Shakespeare folio explored by actress and scholar
Published: Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, May 31, 2011 23:05
Wednesday, Feb. 16, marked the beginning of "Close Looking," a series of interdisciplinary events offering in-depth discussion of some of Brandeis' greatest treasures. The series is being sponsored by the Mandel Center for the Humanities, the Rose Art Museum and the Robert D. Farber University Archives and Special Collections.A sizable group gathered in the Rapaporte Treasure Hall on Wednesday to discuss Shakespeare's 1623 folio. The event was led by Jehuda Reinharz Director of the Mandel Center for the Humanities Prof. Ramie Targoff (ENG) and Prof. Adrianne Krstansky (THA).
Targoff started off by explaining that the essential purpose of the "Close Looking" series is to encourage the community to "focus on something that we have at Brandeis and have people talk about it from different perspectives." According to Targoff, more people will "think about the relationship between artifacts and manuscripts and the work we do in the humanities."
Sarah Shoemaker, the special collections librarian at Brandeis, also spoke during the event. Shoemaker explained that Brandeis houses over 10,000 rare books and tens of thousands of manuscripts. Among these works exists a very rich Shakespeare collection. In 1961, Allan Bluestein, a member of the Brandeis Bibliophiles--a group of donors and book collectors who wanted to create a first -rate book collection-donated the copy of Shakespeare's first folio to Brandeis.
Following Shoemaker's speech, Targoff offered a brief history of the actual folio and what it meant to the literary world for Shakespeare's works to be published. Targoff defined a folio as a specific page size in a manuscript. Another term that designates page size, quarto, refers to a sheet of paper folded in half and then in half again, creating four quarterly sections. Shakespeare's 1623 folio is the first published collection of 36 of Shakespeare's plays, 18 of which had never been printed before-including well-known plays like Macbeth, Julius Caesar and The Tempest. The folio was assembled in 1616, 7 years after Shakespeare's death, by John Heminges and Henry Condell. Before the folio was created, all of Shakespeare's plays that had been published had been printed in quarto editions. These editions were unauthorized and corrupt, sometimes compiled by members of Shakespeare's audiences. Plays were not considered serious works of literature in Shakespeare's time, and so the creation of the folio, a book composed of theatrical works exclusively, was a huge leap in literary history.
Additionally, the folio had a picture of Shakespeare engraved on the cover. This was the first time that Shakespeare's image had been used, which resulted in his rise in becoming a historical figure. Targoff made it clear that, although the folio's construction was a milestone in literary history, the folio itself may not be completely authentic. The folio was comprised of competing versions of Shakespeare's plays, Targoff explained, thus "it was anybody's guess-maybe it's a marketing claim that the folio is the original." Targoff went on to explain that the prologue to Romeo and Juliet is missing in the folio, for example, because the people transcribing the play made a careless error.
Krstansky spoke about the folio from an actor's perspective. She turned to one of the speeches in Othello and discussed the context critically. She discussed the difference between prose, which generally indicates a conversational tone; and verse, which usually indicates that something is more emotionally heighted. Krstansky went on to explain that a line of monosyllabic words usually specifies that "Shakespeare is at the heart, the meat of what he is trying to say." Krstansky ended by saying a few words about iambic pentameter. She explained that this standard meter mirrors the heartbeat: "Since you are able physically to carry iambic pentameter in your body, the language has a visceral effect and it appeals to a guttural place."
After the lecture ended, members of the audience asked questions and went up to the front to look at the folios for themselves.
I found this event to be rewarding in that the lecture was extremely informative; I felt like I gained greater insight into Shakespeare's works. Also, I loved the casual setup of the event because it encouraged audience members to participate and share different perspectives. Most notably, I had the special opportunity to see Shakespeare's folio, which is often called one of the most significant works in the English language. Later in the year Marsden Hartley's Musical Theme, Natalie Frank's The Czech Bride and Joseph Heller's Catch-22 manuscript will be discussed.
Be sure to attend the upcoming "Close Looking" events and take some time to explore Brandeis' rich collection of rare and unique primary sources.