution” is a very compelling idea. Elizabeth Eisenstein, a historian of early modern printing, commented on one revolution in particular, the “print revolution,” and suggested in her book The Printing Press as an Agent of Change (1979) that the invention of printing was responsible for remarkable and momentous developments in religious, scientific, and cultural history. However, as scholars since have noted, the introduction of moveable type did not fully supplant or render useless the “technologies” of manuscript culture. Scribal culture and print culture complemented each other in significant ways, no matter how important the introduction of moveable type was. Both of these communication “technologies” – and it is essential to think of them as technologies – had distinct characteristics that rendered them more or less private, authentic, or valuable, depending on the context at hand. My account here is heretical in its simplicity, but I only mean to show that during the Renaissance, print could be simultaneously praised as a heavenly gift from God and scorned as a promiscuous cheapening of the authentic. In Emerson’s words, it was a time when the old and the new stood side by side, an “age of Revolution.”

My reasons for keeping this blog call to my mind a number of similar issues that attended early modern writers and thinkers. In our own “age of Revolution,” the “Information Age,” as some have called it, we are witnessing our own historically contingent configuration of the Renaissance’s “stigma of print.” Except now, this time, the tension lies not between the manuscript and the printed book, but between the printed book and the e-book (or Nook, or Kindle, or iPad – the picture is obviously complex). Advertisements, conversations I overhear on the train, small-talk on frivolous TV morning shows – they all provide evidence that this is the case. 400 years after Shakespeare’s time, we are undergoing an important and uncomfortable change in communication technology. The president of the American Historical Association, William Cronon, recently published his anxieties about this transition on the AHA website. Cronon seems to join a number of scholars who have declared the physical book “dead” in an era that is increasingly digital, increasingly immaterial, and threatening to our sense of self. But – returning to Emerson – if we know what to do with the age of Revolution, it is a very good time to live in.

I hope it is a very good time to live in. I write from a somewhat vexed position as a graduate student in the humanities during a particularly challenging economic period in American history. The academy is changing, many think for the worse, into a neoliberal system characterized by videotaped lectures and adjunct faculty positions. I admit these frustrations, and I obviously do not approve of some of the truly shameful budgeting decisions in the public university system (If you’re interested in this, read Christopher Newfield’s book). But, if we know what to do, I think that there is a way to navigate a transition that is not an overnight change but a gradual movement. Things can change for the better in the academy, but we must first be vigilant and knowledgeable about the conditions of scholarly communication today (not in the sense that we must all become computer programmers – more on this later, maybe).

So, my decision to write this blog comes in part from a recognition that academic research, like journalism, is undergoing some important changes that, in a way, establish us as kindred spirits with writers of the Renaissance – men and women to whom the printed book was not an invisible container of authentic words, but a material technology with recognizable properties beyond the meaning of the words within. But if that seems too ambitious, I also want to use this space to share some photographs, thoughts, and suppositions about the dusty volumes in the archive in the hopes that someone might be as curious or intrigued as I am about that amazing technological device- the Renaissance book. Which, to me, is very much alive.