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.
All 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.
NU 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.
Miguel 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
“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.
The 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.