This year marks the fifth centenary of the death of Aldus Manutius, and there have been a plethora of symposia and exhibits that celebrate the life, career, and influence of the great scholar-printer (see the list maintained by the Manutius Network for more information). Since Aldus has lent his anchor device to this website, it should come as no surprise that I recently participated in one such commemorative event: Renaissance Print Culture: An Aldine Quincentennial Symposium sponsored by the Center for Renaissance Studies at the Newberry Library in Chicago. I gave a paper called "Reading Devices" -- and I thought it worthwhile to provide a version of it here. This is also a chance to collect together some of the previous posts from Anchora that discuss, in one way or another, the practice and importance of "reading" printers' devices.
All good Shakespeareans must occasionally make a pilgrimage to Stratford-upon-Avon, and this past summer it was once again my turn to visit Shakespeare's native town. (For more on his relationship to Stratford, see my last post on Shakespeare's printer). I was there to attend a conference held at the Shakespeare Institute where I delivered a paper that traced some of the connections between the epitaph on Shakespeare's gravestone in Holy Trinity -- it takes the form of a malediction, cursing those who would disturb his bones -- and the First Folio. Since I have a rather vexed relationship with the Folio -- see the series of "Breaking Shakespeare" posts listed here -- you would rightly infer that I am a vehement proponent for disturbing his bones (metaphorically, at least).
The First Folio was designed, in part, as a monument and a memorial to Shakespeare. And once I had returned to London, the first order of business was to search out a curious monument that memorializes the First Folio and its compilers, John Heminge and Henry Condell (members of Shakespeare's theatre company). I was fortunate to be joined by Mercurius Politicus (@mercpol) and Wynken de Worde (@wynkenhimself) on this excursion -- which turned out to be just one part of a trans-atlantic, trans-continental set of pilgrimages that I took, in order to tell the full story of this monument.
Just over a month ago -- and, not coincidentally, just in time for Shakespeare's 450th birthday -- two booksellers from New York, George Koppelman and Daniel Wechsler, announced that they had found Shakespeare's dictionary. Several years earlier they had acquired a copy of an early modern dictionary that was heavily annotated; they have since decided that it was owned by Shakespeare, and so they call it "Shakespeare's Beehive" in reference to the name of the book, John Baret's An Alvearie, or Quadruple Dictionarie (1580). As the belated date of this post should make clear, I'm not interested in the validity of the case they are seeking to prove -- suffice it to say, my initial scholarly skepticism was warranted. Rather, I'm interested in the use that they make of Richard Field, a fellow native of Stratford-on-Avon and the first printer of Shakespeare's two narrative poems. Field has long served as the focus of biographical speculation regarding Shakespeare -- speculation that, as I have written at length before, has fundamentally influenced our narratives of Shakespeare's life and career -- and Field's role here is no different. So I offer here a brief lesson in Shakespearean scholarship and myth-making, by way of a brief analysis of Shakespeare's Beehive, the fine press book written by Koppelman and Wechsler, which our library recently acquired.