Beinecke overflows with Shakespearean artifacts

Today marks the opening of the “Remembering Shakespeare” exhibit at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, and with it, the unification of books, prints and documents chronicling the Bard’s lasting impression on the world and on Yale.

The exhibit, curated by English professor David Scott Kastan and Beinecke library curator Kathryn James, offers a chronological history of how Shakespeare’s plays have been documented in print and culture. It includes items from the Beinecke’s own collection, as well as from Yale’s Lewis Walpole Library, the Elizabethan Club, the Yale Center for British Art and the Irving S. Gilmore Music Library.

“[The exhibit offers] this extremely rich view of how Shakespeare was read and encountered from the early 16th to the mid-20th century,” James said.

The exhibit is divided into eight sections, each illuminating a different aspect of Shakespeare’s legacy. Beginning on the ground floor, visitors walk through areas dedicated to subjects ranging from “Reviving Shakespeare” to “Defining Shakespeare” and culminating in “Disseminating Shakespeare.” The show is literally bookended with copies of Shakespeare’s first folio that belong to the Beinecke and the Elizabethan Club, which the curators placed in the first and final portions of the exhibit. Other artifacts selected for the exhibition include a lute book containing Benedick’s song from “Much Ado About Nothing,” the first record of written music for one of Shakespeare’s plays, as well as handwritten records of salaries and itemized expenses from Covent Garden’s historic Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in the 18th century.

“There is an amazing amount of social historical detail here,” James said. “We have phenomenal holdings on 18th-century theater.”

The upper floor is flanked by sections titled “Appropriating Shakespeare,” a display of political cartoons referencing Shakespeare’s plays, and “Performing Shakespeare,” a series of colorful mid-20th-century photographs by Carl Van Cechten depicting actors of the day in Shakespearean roles.

The final section stands against the library’s back wall and displays Yale’s first known copy of a work by Shakespeare from 1743, in addition to a 1949 syllabus from professor Maynard Mack’s full-year Shakespeare course.

James said that the exhibit emphasizes Yale’s extensive collection of Shakespearean resources: All items in the exhibition belong to the University.

She added that in organizing the exhibit, the library scanned most of its holdings into a digital database, which will be available on iPads placed throughout the exhibit. A Web exhibition is also online through the Beinecke’s website.

In addition to the show’s digital dimensions, James and Kastan brought Matthew Hunter GRD ’15 on board to create and maintain a blog to accompany the exhibit, with posts each day about a different item in the collection. The blog launched today.

“[The blog will include] description summaries and worthwhile facts for each item in the exhibit, as well as a scanned image that will be available to anyone on the internet,” Hunter said.

Kastan, Hunter and James all emphasized the sheer volume of materials in the exhibit.

“You couldn’t go anywhere else in the world and see this particular set of collections and you wont see it again here,” James said. “This is its moment.”

The exhibit remains in the Beinecke through June 4, with an official opening set for Feb. 15.

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