Shakespeare: Metamorphosis

Shakespeare: Metamorphosis

Senate House Library, University of London

4 April-17 September 2016

Shakespeare: Metamorphosis at the Senate House Library of the University of London provides visitors with an engaging view of the influences, texts, critics and reception of the playwright’s work over four centuries. As one of the several and elegantly designed printed resources for the exhibition explain: ‘‘The ‘Seven Ages of Man’ soliloquy from As You Like It, … explores the metamorphosis of Shakespearean text and scholarship’’ through the resources of the library. While the exhibition closed in mid-September, many aspects of the exhibition remain to be explored online.

The analogue exhibition is spread over several adjacent locations in the Senate House. Finding these spaces, registering online in one gallery, collecting an admission ticket, passing through the security barriers and finally reaching the display of texts makes for an intriguing and at times frustrating arrival. The exhibition, however, rewards persistence in weaving historic books into the seven interpretive themes. The First Age: The Infant displays books that inspired Shakespeare, including Holinshed’s Chronicles used extensively in his histories. The next theme, The Schoolboy, present publications from Shakespeare’s lifetime and the four folios of the later seventeenth century which gathered the plays into one volume, likely ensuring their survival to the present. The Third Age: The Lover examines the impact of the editor in the eighteenth century including editions by Alexander Pope and Samuel Johnson. The Soldier examines the conflicts apparent in the nineteenth century over Bowdler’s ‘sanitised’ versions of the plays for the family and the scholastic discord apparent in the ‘‘search for the definitive canon.’’ The early twentieth century is the fifth age, of Justice, when the Arden Shakespeare and the Oxford Complete Works present an established scholarly understanding of the works. The pantaloons of the Sixth Age represent the illustrated and prized editions produced by private presses and the global celebration of the playwright with many translations of the works. The final age, Oblivion, celebrates the final words of the soliloquy with ‘‘Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything’’ taken to mean ‘‘sans binding’’ and therefore the digital publication of critical editions and multimedia resources pushing many of these books on display to be valued for what they are as objects rather than the text they contain. Shakespeare’s works have escaped the corporeal and entered the virtual, including the microsite for this exhibition which includes links to many further internet resources.

The exhibition is supported by ample social media besides the website including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter offering access to comments and further engagement. The digital QR codes on the display cases should give access to other resources such as curatorial comment. Sadly, my attempts to access these were not successful but the books and their influences come alive in the interactive timeline that remains available on the exhibition website and includes videos by Dr. Karen Attar and Dr. Richard Espley talking about editions held by the library, their editors, and other personages influential in the reception of the plays.

Sally Hughes
Oxford Brookes University

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