THE BRITISH LIBRARY

English and Drama blog

8 posts categorized "Visual arts"

21 April 2017

TRANSLATORS TAKE CENTRE STAGE AT THE BRITISH LIBRARY THIS SPRING

Add comment

by Deborah Dawkin, PHD student working on the Michael Meyers Archive at the British Library

On 8 May we will be hosting The Translator Made Corporeal: Translation History and the Archive.  Showcasing the most recent international research, this conference will reveal the stories of translators throughout history: from the Early Modern period to the present day, and from every corner of the world.

It is hard to imagine the library of any serious bookworm that did not include international classics such as Homer, Tolstoy, Proust, Neitzsche and de Beauvoir, as well as examples of more contemporary authors such as Saramago, Kundera, Knausgård, Murakami, and some Scandinavian crime to boot. But we rarely consider the translators who make it possible for us to read these books; translators have largely remained invisible throughout history. So too, the stories behind the creation of translations: the lengths to which translators might go to ensure the publication of literary gems; the sometimes fierce arguments between translators and their editors; the sacrifices made by translators in difficult political times; and the personal and literary networks, even love affairs, that lie behind translations.

This one-day event in our Knowledge Centre will reveal fascinating stories drawn from diverse historical sources about the human, flesh-and-blood translator: Our panelists will introduce us to (amongst others) translators who have risked exile or even their lives for their beliefs, female translators whose identities have been hidden in a male dominated world, and WWII Japanese interpreters convicted as war criminals. We’ll hear about the part-time criminal who acted for many years as his deaf friend’s court interpreter in 18th-century Ireland and the dragoman who worked as a translator and tourist guide in 19th Century Egypt – and whose recently discovered scrapbook sheds light not only on the everyday life of a non-elite Middle Eastern translator, but on an array of international clients. We’ll encounter Armenian and Persian translators working for the 18th century East India Company and literary translators negotiating with their editors in a time of heavy censorship in the Soviet Union.

While the majority of the conference focusses on translators of the past, there will also be a panel devoted to the collection of data about contemporary translators. Subjects include: the day-to-day struggles of visually impaired interpreters in Poland; research about Finnish translators’ backgrounds and working lives; what the surveys carried out through the Emerging Translators’ Network reveal about the trajectories of the careers and lives of translators in the UK.

This conference also aims to create a space in which the “corporeal” translator might be brought out of hiding and given precedence. It will include a project by emerging Berlin/London based photographer, Julia Schönstädt, on the (in)visibility of translators today. This features photographs taken by Schönstädt at the London Book Fair 2017 along with extracts of interviews with contemporary translators.

The interviews are revealing. Many translators expressed a certain frustration at the public’s ignorance about translation, and stressed the importance of increased recognition for their work, including through the recent use of #namethetranslator on twitter. Others pointed out that the translator’s work often goes beyond the translation of a text – they can also act as cultural ambassadors, literary scouts, advisers.

Yet, some expressed a disinterest in having any public persona: “I quite like to be invisible”, said Kate Lambert, “Perhaps it’s a way of hiding. You do it [your work] behind the scenes. You do it sneakily.” Another, Adrian Nathan West, said “Invisibility? If I can be frank, and I’m afraid this may be a minority opinion, I don’t really care. You know, I like to read, I like to translate…it’s fine…I could have been a pop-star or be in action movies, I could be an actor if I wanted [fame]…right?” 

Trans1 Trans2 Trans3

The Made Translator Made Corporeal: Translators Through the Lens by Julia Schönstädt and curated by Deborah Dawkin, will be shown at the conference.

 

The Translator Made Corporeal: Translation History and the Archive

8 May 2017 at the British Library

Programme & ticket booking: https://www.bl.uk/events/the-translator-made-corporeal-translation-history-and-the-archive

Website: http://thetranslatormadecorporeal.wordpress.com

FB: https://www.facebook.com/translatormadecorporeal

Twitter: @translator_2017 

Conference hashtag: #translatorcorporeal

 

 

13 January 2017

A New Acquisition: Celebrating 50 years of the Graphic Studio Dublin

Add comment

Jerry Jenkins, Curator of Emerging Media, Contemporary British Published Collections writes:

In November 2016 I had the pleasure to attend “From Yeats to Heaney: Discovering 140 Years of Literature at the National Library of Ireland” hosted by Embassy of Ireland. After the introduction from the Cultural Attaché and opening remarks from Dr Sandra Collins, Director of the National Library of Ireland, the assembled guests were treated to insightful, often humorous talks on both William Butler Yeats and Seamus Heaney given by Katherine McSharry, NLI Head of Outreach and Professor Geraldine Higgins, NLI Heaney Exhibition Curator respectively. The lectures illustrated the measurable contribution to, and healthy involvement both men had with the National Library of Ireland.  It is worth noting that the archives of both Heaney and Yeats rest within its walls. 

The British Library has also been fishing in those culturally rich waters which are Dublin. Earlier this year the Library acquired a set of six Sponsors’ Portfolios from the Graphic Studio Dublin.

Between 1962-1979 Graphic Studio Dublin produced a collection of work entitled Sponsors' Portfolios, containing art and literature by writers and artists from Ireland and internationally. In conjunction with their 50th anniversary in 2010 the Graphics Studio re-launched the Sponsors’ Portfolios in 2010.

Each portfolio contains a work commissioned by an acclaimed contemporary Irish writer, and four visual artists. A list of contributors can be found on the  Graphic Studio Dublin's website.  These showcase the printmaker’s art and the skills which are employed in producing fine press items. Each year a limited edition of 75 imprints are produced.  The project will continue to produce folios until 2019 thereby capturing a snap shot of some of the finest work of contemporary Irish writers and artists over the decade. The formula of inviting artists and a writer to work together presents a fresh and vibrant perspective to the interception where visual arts and the written word meet.

GSDHeaney

Seamus Heaney, 'The Owl'. Translated from the Italian of Giovanni Pascoli. Letterpress. Used with the kind permission of the Graphic Studio Dublin

Poignantly Seamus Heaney contributed to the Sponsors’ Portfolio in 2013, in what turned out to be the year of his death. Entitled Translation, his subject was a translation from the Italian of Giovanni Pascoli poem “The Owl” or “L’assiolo” in the original. The acquisition of this late and rare Heaney work to the British Library is an important addition to the rich collection of Heaney’s writing the Library’s has garnered over the last forty years.  My colleague, Dr Richard Price has highlighted some of these in a previous post.

“The Owl” is accompanied by four prints: Pamela Leonard’s “For Sheer Joy ... Took Flight”, Liam Ó Broin’s “Death of Orpheus”, with Jane O’Malley’s “Still Life” and finally Robert Russell’s “Lost in Translation”. These works are beautifully illustrative of how the printmaker’s art can transfer the depth of emotion conveyed in the written word to colour and form of the artist’s reimagining.

GSDPLeonard

Pamela Leonard, 'For sheer joy... took flight'. Etching. Used with the kind permission of the Graphic Studio Dublin

 

GSDLOBroin

Liam Ó Broin, 'Death of Orpheus'. Lithograph. Used with the kind permission of the Graphic Studio Dublin

If there was any doubt about the truly individual nature these works, when measuring the individual portfolios for their protective phase boxing it was noted  that the was a slight  discrepancy  of millimetres between the size of each of the portfolios. A sure sign of a distinctive and hand crafted nature of these artist’s books.      

  GSDGOMalley

Jane O'Malley, 'Still Life, La Geria'. Carborundum. Used with the kind permission of the Graphic Studio Dublin

 

GSDRRussell

Robert Russell, 'Lost in Translation'. Etching. Used with the kind permission of the Graphic Studio Dublin.

To return to where I started, a thought-provoking question was raised at the “From Yeats to Heaney” event at the Embassy: who will inherit the mantle which seemed so mysteriously to pass from Yeats to Heaney in 1939, (the year of Yeats’s death and of Heaney’s birth)? Within the folios of the Sponsors’ Portfolio might be a good place to start looking for the answer to that question.  

In closing, I would urge readers to explore the rest of the series the British Library’s copies of the Sponsors’ Portfolio. 1/10-7/10 are orderable at pressmarks:

 

Ultramarine, Jean Bardon, Carmel Benson, Roddy Doyle, Kelvin Mann and Donald Teskey RHA., 2010, British Library Shelfmark: HS.74/2280;

Journey, Caroline Donohue, Theo Dorgan, Martin Gale, Stephen Lawlor and Louise Leonard, 2011, British Library Shelfmark: HS.74/2281;

Thoughts, Jennifer Lane, Seán McSweeney, Niall Naessens, Marta Wakula-Mac & Thomas Kinsella, 2012, British Library Shelfmark: HS.75/2282;

Translation, Pamela Leonard, Liam Ó Broin, Jane O'Malley, Robert Russell & Seamus Heaney, 2013, British Library Shelfmark: HS.74/2283;

Thief’s Journal, Yoko Akino, Diana Copperwhite, Ruth O'Donnell, Michael Timmins & John Banville, 2014, British Library Shelfmark: HS.74/2284;

Naming the stars, Colin Davidson, Niamh Flanagan, David Lunney, James McCreary and Jennifer Johnston, 2015, British Library Shelfmark: HS.74/2285;

Pax, Mary Lohan, Tom Phelan, Grainne Cuffe, Sharon Lee and Paula Meehan, 2016, British Library Shelfmark HS.74/2286.

Furthermore, The National Library of Ireland, Trinity College Dublin and Queens University Belfast have also acquired sets of the Sponsors’ Portfolio series.     

19 July 2016

The Mystery in the Mystery Novel: Does William Henry Fox Talbot appear in Wilkie Collin’s The Woman in White?

Add comment

by Jonathan Pledge, Curator, Contemporary Politics and Public Life

Wilkie Collins (1824-1889) was a popular Victorian novelist who is credited with publishing both the first ‘sensation’ novel The Woman in White (1859) and the first modern English detective novel The Moonstone (1868). One of the many reasons his novels were so popular was his clever characterisation and his sharp satirical observations concerning the social conventions of Victorian England.

There is one passage in the The Woman in White that deals with Frederick Fairlie Esquire, the misthanthropic, hypochondriac aesthete, who having married off his ward, the beautiful Miss Laura Fairlie, and freed from his responsibility towards her, sets about recording his real love his ‘treasures and curiosities’.

‘His last caprice has let him to keep two photographers incessantly employed in producing sun-pictures of all the treasures and curiosities in his possession. One complete copy of the collection of the photographs is to be presented to the Mechanics’ Institution of Carlisle, mounted on the finest cardboard, with ostentatious red-letter inscriptions underneath. ‘Madonna and Child by Raphael. In the possession of Frederick Fairlie, Esquire. Copper coin of the period of Tiglath Pilesar. In the possession of Frederick Fairlie, Esquire.’ ‘Unique Rembrandt etching. Known all over Europe as THE SMUDGE, from a printer’s blot in the corner which exists in no other copy. Valued at three hundred guineas. In the possession of Frederick Fairlie, Esquire.’ Dozens of photographs of this sort, and all inscribed in this manner, were completed before I left Cumberland, and hundred more remain to be done.’

What Wilkie is satirizing here is the mania for collecting and categorizing all manner of objects which, presaged by the establishment of the British Museum in 1753, reached a manic apotheosis in the Victorian era. Wilkie’s description of two photographers producing ‘sun-pictures’, or photographs, of various objects to order is an unusual one and the inspiration for this passage, I believe, is William Henry Fox Talbot today recognised as the originator of negative-positive photography.

  Talbot-im2

Detail of a cover for a programme produced by the Reading Camera Club for the ‘W. H. F. Talbot Commemoration, 9th June, 1951'. Despite events like this, much like Wilkie Collins, Talbot languished in relative obscurity until being rediscovered in the late 1970s. NTA: 30727. (Add MS 88942/3/2/1).

At the time of the publication of The Woman in White Talbot was well-known as the former patent holder of the Calotype photographic process in which a negative image was produced by exposing chemically treated paper to light. Multiple positive images could then be produced from this negative. This idea was the basis for all photography until the advent of digital photography.

Talbot had been working on producing photographs, although at the time they were known as ‘sun pictures’, since 1839. He had patented the Calotype process – also known as the Talbotype - in 1841 and had become somewhat unpopular among both amateur and professional photographers for his numerous legal prosecutions in defence of his patent. He responded to criticism by pointing out that he had spent nearly £5,000 of his own money developing the Calotype process.

Talbot-im3

‘By Royal Letters Patent. Sun Pictures or the Talbotype photographic process’ (undated). NTA: 24281 (Add MS 88942/1/350). The Regent Street establishment was started after the Reading one but neither was successful.

In 1843 Talbot provided the capital for the setting up of a photographic ‘establishment’ at Reading, run by two associates Nicolaas Henneman and Thomas Malone, in order to mass produce photographs. Wilkie’s image of ‘two photographers incessantly employed’ would seem to suggest some sort of industrial process and indeed the publicity image for the Reading establishment below shows photographers with a variety of objects and people both taking and developing photographs.

Talbot-im4

Photograph of The Reading Establishment (1846). W. H. F. Talbot and Nicolaas Henneman. http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/283065

A year after setting up the Reading Establishment Talbot published The Pencil of Nature a volume of original photographic prints, the first of its kind, of various scenes and objects complete with descriptive text.

Talbot-im5

Image and text for ‘Articles of China’ from The Pencil of Nature (1844). Talbot saw the potential of photography not only as an art, but also as a way of objectively recording objects. http://www.medienkunstnetz.de/works/pencil-of-nature/

Below is part of the text that accompanied plate III ‘Articles of China’,

‘From the specimen here given it is sufficiently manifest, that the whole cabinet of a Virtuoso and collector of old China might be depicted on paper in little more time than it would take him to make a written inventory describing it in the usual way. The more strange and fantastic the forms of his old teapots, the more advantage in having their pictures given instead of their descriptions.’

Reading this text it’s easy to imagine that this may have been the source of Wilkie’s satire. However, by 1859, there were many photographers producing any number of photographs on any number of subjects and doing so in studios set up precisely for that purpose most of them using the wet collodion process, developed by Scott Archer in 1851 in which a photographic negative was created by exposing a glass plate painted with a photo-sensitive solution. This technique had largely superseded Talbot’s own process primarily because Archer hadn’t patented it; he died penniless and destitute.

So besides Wilkie’s passage being about photography and its use as an instrument for cataloguing and recording objects by a team of photographers what specifically points to Talbot being the inspiration behind it?

Talbot-im6

Detail of the cover of ‘Inscription of Tiglath Pileser, B.C. 1150’ (1857). (Add MS 88942/3/1/7).

In the early 1850s Talbot had become interested in Assyriology, the scholarly study of the history, archaeology and culture of Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq).

The lexicon for Assyrian cuneiform had been developed primarily by Sir Henry Creswicke Rawlinson (1810-1895) and Edward Hincks (1792-1866) and there was much scholarly scepticism regarding the accuracy of translations. To counter this Talbot organised the simultaneous translation, by himself Rawlinson, Hincks and Julius Oppert (1825-1905) of a recently discovered text relating to the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser I (c. 1115-1077 BC). When the translations were examined by a panel of independent experts they were found to be so similar that it was concluded that Rawlinson and Hincks’s lexicon was indeed valid. These collected translations were published as a single volume Inscription of Tiglath Pileser I by the Royal Asiatic Society in 1857 only two years before the publication of The Woman in White.

Therefore it is Wilkie’s specific reference to ‘Tiglath Pilesar’ that, in my opinion, confirms William Henry Fox Talbot, as the most likely inspiration for this passage in The Women in White.

 

15 June 2016

P is for Printess: New Acquisition

Add comment

 IMG_1570(a)

Christina Tacq’s latest artist’s book Printess & the p is a reimagining of the timeless Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale about a young woman who proves her nobility to her suitor prince, by detecting a pea through twenty feather mattresses. Only a princess would be so sensitive to be awakened by a pea. In this version, it is a woman printer, or ‘printess’, who is the person of discernment.

IMG_1594

The first thing that is striking about Tacq’s latest work is the interspersed monotone plates sit in sharp contrast to the vibrant rich imagery of the colour spreads illustrating the narrative. This contrast is beautifully underpinned by using different paper. The colour reliefs are printed on Zerkall paper, while, intaglio collagraphs are on Fabriano paper. By cleverly changing the medium it reinforces the initial contrast at the physical as well as on a visual level.

IMG_1574

The theme of contrast extends to the depictions. The seven richly coloured double-page spreads juxtaposed with the far more vulnerable black and white which offers an intimate glimpse into an inner darker world. Some of these prints spill out from the confines of the frame with hard edged intaglio  printing as if attempting to burst out from the page and ape the freedom a vibrancy depicted in the colour plates.   

IMG_1575

Tacq’s skill as a book artist are illustrated in the way this volume unravels and draws in a complex range of themes and concepts, techniques; - and then presents them in such an appealing way. Her use of Optima for the text balances with the rich relief collagraphs

The Printess &the p was published in July 2014, it is a first edition of twenty five copies. The volume was printed by p’s &q’s Press, Thame in Oxfordshire and bound at the Fine Book Bindery.  

The covers are bound in hand-printed linen designed with relief-blocks and comes in a linen slipcase.

IMG_1573

The images are created using the collagraphy technique in which the plate is constructed of adhered elements and inked with a roller or brush to produce in both relief and intaglio, and an embossed impression can be obtained by printing the plate dry without inking.

IMG_1576

The way the imagery and the narrative intertwine to create this volume weighted with powerful subtexts which engage with concepts of feminism and identity. In some respects it offers a self-portrait of a printer.  

On returning the volume to its slipcase one evening after working with it I noticed a small piece of paper squashed in to the back of the slip case. On retrieving and unfolding it, it read:

“18 Excellent Copy, British Library? Excellent”

Because of the way the creases appear it was possibly placed on the spine as part of the quality assurance process. Nevertheless, to come across such a note adds to an authenticity of the artistic process and speaks to the huge range of skills and processes it takes to create a tome of such outstanding quality.

 

The Library’s copy of the Printess &the p will be accessible at British Library shelfmark RF.2016.b.35. in the near future.

Images reproduced with the kind permission of Christina Tacq.

Blog by Jerry Jenkins, Curator, Emerging Media, Contemporary British Published Collections

09 June 2016

Peter Brook and A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Add comment

by Greg Buzwell, Curator of Shakespeare in Ten Acts

William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream lends itself to spectacular visual excess. After all, if you can’t go over the top with a comedy set in a magical moonlit-woodland and populated by mischievous fairies then when can you? Many Victorian productions of the play concentrated almost exclusively on spectacle, cutting Shakespeare’s text and adding hosts of Amazons and allegorical processions celebrating the triumphs of Theseus, including his victory over the Minotaur. Herbert Beerbohm Tree’s production of the play in 1900 even went so far in its efforts to heighten the air of woodland magic as to include live rabbits hopping across the stage.

Playbill.com

An extract from an 1847 playbill for A Midsummer Night’s Dream Playbills Vol 262, item 261

Later, in the 20th century, film adaptations of the play appeared. A 1935 Hollywood film of Dream directed by Max Reinhardt and starring James Cagney as Bottom included dozens of extra fairies and a Satanic-looking Oberon on horseback accompanied by a troop of bat-winged henchmen. The set included sixty-seven truckloads of trees and shrubs (including a transplanted redwood tree) and covered over sixty-six thousand square feet. Blending in with this jungle-like excess Mickey Rooney, according to one observer at least, played Puck as though he were ‘the son of Tarzan’. The spectacular dance scenes featuring Titania’s attendants were choreographed by Bronislava Nijinska, formerly of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. For Hollywood, if A Midsummer Night’s Dream was worth doing, it was worth overdoing.

Dreamfilm

A play not noted for its restraint: a scene from the spectacular 1935 Hollywood adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Warner Bros / The Kobal Collection

In 1914, attempting something different, the theatre director Harley Granville Barker staged the play at the Savoy Theatre in a fashion that eschewed extravagance in favour of suggestion and symbolism. When the production came to Manhattan in 1915 Barker explained his challenge to realism and visual excess by observing: ‘What is really needed is a great white box. That’s what our theatre really is’. The world may not have been ready for such an interpretation in 1915, but in 1970 ‘a great white box’ is exactly what it got.

RSCDream

Poster for the RSC’s 1970 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, featuring Sally Jacobs’s famous white-box set design. Courtesy of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

The director Peter Brook probably knew nothing of Barker’s comment, but Brook effectively restated Barker’s challenge to illusionistic theatre a half century later. Brook, along with his designer Sally Jacobs, devised a white box setting for their 1970 production of the play in Stratford-upon-Avon. Large metal coils represented the woodland; a spinning plate on an acrylic rod became the flower containing the magic potion Puck fetches for Oberon; Puck entered the stage on stilts while Oberon descended to the stage on a trapeze. Circus tricks replaced the fairy magic. The intention was to move the play away from realism altogether and into the heightened realm of metaphor. Originally black drapes had hung behind the white box stage design but during the Paris leg of the world tour Brook removed them. Suddenly everything could be seen, including the tower-like structures from which the cables supporting the trapezes were fixed. The actors playing the fairies could be observed on the catwalk that ran around the top of the set, watching the action during the scenes in which they were not required. The creation of artifice and illusion was no longer of paramount importance.

The small cast was also at odds with traditional productions. Brook liked the dream-like associations of doubling given by many of the actors playing dual roles, recognizing that a small ensemble of performers would not only enhance the quality of actor involvement but also heighten the sense of dream-like theatrical metaphor. The costumes were far removed from the usual elaborate designs, rich fabrics and gossamer threads. Puck, played by John Kane, wore a yellow jump suit and a blue skull cap inspired by the costumes Brook and Jacobs had seen Chinese acrobats wearing in Paris. The young lovers meanwhile, the men in their tie-dyed shirts and the women in long white dresses, brought a touch of the ‘here and now’ to the production. The first staging of the play in Stratford took place in August 1970, not long after the 1967 summer of love and the student riots in Paris the following year. A Midsummer Night’s Dream can be seen as many things, but on one level it is a drama about youthful rebellion - perfect for the late-1960s zeitgeist of sexual freedom and the desire to escape stale orthodoxy.

  BrookDream

Alan Howard as Oberon, Sara Kestelman as Titania and John Kane as Puck in Peter Brook’s 1970 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Photo by Reg Wilson © RSC.

Reviews of Brook’s Dream, as it became known, were largely positive. The reviewer in the Sunday Times wrote: ‘more than refreshing, magnificent, the sort of thing one sees only once in a lifetime, and then only from a man of genius’. Inevitably there were a few dissenting voices – the New Statesman commented that Brook had ‘remoulded’ the play ‘with the help of Billy Smart, Walt Disney, J. G. Ballard and … his own sleeping, hallucinating self’ (although that in itself sounds utterly amazing). Perhaps above all else the production showed that it was possible to put a completely new spin on Shakespeare, transforming a play with a tradition of performance stretching back over 350 years into something new, strange, challenging, inventive and wonderful.

Peter Brook’s 1970 staging of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of the productions explored in detail in Shakespeare in Ten Acts. Peter Brook will be giving a talk entitled The Esoteric and the Profane in Shakespeare’ at the British Library on the afternoon of Wednesday 15th June and there will be a panel discussion about the 1970 production of Dream, featuring Peter Brook, Sir Ben Kingsley (who played Demetrius) and Frances de la Tour (who played Helena) later that evening.

23 April 2016

“the apparel oft proclaims the man”

Add comment

Hamlet (1.3.73)

If Shakespeare had taken up the same trade as his father, Shakespeare in Ten Acts could well have been called ‘Shakespeare in Ten Catwalks’ for he may have had a successful career in the fashion industry…  so to speak. John Shakespeare by trade was a‘’whittawer’’ [someone who turned hide into leather], glover and also a "brogger” [an unlicensed wool dealer]. Records show he was found guilty for illegally dealing in wool and eventually lost the family inheritance. 

Early modern England marked a period of extreme style, when apparel made a transition into ‘fashion’. Dress, hair and cosmetics were employed to contort the body, creating dramatic silhouettes demonstrated par excellence by Queen Elizabeth. There is no doubt that dress held substantial power within society during this time, and this did not go unrecognised by the bard. In 1864, the London tailor E Moses noted:

“Shakespeare too well appreciated the importance of all external things and outward appearances, as emblematic of the unseen spirit, to deem it a profanation of the poet’s art to embody allusions to the subject of clothes in his majestic and immortal verse.”

Elizabeth_I_of_England_Hardwick_1592

The "Hardwick Hall" portrait of Elizabeth 1 of England, circa 1599, courtesy of Wikicommons.

Shakespeare’s extraordinary observations of the society of his age are communicated through the plays. It is no surprise then that these works are drenched in references to fashion and dress.  The survival of substantial evidence regarding early productions is meagre. However, the lines of dialogue are the very references which call into reflection the importance of costume.  Moreover, given the stringent hierarchy of style during the society of that age, audiences would have understood the role of garments to a character’s role. Changes in costume could construct a character, progress action, reflect society and manipulate perceived values.

Queen Elizabeth I

During the Elizabethan era, dress was a powerful element in the social structure. The famous portrait of Queen Elizabeth by Nicholas Hilliard shows her as the faerie queen, wearing veil gauze edged with lace pointed at the hairline and wired to wings at the back of the head. Consider this theatrical display by the queen, in comparison with the headdress worn by Vivien Leigh featured in the exhibition. While this piece was made using inexpensive materials, it is reminiscent of fashionable Elizabethan headdresses, resembling the original faerie queen Elizabeth herself.

Detail QEVL headress

Detail of: The Rainbow Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I, circa 1600-1602, attributed to Issac Oliver (1556-1617) and Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger (1561-1636), in the collection of the Marquess of Salisbury, on display at Hatfield House, courtesy of Wikicommons.

Detail of: Vivien Leigh (as Titania) from A Midsummer Night's Dream at The Old Vic Theatre, 1937, photograph by J W Debenham, courtesy of the Mander and Mitchenson collection at the University of Bristol and ARENApal www.arenapal.com

“Clothes maketh the man” [except when he’s a woman]

Theatre allowed actors to dress outside of their rank and gender. As such the stage was a transgressive space. Legally men could wear women’s clothes, but not vice versa. This is acknowledged in the section of the exhibition ‘the First Women to act Shakespeare’, which features early female actresses; Sarah Siddons, Charlotte Cushman, Dora Jordan and Mary Frith, the latter of which  was arrested for wearing male clothing on stage! Contemporary audiences are familiar with seeing actresses play male roles, for example Maxine Peak playing Hamlet, Fiona Shaw playing Richard II, but it was these early actresses who began forging the space for them.

Charlotte_and_Susan_Cushman_TCS_45

Engraving of Charlotte and Susan Cushman in Romeo and Juliet, presumably 1846. Courtesy of Theatrical Portrait Prints (Visual Works) of Women (TCS 45). Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard University.

The exhibition also highlights Peter Brook’s audacious production of A Midsummer Night's Dream in 1970. This production stripped back elaborate set design, while costume was pared down to unisex minimalist dress which visually neutralised all connotations of gender.

A Midsummer Night_s Dream_ 1970_Photo by Reg Wilson _c_ RSC_RSC_WILSON_MND_1970_002

Photo by Reg Wilson © Royal Shakespeare Company. Re-produced with kind permission of the Royal Shakespeare Company

Costume, dialogue and the sex of the actor operate as elements of the plays which can often be overlooked. In Much ado About Nothing, Beatrice dismisses beardless males for looking like women:  “what should I do with? Dress him in my apparel and make him my waiting gentle lady?”(2.1. 29-30). The lack of facial hair is also mentioned in Hamlet, when he doubts his courage against a beardless face [signifying a woman] and calling into question his masculinity.

Bernhardt_Hamlet2

A 'beardless' Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet, circa 1885-1900, courtesy of Wikicommons.

Hamlet’s inner turmoil then is within the dialogue and directly linked to how he looks. As early as 1776 prints exist showing Hamlet dressed in fashionable attire. In the most recent production of Hamlet, staged by the Barbican, Benedict Cumberbatch’s Prince Hamlet sports a Ziggy Stardust T-shirt. For a play about loss of belief, a man whose internalized sense of self is in flux, a play about ghosts, a character not of this world, how perfect that David Bowie made an appearance to modernize the role of costume and interpretation.

We now live in a time without Bowie & Shakespeare, but what remains are the enduring works and their relevance to the world. The semiotics of fashion and costuming choices are not inconsequential to these works or interpretations. The plays themselves are in fact littered with references to fashion and dress. Costume functions on many levels within the dramatic space, functioning not least as an agitator of authority, as Bowie and Shakespeare knew all too well.  

by Rachel Brett, Reference Specialist

The British Library's current exhibition Shakespeare in Ten Acts is a landmark exhibition on the performances that made an icon, charting Shakespeare’s constant reinvention across the centuries and is open until Tuesday 6th September 2016. Whether you’re a student, teacher, researcher, or simply a lover of literature, our new online learning resource Discovering Literature: Shakespeare will encourage critical thinking and independent learning to enrich your understanding of all-things Shakespeare.

 

Bibliography

Fashion in the time of William Shakespeare Downing, Sarah Jane, Oxford : Shire Publications, 2014 YC.2015.a.13081

Costuming the Shakespearean stage : visual codes of representation in early modern theatre and culture / Robert I. Lublin. Farnham : Ashgate, c2011.  YC.2011.a.13726

The Norton Shakespeare : based on the Oxford edition / Stephen Greenblatt. New York ; London : W. W. Norton, c2008. YC.2009.a.9148

Costumes and scripts in the Elizabethan theatres.   Jean MacIntyre, Edmonton : University of Alberta Press, 1992. Shelfmark(s):   Document Supply 92/23467

Playgoing in Shakespeare's London / Andrew Gurr. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 1987. Shelfmark(s):   Document Supply 87/18040 General Reference Collection YH.1987.b.337

Shakespeare after theory / David Scott Kasten. New York : Routledge, 1999. Shelfmark(s):   Document Supply m00/25609

Costume in the Theatre. [With plates and illustrations.]James Laver, 1899-1975 London : George G. Harrap, 1964. Shelfmark(s): General Reference Collection 07812.ggg.70. Document Supply W13/1725

Shakespeare in art. Paintings, drawings and engravings devoted to Shakespearean subjects. [London]: Arts Council, 1964. Shelfmark(s): General Reference Collection W.P.12368/620

Shakespeare and the Artist. William Moelwyn MERCHANT London : Oxford University Press, 1959. Shelfmark(s): General Reference Collection 011768.pp.2. Document Supply Wq1/941

The Tercentenary; or the three hundredth birthday of William Shakespeare. Author: E. Moses & Son. London, 1864. Shelfmark(s): General Reference Collection 11765.c.39.

The diary of Philip Henslowe, from 1591 to 1609 ... / edited by J. Payne Collier.Author: Philip Henslowe, -1616. [London] : Shakespeare Society, 1845. Series: Shakespeare society. Publications, no. 28 Shelfmark(s): Document Supply 8254.586300

 

26 October 2015

Artist Portraits: John Berger's latest book launch at the British Library

Add comment Comments (0)

by Tom Overton, editor of Portraits: John Berger on Artists by John Berger, 2015

 

On the 18th September, John Berger and Ali Smith came to the British Library to launch a book I’ve been editing, Portraits: John Berger on Artists.

Portraits-Berger

Image courtesy of Verso Books

Ali Smith gave a short speech explaining why she loved Berger’s work; it was wonderful, and can be read in the New Statesman here. As you’ll understand from reading it, I was very glad that I’d been on stage already, and my stint explaining the origins of the book didn’t have to follow that.

 

Between 2010 and 2013 I had the pleasure and the privilege of cataloguing the archive John Berger donated to the British Library while I was writing my PhD. This turned into an exhibition at Somerset House, connecting the archive to works of art, and a conference and free school celebrating the anniversary of to of his most famous works, Ways of Seeing and G. Then, while I was a Research Fellow at the Henry Moore Institute, Verso to ask me to put together a collection of Berger’s writing about art.

 

The original proposal turned into two books, the second of which, Landscapes, will be published next year. In some ways the discipline of focusing on Berger’s writing on art was a relief – the scope of his achievement in writing alone is enormous, and books like A Seventh Man, on migrants in Europe, seem particularly timely today. These achievements are also ongoing; among other things there’s this piece addressed to Rosa Luxemburg in the New Statesman.

 

I had to go away and think about what I loved about Berger’s writing on art, and what I thought was important about it. I haven’t got time to do justice to that, so instead, I’ll try and lay out three of the considerations I had in mind. The first was the sheer scope of material in two, historical senses: Berger trained as a painter here in London in the 1940s, and has been writing about art ever since. But he’s written about everything, from all periods, from the very earliest to the most contemporary. That was one of the reasons I was so pleased that Ali Smith agreed to come, because I think – particularly in a book like How to Be Both she and Berger share this wonderfully free, freeing approach to history, existing in what Berger calls ‘the company of the past.’

 

The second consideration is that, like Smith, Berger has little sense of being constrained by literary form. It seems appropriate that we’re launching this book on the anniversary of the death of another radical writer and painter, William Hazlitt, because Berger is rightly known as one of the great innovators in the essay. But he’s also much more than that. In The Success and Failure of Picasso, Berger quotes Picasso writing to his dealer in 1923, to explain the vast formal variety of his work. He says ‘whenever I have had something to say, I have said it in the manner in which I felt it ought to be said.’ This seems to me to be true of Berger’s work too: he’s responded to the experience of looking at art through fiction, drama, poetry, films, collaborations with Nella Bielski, Mike Dibb and Simon McBurney and things which don’t fit into any category at all. There’s a kind of elegy in the book for the sculptor Juan Muñoz, for example, structured as a sequence of letters to the dead Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet.

 

The third consideration also seems to be a unique aspect to Berger’s work. Like Monet with his cathedrals, Berger submits himself to the discipline of returning to the same stimulus, over and over again, and bringing a new insight out of it each time, about the work, and he world around us. The archetypal example of this is the way he went to see Grünewald’s Isenheim altarpiece either side of the revolutionary hopes and failures of 1968. It’s also in writing about Henry Moore and Francis Bacon in a very different way in the 1950s, the 1980s, and the 21st century, each time with a scrupulous honesty and complete commitment.

 

So a straightforward essay collection wouldn’t have worked. The structure I settled on was a timeline, arranged around the dates of birth of the artists John had written about, from the Chauvet Cave painters and Fayum portraitists to many of the artists who are in the audience today – Michael Broughton, Yvonne Barlow, Rostia Kunovsky, Peter Kennard. Within the chapters there’s space for these sequences of responses to emerge where they do.

  BergerEvent

Image courtesy of Verso Books

Re-imagining all this writing in this way reminded me of the moment at the beginning of Ways of Seeing, the book and series with Mike Dibb and others which you can still see on YouTube. Berger walks up to what looks like Botticelli’s Venus and Mars, gets out a Stanley knife, chops out Venus’s head, and announces ‘an allegorical painting becomes a portrait of a girl’. I hope Berger can forgive me for the similar violence I’ve sometimes used in taking pieces of response out of their original context and putting them in this book; but he gave me the idea.

 

You can read it like this, in segments when you see something in a gallery, or on a screen – with Berger’s piece on Rosa Luxemburg and birds in mind, I want to call that bird-like. Or you can be very proper and read it from cover to cover. When I did that in making the book, a lot of unexpected connections emerged – even within the pieces themselves, Berger is always pointing out simultaneities. What it isn’t is what he has called ‘a relay-race of individual geniuses’; it’s an art history which is about collaboration, rather than competition, and this quality of what I called the company of the past.

 

Portraits is dedicated to Gareth Evans, who has long been a really vital advocate of Berger’s work, and the work of many other important, committed artists – I exhort you to follow everything he does very closely. But it’s also dedicated to Berger’s wife Beverly, who passed away in 2013, and who gave the archive at the British Library its shape, and its great richness of content. So as I’ve explained, this book, like many others, couldn’t have happened without her. I hope you enjoy it.

 

23 October 2015

The British Library acquires the D’Oyly Carte archive

Add comment Comments (0)

by Helen Melody, Lead Curator, Contemporary Creative and Literary Archives.

 

The British Library is happy to announce that it has acquired the archive of the D’Oyly Carte Theatre Company. The company, founded by Richard D’Oyly Carte, was a professional light opera company that staged Gilbert and Sullivan’s Savoy operas from 1875 until 1982.

 

The D’Oyly Carte archive is remarkable in its extent, its continuity and the range of material it contains. It provides unparalleled insight into an opera company which was unusual in its repertoire, international reach, its focused social identity and ownership over more than a century by a single family. As an archive of an important theatre company which toured the UK and British Empire extensively, it is British in the sense of the audiences it reached, and its subject matter, which relates to stage works offering a unique view on aspects of British society and culture from the late Victorian period. Its acquisition builds on the Library’s strong existing Gilbert and Sullivan holdings including the Gilbert papers that were acquired in 1956, and the autograph scores of Patience and Gondoliers (acquired in 1966) and Ruddigore (in 2000). It also adds to an already rich collection of theatrical archives at the British Library which includes the archives of Laurence Olivier and Alec Guinness and the Lord Chamberlain’s Plays collection.

  D'OlyCarte3

Leaves from the autograph score of Iolanthe, by Sir Arthur Sullivan. Dated November 1882. D'Oyly Carte Archive. Copyright @ British Library Board & D'Oyly Carte.

The archive of the D’Oyly Carte Theatre Company comprises a complete record of the activities of one of the most famous, distinctive and longstanding theatrical companies in the UK. The D’Oyly Carte Company is the effective birthplace of one of the UK’s most commercially successful creative endeavours – the musical. The archive is also inextricably bound up with the wider enterprise of the Savoy Theatre and Hotel, itself a fascinating demonstration of late Victorian ingenuity. It has been carefully maintained by the organisation which created it and covers the Company’s activities over the entire twentieth century, as well as more limited material from its early days in the nineteenth. Indeed the company maintained exclusive control of copyright of the operas up to 1960 and the archive documents the way in which W.S. Gilbert’s directions for each production were strictly adhered to.

 

The rich documentation and range of material of the archive is probably unparalleled in theatrical archives. This includes extensive correspondence with agents and artistes, relating to auditions, casting, personnel, theatres and tours (around the UK and throughout the English-speaking world); programmes, press cuttings, band parts, libretti, prompt books, papers and photographs of the D’Oyly Carte family, contracts, stage managers’ reports, illustrative materials including sketches for costumes and props, cigarette cards, extensive photographs of artistes, productions and special occasions, posters, recordings on various media including discs, reel-to-reel tape, and sound and video cassette and optical disc. Sir Arthur Sullivan’s autograph score of ‘Iolanthe’ is the most valuable individual component of the archive, and until its acquisition it was the only remaining major autograph Sullivan opera score in private ownership.

  D'Oyly Carte5

Costume design working notebook from the 1970s, with production photograph and fabric samples. (Samples relate to a production of The Gondoliers). D'Oyly Carte Archive. Copyright @ British Library Board & D'Oyly Carte.

 

The Library was enabled to acquire the archive by the generous support of the D’Oyly Carte Charitable Trust and the Friends of the British Library. This includes funding to catalogue and preserve the archive, which is expected to be fully accessible by spring 2017.

 

The cataloguer will make the considerable research potential of this archive easily accessible to researchers, as well as any individuals interested in the history of theatre. The archive will provide insight not only into the performance history of the works staged by the company, but also of the performers themselves. This material will appeal to a wide range of researchers – from amateur musicians to professional musicologists, and from social historians to theatrical producers and genealogists. We are very excited to have acquired it and feel that it is a wonderful addition to our collections.