Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Shakespeare At The Boston Public Library

The universe is treating me kindly this week.  Over the weekend, I broke my ipod.  Knowing that there is an Apple store on Boylston street, I walk the 5 or 6 blocks there Monday morning.  On the way I pass the Boston Public Library.  "Oh," I think, "that's where that is."  My only other BPL experience was a field trip in high school, and I was hardly looking at cross streets.    (For the curious, Apple gives me new ipod.  Nice.)

Today, coworker Beryl asks if I know anything about the travelling Shakespeare exhibit currently at the BPL, which apparently includes a First Folio.  "No..." I say, grabbing my sunglasses and ipod and heading for the door, "I did not."

Took me a little while to find it, as they've got it buried way in the back corner of the third floor in "Rare Books."  It is very under publicized, I saw maybe one sign saying "Oh yeah, Shakespeare that way."  I finally find the room, empty except for myself and someone I thought was doing research but who turns out to be a librarian.

Lining the walls are maybe 12-15 glass cases, each with a single book (or a small handful) prominently displayed, along with a placard stating what it is.  I don't know if it was planned this way or not, but I start reading with the closest case, which actually turns out to be Third Folio.  The First is at the farthest end of the room. 

While I'm reading, a woman and a man come in, scan the cases quickly, and then go speak to the librarian, a conversation that I can only half make out.  There's a gesture made to the floor above (something I hadn't even noticed), and I hear "...personal library....not on display....digitizing....."  There's mention of a brochure.  The librarian motions to a case nearest her, and I hear...."original handwriting." 

This confuses me, just a wee bit.  The description of the exhibit did say "and books from Shakespeare's time that he would have used as sources" or something to that effect (I did see a Hollished's Chronicles, which was cool).  But as we all know, he left no books of his own.  And forget about "original handwriting."

So I walk over to the librarian when the couple leaves and I ask, "Did I hear you mention a brochure about the collection?"

"Yes, right here," she says, gesturing me to a pile of brochures....about John Adams.

Apparently Will is sharing the space with Mr. Adams.

Before leaving I ask the librarian if, when I return, it is ok to take photographs and notes, and whether a laptop would be permitted (trying to be quiet and polite, you see).  "No flash," she says.  "You can use your laptop out here, but not in the reading room," (which adjoins the room I am in).

"Are there any other special volumes in there that are not on display out here?" I ask.

"Well, mostly reference.  I mean, some of the reference books are on display out here, but if you needed something special, then you call downstairs, and they bring it out to you."

"So then, I would need something special that I wanted in that room?  I couldn't just go in because I wanted to touch a First Folio?"  I am joking with the woman.

"Well you could," she says.  "They are public."

"Thanks," I tell her.  "I'll think about it."

I really am thinking about it.  It's not like I'm going to get much chance to flip through an original First Folio that often.  But I do actually have a day job, it's not like I have hours to go through the hassle of getting a reservation, providing ID, and all other sorts of nonsense just so I can say I touched one.

I plan on going back at a later date with camera and laptop so I can take better notes.  I thought some of the descriptions were interesting, such as how they specifically mention that Merchant of Venice, although called a comedy, is actually "extremely cruel" in the Merchant's treatment of Shylock.

Any questions I should ask, or specifics I should look for?  The woman at the desk didn't seem to have much interest in the Shakespeare (I realize that she was digitizing the Adams collection), so whatever I find would be in the placards and whatever pages of the works happen to be shown.


Jack Morgan said...

I suppose Billy has shared space with worse than John Adams, but John Adams?

Alan K.Farrar said...

Take a good look at the spelin!

Jack Morgan said...

Spellins are kind of like love-ins except not as much fun.

Craig said...

You wouldn't get laughed out of town if you said you thought the Hand D additions to Sir Thomas More were written in Shakespeare's own hand. They'd just about have to be, if the scene itself is by Shakespeare, since they clearly show the process of composition. But, yeah, the only absolutely solid examples of his handwriting are a handful of signatures on legal documents.

Saphira said...

I just went to the exhibit this morning, having first seen it mentioned here (I live in New Jersey), and I have to say, you weren't kidding about trying to find the thing! I was starting to wonder if I should have picked up a flashlight and a map as I wandered, hoping I was going in something resembling the right direction. Having the sign right outside the room I was trying to find didn't really help much, since there was nothing in between that room and the front entrance. Ah well, it was lovely to see the books and read the descriptions, and I thank you for mentioning it!