English and Drama blog

On literature and theatre collections from the 16th century to the present day

21 posts categorized "Shakespeare"

23 April 2014

More Shakespeare

To commemorate 450 years since Shakespeare's birth here is a rough list (Shakespeare Recordings BL) of live theatre audio recordings of Shakespeare plays held at the British Library.

A total of 368 productions from the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company (plus Renaissance Theatre Company and some others), mainly recorded between 1963 and 2013.

The plays are listed alphabetically by title. Each brief recording entry includes: production year; Library call number; director; and in the case of Hamlet, the name of the lead actor.

Hamlet is the best represented play in the collection, with twenty three recordings. It is also the first play recorded by the Library’s live theatre recording programme (22 October 1963 at the National Theatre in the Old Vic, starring Peter O’Toole and directed by Laurence Olivier).

Over the decades, many of the nation’s greatest actors have appeared in these various productions. Find out full cast of each production, the venue and further details by typing the call number into the Sound and Moving Image catalogue.

ShakespeareShakespeare's First Folio. Image copyright © The British Library Board

This is an ongoing collection: the RSC send us their own audio recordings. We no longer record at the NT, since they have had their own video recording programme since 2008.

All the recordings listed are available to listen to free at the British Library but you may need to make an appointment.

I would be happy to answer any enquiries about the collection. Please feel free to use the comments box below.

13 December 2012

Blockheads and coxcombs: a belated bicentenary mention for Edmond Malone

Today’s blog post is somewhat delayed … by a little over six months. One thing and another prevented me from posting this in the spring but I’ve been spurred into writing it for a couple of reasons: firstly because I’ve recently been taking a closer look at some of the British Library’s unique Shakespeare material; and, secondly, because 2012 has clearly been the year of literary bicentenaries and I have to get in before it ends.

Dickens, Lear and Browning have perhaps sapped everyone’s enthusiasm for 200 year anniversaries, but I was a little surprised when 25 May passed and no one had mentioned Edmond Malone. Maybe I wasn’t looking in the right places but the least I expected was a nod in his direction on Twitter.

Malone, that eminent man of letters, died on 25 May 1812. He was the last of the great 18th-century Shakespeare editors; in fact, his entry in the Dictionary of National Biography records him as the greatest of them all, leaving Messrs. Steevens, Johnson, Theobald, Pope, Rowe and Capell in his dust.

The British Library holds a good number of Malone-related books and manuscripts but the item that caught my eye is a copy of the Edward Capell-edited Mr William Shakespeare his comedies, histories, and tragedies (London, 1768 – shelfmark C.60.g.10). It’s a fairly common edition but what sets this copy apart is the fact that it was once owned by Malone. In fact, it may well be the copy that he refers to in his Second appendix of 1783, when he writes that ‘I had lately to look into his [Capell’s] volumes'.

Annotated throughout, but particularly in the introduction, it’s a great example of the one-upmanship, jealousy and general bickering that wasn’t uncommon among the big Shakespeare guns of the 18th century (in William Shakespeare: the critical heritage (vol. 6, 1995), Brian Vickers describes it as ‘full of virulent abuse’). Malone wasn’t shy in criticising his fellow Shakespeareans – he publicly derided Capell’s work – but as can be seen from the following examples he reserved his most biting comments for his private jottings.

Where to begin? On p.8 Capell is described as an ‘absurd coxcomb’ for the way he lists Shakespeare’s plays:

Absurd coxcomb
This absurd coxcomb has been misunderstood here ...

On p.67 Malone throws in a sarcastic dig about Capell’s outdated assertion that there is no source for The Taming of the Shrew. To which Malone responds:

Except a play with the same title, containing all the great outlines of Shakspeare's comedy!!!!

I wonder if the four exclamation marks indicate the pleasure Malone took in making this correction, for he and Capell had history with this play. In 1779 Malone purchased a 1607 edition of The Taming of a Shrew (now in the Beinecke, Malone 152), a purchase that Capell begged Malone to give to him, even offering three earlier Shakespeare quartos in exchange. Malone refused, writing on the back of the title-page, ‘Mr Capel for 30 years searched for one in vain'.

Malone’s bluntest comment can be found on p.44. In response to Capell’s assertion that Shakespeare may have written Titus Andronicus, Malone writes:

Would not any one but this blockhead have concluded from the very arguments that he himself brings, viz from T. Andronicus exactly resembling these wretched plays, The Wars of Cyrus etc. in the style of versification, that it was written by some one of the authors of those pieces, and not by Shakspeare?

In this instance hindsight hasn’t really worked out in Malone’s favour.

So, when were these uncomplimentary musings jotted down? At a point when both men were at the top of their games? In jealous response to a scholarly triumph by Capell? Amazingly, just a few months after Capell’s death in 1781. Malone’s introductory notes, dated 20 June 1781, mention his rival’s death, together with another set of four exclamation marks which seemingly ridicule the pace of the recently-deceased man's work:

At length death over took him Feby. 24 1781, and the work is not yet finished!!!!

Actually, perhaps it was a good idea for me to delay this post. It's not exactly the most celebratory portrayal of Malone!!!!

24 April 2012

A chlorine hit, a monorail, and 12 First Folios

No let-up on the pace today; well a little let up, at least the time for a chlorine-starved swimmer to crash an elegant, penthouse hotel pool in Downtown. Never travel without goggles, is my traveller's rule of thumb.

After a morning of meetings, it was over to Meisei University, out to the West of Tokyo. Meisei is a private university, notable for the Shakespearean vision of its President who, from the 1970s, made dealers Bernard Quaritch's heart sing by systematically buying up a series of First Folios - not to mention F2, F3, and F4s. Today, their English faculty had kindly arranged for me to have access to their bank vault of a reading room (totally 'Goldfinger') - having first scrubbed up (am quite a fan of mandatory handwashing, in Reading Room, and indeed wider, contexts), and apply my mask.

And so, feeling like Sir Laurence Olivier in Marathon Man, I set to examining their collection of 12 F1s - including annotated copies, one that had belonged to the Restoration playwright Congreve, and one through which a bullet had passed, at least as far as Titus Andronicus). As if that wasn't enough, we were taken to their student theatre - only an exact replica of the Globe.

The imagination and single-mindedness involved in building up such a collection from scratch, and building such a theatre, are stunning. But, like other collections, they're keenly aware of the need to enhance what is (I think they'd be the first to admit) necessarily limited access to the Folios. And so a programme of digitisation of the annotations is underway - external funding dependent, I was (in a funny way) pleased to hear. Even Meisei are reliant on external grants for this kind of work nowadays.

Having proved the trustworthiness of Meisei students on the Monorail back to the centre (did I mention they have a MONORAIL! Which is as brilliant as you'd hope) by unwittingly dropping a 10,000 yen bill on the floor - returned within seconds - I went for an early evening meeting with Martyn Naylor, MBE, Chairman of the preeminent theatre agents in this territory. And when you realise this territory includes S. Korea, China, as well as Japan, that's an awful lot of audience.

Among many accomplishments, Martyn introduced Yasmina Reza's work ('Art') to anglophone audiences, and he told great stories about his discovery of 'Art', Gnl Douglas MacArthur popping round to check he'd done the dishes when he was growing up, and I think Sean Connery featured somewhere too. He is good friends with Gordon Dickerson, the agent of the John Osborne estate, with whom we worked a year or so back to bring to performance two early Osborne plays I found in the British Library, and Martyn is over soon to check out the revival of one of those plays, The Devil Inside Him, at the White Bear in May. He also talked movingly about the reaction to the Disasters last year, and the way it has impacted on live theatre, and more generally, attitudes towards going out in the evening.

Tomorrow's a big day - an unexpected public viewing of the Holmes manuscript, arranged due to public demand, an HE conference addressed by the Perm Sec at BIS (explaining more about recent HE policy in the UK), and capped by an exclusive Ambassador's dinner. I'm looking forward to the Ferrero Rochers.

P.S. Photos from the British Council collaboration school event published

23 April 2012

A Detective not of an Age but for All Time

A full day at the Embassy and, after 90 minutes sleep, 20 separate group visits, a lecture alongside Sir David Warren, HM Ambassador to Japan, and Prof Dominic Shellard, Vice Chancellor of De Montfort University... and the repetition of the word 1623 approx 1623 times, I finally got to sit down with a glass(es) of white at 22h this evening.

And, some good news, we found out the Guardian had published my diary of Japan thus far.

Too tired to make much sense of today, but something very special about being able to communicate our enthusiasm for all things Shakespeare to such an amazing variety of guests invited to the wonderful British Embassy building by Sir David, our Man in Tokyo; from the Director of the New National Theatre, Tokyo, (who's doing a Richard III soon); colleagues from Meisei University (who, to be fair, have more F1s than we do); an old friend, Professor Tetsuo Kishi from Kyoto, who's just translated Harold Pinter's The Hothouse for the National Theatre here, and whom I last saw In Stratford when he donated his collection of letters from Harold to the British Library; and - looking at my business card booty - any number of Bardophile CEOs/diplomats.

Best of all, no question, the 150 local high school kids who filled the normally hushed Embassy with some hooting and hollering this morning - as well as some very challenging questions. Even better, they had the good manners to laugh at my jokes.

Interesting, especially among the school children, that Sherlock is holding his own against his illustrious forefather - he's proving quite a draw, and provoking astonishment that a Doctor (as ACD was by training) should have such legible handwriting.

We're off to Meisei tomorrow to hear more about their own F1 plans, and I'm hoping for some respite from the jet lag in the meantime.

Mister Shakespeare, Mister Doyle, and me


I’m sitting on a Tokyo-bound 747, flying through the night in good company.

In the run-up to our Writing Britain exhibition, The British Library is taking part in the Great! Celebrations, and bringing two of our greatest English literary treasures to display at the British Embassy in Tokyo. And so it is that my travelling companions are the handwritten manuscript of a 1904 Sherlock Holmes story, ‘The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter’; and one of the few extant First Folios, the first 1623 collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays. If packing is never easy at the best of times, packing two priceless literary artefacts takes a bit of planning.

The customs implications of temporarily importing artworks into Japan have tested our wonderful registrar, Barbara, to the limits; while the security surrounding the transfer of such precious cargo needs to be impeccable. So, this time, no Piccadilly line from Turnpike Lane for me. Instead, precision support from our art handlers, who effortlessly negotiate the madness of 21st-century airports to deliver our precious cargo airside.

I’m in Japan for a week or so, and making the most of my time to take part in any number of celebrations of two iconic British literary icons. Under the Great! umbrella, and in partnership with our friends and colleagues at De Montfort University, the British Council, and the British Embassy Tokyo, we have a series of talks and events planned from Monday (a certain someone’s birthday, it might be noted): workshops with local schoolchildren, lectures on Shakespeare, a high-level reception at which to promote the Library’s summer exhibition… and - so I’ve been promised/threatened by Professor Dominic Shellard, Vice Chancellor of De Montfort - some karaoke.

There’s more information on the events on our press pages, and I’ll blog more about both of the collection items later. But for now, with 8 hours left to go, it’s time to decide between sleep or The Bourne Identity.

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