Every now and then, we pull our heads out of the winter glum to take in the our own DC area. This week it was a tour at the Folger Shakespeare Library to view the special exhibit 5oo years of Treasures from Oxford. The books, on loan from the Corpus Christi College at Oxford England, tell the story of the transition from manuscript and velum to print on paper publication, and how books were used for scholarly study at the college. Research using these books, written in Hebrew, Latin, Greek and English covering religion (e.g., Bibles, missals, psalms) focused on translations. Many of the 50 books’ pages overflow with handwritten annotations by multiple scholars, except for the Greek ones. Few people read Greek in the 10th – 17th centuries, it seems. Some of the science books are still informative today like one on human anatomy.
Just made me shiver to see them! They brought history to life for me; however, what sends archivists into organismic joy is their provenance. Some of the books contain hand written notes that tell us when, by whom, and how the books came into the library at the hands of the college’s founder, Richard Fox and its first president, John Claymond. One even gives the day and time of the lectures where it was used at the college.
Next, we sought out the Folger’s Shakespeare display and meeting room to see one of the 82 First Folios (a collection of plays) that Folger collected along with hundreds of other Shakespeare related documentation and artifacts. As president of Standard Oil in the 1920’s and 1930’s, his buckets of money went to building his Shakespeare collection and the Folger Library itself. The endowment he provided continues to funds half of its operating costs today.
We caught a docent, a retired English teacher who taught Julius Caesar for years to sassy 10th graders, speak about the library and the collection so we listened in and chatted with her after it was over. This is what retirement time gives as a gift!
Of all the plays, my personal favorite is King Lear, so dark and thrilling as two daughters plot to undermine him and a third struggles to protect him. I’ve seen it at least three times over the years including the time my daughter and I witnessed an all female production at the Globe Theatre in London.
I’m also a fan of Henry IV, Part 1 and 2 which we first saw with my daughter when she made us take her to the Shakespeare Theatre here in DC when eight months pregnant with our first grandson. A young and very handsome Harry Hamlin played Henry. My god! That was 22 years ago last month!
The Folger Library has a Tudor style theater and reading room. What an immersive experience this library is! We’ve missed so much as we’ve never seen a play there, nor brought my daughter, an original Shakespeare groupie, to this library. She’s got to add it to her bucket list and we must see something in the theater before we hit the water again.