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Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England, from 1890. A new book describes one man’s hunt for Shakespeare’s library.

There are people I’m sure you know who get a bee in their bonnet about some topic, often to the point of wearing out their friends and relatives with a barrage of random facts. But although their enthusiasm can be wearing, there’s no doubt that their research provides benefits to many of us, whether their obsession is about an ancestor of ours or someone we all claim as our own, like Shakespeare.

This report is for Laurie, who is likely to appreciate the enthusiam of Shakespeare hound Stuart Kells.

Alison Flood writes at the Guardian, “In an autumn in which scholars have unearthed Milton’s copy of Shakespeare in Philadelphia and parchment fragments from the 13th-century epic Le Roman de la Rose in Worcester [UK], Stuart Kells, author of the forthcoming Shakespeare’s Library, would like to be clear: he has not uncovered the Bard’s book collection, despite what the title might suggest.

“ ‘But I have confirmed its existence, clarified its scale and scope, and documented what happened to it,’ says the author, who has spent 20 years on the trail of Shakespeare’s personal library, and lays out his search in his new book. ‘It would be a very different book if I had gone out and discovered his library. No one has done that. It isn’t in one spot.’ …

“Kells is by no means the first person to have embark on a quest to find Shakespeare’s library during the last 400 years. As he writes, “for every species of book person, the idea of Shakespeare’s library – his personal collection of manuscripts, books, letters and other papers – is enticing, totemic, a subject of wonder.’ …

“Those not sold on his death, or destroyed or lost, ‘are sitting quietly, in cabinets and on shelves, in public and private collections around the world,’ he speculates. …

“ ‘There are things out there still being found and that’s part of the fun. … People are still finding chests of early letters, and there are volumes of multiple plays all bound together.

‘Play scripts were thought of as low literature for some time – they were slightly disreputable and weren’t taken seriously.’ …

“One of his tantalising findings is the potential former owner of a theologicial work by Agostino Tornielli. The book was published in Milan in 1610 and shipped to England, where it was bound in brown calfskin in 1615, the year before Shakespeare’s death. The cover panels on the book include an image of Pyramus and Thisbe, and the edges of the text block are decorated with elaborate patterning.

“The owner of the four bindings is not known, but there are a few hints.. … Writes Kells. ‘In tiny letters, the cover image is signed “I. S.” No one knows whether the initials are those of the block-maker, the bookbinder, the bookseller, the book’s owner, a patron or a dedicatee.’ … But the initials match those of Iohannes Shakespeare, William’s father, who dealt in leather hides – ‘no doubt some of them for bookbinding,’ Kells writes.

“Kells believes that one of the reasons for the disappearance of Shakespeare’s library is that the playwright was not an ‘avid inscriber of books,’ or much of a letter writer. ‘Practically minded and commercial, he does not seem to have been driven by abstract ideas of fame and posterity,’ Kells writes. …

“ ‘I’m quietly confident things are going to turn up,’ he says. “We now see the quarto editions as some of the greatest literary treasures in the world but, up until the 19th century, they were thought of in a different way. They are slight documents, little pamphlets, so it’s very probable they’re out there. We now have clearer eyes to search for these things and different ways of analysing them and dating things. We’re in a golden era of discovery right now.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here. I must say, it takes imagination to interpret the initials of Shakespeare’s father on a piece of leather this way, but it is surely imagination that will find and assemble the lost library.

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