Vale Shakespeare: Highlights from the Turnbull Collections

‘Come, and take choice of all my library, and so beguile thy sorrow’.
Titus Andronicus (Act 4, Scene 1)

Four hundred years ago on 23 April 1616, the great English poet and playwright, William Shakespeare, died. No other author from the English author era has had such a lasting impact on world literary culture. As his friend and fellow author Ben Jonson wrote after Shakespeare’s death, ‘He was not of an age, but for all time’. How true a statement this is, for Shakespeare’s works never ceased being performed since they first appeared on stage, his most popular plays have been translated into over 75 languages and, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, he remains the most quoted author in the English language.

To mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, here are some collection items of Shakespearean interest selected by members of the Alexander Turnbull Library’s Curatorial team.

Turnbull’s Copy of the Second Folio

After Shakespeare’s death, two of his colleagues, John Heminges and Henry Condell, compiled the first collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays, which was published in 1623. Known as the First Folio, the publication contained thirty-six plays, including the first appearance in print of such well-known works as The Tempest, Macbeth, Julius Caesar and As You Like It. Nine years later in 1632, a consortium of booksellers, each of whom owned the rights to certain plays, published what is called the Second Folio; effectively a reprint of the First Folio, but with numerous minor corrections.

Title-page of the Second Folio (1632); qREng SHAK Mr 1632Title-page of the Second Folio (1632); qREng SHAK Mr 1632

A finely-bound copy of the Second Folio was purchased by Alexander Turnbull in 1908, which raises the question: Why did he not seek to acquire a First Folio instead? The answer likely lies in a 16-line poem published in the Second Folio titled, ‘An Epitaph on the admirable Dramaticke Poet, W. Shakespeare’; the first work by the English poet and polemicist John Milton to appear in print. For Turnbull, a comprehensive collector of Milton’s works, no collection of Miltoniana would be complete without this poem, making the Second Folio a much more desirable acquisition than the First Folio.

The Library also holds another copy of the Second Folio, from the Wellington General Assembly Library, and a copy of the 1685 Fourth Folio, included in the 1927 donation of the Mantell family’s books and papers.

Anthony Tedeschi
Curator Rare Books and Fine Printing

An Illustrated Shakespeare Birthday-Book

Cover of An illustrated Shakespeare birthday book inscribed To Fannie from her Papa on her fourteenth Birthday, 28 Apr 1883. MSX-2603, Field and Hodgkins family papers MS-Group-0060Cover of An illustrated Shakespeare birthday book inscribed To Fannie from her Papa on her fourteenth Birthday, 28 Apr 1883. MSX-2603, Field and Hodgkins family papers MS-Group-0060

On 28 April 1869, in the bustling metropolis of colonial Dunedin, a child named Frances Mary Hodgkins was born. On her fourteenth birthday, Frances’s father William Mathew Hodgkins gifted the budding young artist a small volume he’d purchased from James Horsburugh- Bookseller and Stationer, in George Street Dunedin. The volume was titled An Illustrated Shakespere [sic] Birthday Book and featured numerous quotations and illustrations complied from Shakespeare’s plays and poems. The inscription on the inside flyleaf reads, ‘To Fannie from her Papa on her fourteenth Birthday, 28 April 1883’.

Entry showing Frances Hodgkins Birthday inscription in An illustrated Shakespeare birthday book inscribed To Fannie from her Papa on her fourteenth Birthday, 28 Apr 1883. MSX-2603, Field and Hodgkins family papers MS-Group-0060Entry showing Frances Hodgkins Birthday inscription in An illustrated Shakespeare birthday book inscribed To Fannie from her Papa on her fourteenth Birthday, 28 Apr 1883. MSX-2603, Field and Hodgkins family papers MS-Group-0060

This duodecimo volume is one of the many mass-market products of its period and aptly demonstrates the persistence of Shakespeare’s work and popularity through time. Prevalent gifts among family members and friends during the Victorian and Edwardian periods, birthday books such as these were used to keep an ongoing record of names and birth dates of their nearest and dearest. Fannie’s birthday book contains a number of entries written by both Frances Hodgkins and (as was common) in the hand of her family and friends. Frances’s birthday is noted as an entry on 28 April (illustrated) with the inscription Fanny M? Hodgkins.

This manuscript volume forms part of the Field and Hodgkins family papers acquired by the Library in the early 1950s.

Shannon Wellington
Curator Manuscripts

Shakespeare’s Own Epitaph

William Shakespeare, Inscription on his gravestone. MS-Papers-3376William Shakespeare, Inscription on his gravestone. MS-Papers-3376

This unusual item is a photographic print of a rubbing from Shakespeare’s gravestone which is housed in the Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon. The print has been backed with linen cloth at some point in its history to provide stability to the item. An annotation to the bottom of the print notes: ‘Certified correct by the parish clerk on behalf of Canon Melville, 1913’. The Revd Canon Melville was the Canon in this parish in 1913 so this indicates that the rubbing may have been created around this date.

The gravestone inscription reads:
Good friend for Jesus sake forbeare,
To dig the dust enclosed here.
Blessed be the man that spares these stones,
And cursed be he that moves my bones.

Shakespeare wrote his own epitaph and commentators have suggested the wording is a curse to stop relic hunters or researchers digging up his bones, or a warning to prevent his body being exhumed for another burial by church officials. Shakespeare brought a tithe deed for 400 pounds which gave him the right to be buried in the chancel of the church. There are five members of the Shakespeare family buried inside the Holy Trinity Church.

This print was deposited with the Library in 1961 by Mrs F C Burgess of the Shakespeare Society, Wellington.

Seán McMahon
Assistant Curator Manuscripts

Shakespeare’s New Zealand Debut

Daily Southern Cross, Volume 2, Issue 53, 20 April 1844, Page 1Daily Southern Cross, Volume 2, Issue 53, 20 April 1844, Page 1

William Shakespeare made a modest New Zealand debut on Monday 22 April 1844, in a benefit performance for Mrs Thompson at the Royal Victoria Theatre, Auckland. Sandwiched between songs in character by Mr and Mrs Harold, Mrs Thompson herself played the lead in the first act of Richard III.

Sadly, this appears to have been the last hurrah for this pioneer theatre, founded by Australian George Buckingham. Their first production was mounted on Boxing Night, 1843, in the Royal Hotel. By February 1844 he had built his own theatre in Queen Street, but on 6 April 1844 the Daily Southern Cross reports that he had received offers to rent the premises. The paper goes on to say ‘We are not sorry to hear this in the present state of things. Whilst we thus freely express ourselves, and have to record Mr. Buckingham's want of success in Theatricals, we wish him every prosperity in any other undertaking that may be more conducive to the public interest’.

The benefit finale, Charles Selby’s one act-play Hunting a Turtle, endured longer. Described as a ‘screaming farce’, it continued to be presented in New Zealand into the 1880s.

John Sullivan
Curatorial Services Leader

A pageant for the Tercentenary 1916

Despite the War, New Zealanders remembered the tercentenary of Shakespeare, a great man ‘not of an age, but for all time’. The Dominion admitted that, ‘If the Empire had been at peace, it is probable that the Shakespeare Tercentenary celebrations would have been more magnificent and elaborate’.

The Free lance announced: ‘For three nights, beginning the 3rd of May, the Town Hall will witness a great revival of scenes in comedy and tragedy from the poet's most notable plays. A great pageant of Shakespearian characters will pass in procession through the hall and strut their little hour upon the stage’.

The Ephemera Collection holds a copy of the programme, naming all participants. Miss Hardinge-Maltby was one of the few active members in the Wellington Shakespeare Club; many of the others had won prizes in the recent Competition Society contests, and continued to perform in concerts and plays in the following years.

Shakespeare Tercentenary Festival, Wellington 1916. Souvenir programme. Whitcombe & Tombs Limited, printers. del Jas Ellis [Whitcombe & Tombs Ltd 15404] Ref: Eph-B-DRAMA-1916-01Shakespeare Tercentenary Festival, Wellington 1916. Souvenir programme. Whitcombe & Tombs Limited, printers. del Jas Ellis [Whitcombe & Tombs Ltd 15404] Ref: Eph-B-DRAMA-1916-01

The event made £100 for Red Cross funds. Although the papers wrote in advance of the pageant, there was little in the press later to reveal how the public had received it. There was one rather back-handed compliment: ‘The recent Shakespeare Festival at the Town Hall was a happy idea, carried out with most laudable spirit and great success. But its interest was chiefly dramatic and spectacular; … there was nothing to celebrate the literary side of Shakespeare’s work’.

Barbara Lyon
Curator Ephemera

Picturing Shakespeare on Stage

Photographs of many New Zealand performances of Shakepeare’s plays, particularly of the mid to late twentieth century, can be found in key theatre collections held by the Alexander Turnbull Library. These collections are a rich source for images of the productions and they also provide glimpses behind the scenes.

The Downstage Theatre collection, for instance, includes images of rehearsals, set designs, actors, and promotional photographs, from productions staged in the 1970s to 2000s.

The collection of acclaimed playwright, director, producer, and author, Dame Ngaio Marsh, includes photograph albums and prints depicting the Canterbury University College Drama Society’s productions of Shakespeare’s plays in the 1940s.

This photograph depicts members of the cast of the Canterbury University College Drama Society’s Hamlet in modern dress that was staged at the Little Theatre in 1943. Director Ngaio Marsh is shown fourth from left.

Members of the cast of the Canterbury University College Drama Society production of Hamlet in 1943. Marsh, Ngaio : Photographs of theatrical productions. Ref: PA1-q-173-73-2Members of the cast of the Canterbury University College Drama Society production of Hamlet in 1943. Marsh, Ngaio : Photographs of theatrical productions. Ref: PA1-q-173-73-2

Natalie Marshall
Curator Photographs

Othello at the Downstage Theatre

Raymond Stanley Boyce poster for Othello, Downstage; Opera House, 8 – 11 Sept. [1976]. Ref: C–100–048Raymond Stanley Boyce poster for Othello, Downstage; Opera House, 8 – 11 Sept. [1976]. Ref: C–100–048

In 1976, Downstage Theatre staged a production of Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’, directed by the late Richard Campion. Starring Don Selwyn as Othello, Sherril Cooper as Desdemona and Peter Vere-Jones as Iago, the set and costumes were designed by Raymond Boyce. This design for the programme and advertising poster was also designed by Boyce. Despite mixed reviews, the production did remarkably well over its five-week run, and was extended to a further four performances at the Opera House.

Raymond Boyce, M.B.E. designed extensively for the Hannah Playhouse, including for other Shakespeare productions. Many of his set and costume designs can be found within the Drawings, Paintings and Prints collections at the Alexander Turnbull Library, with much of this material donated by the artist. His last work for Downstage on a Shakespeare production was again for ‘Othello’ in 1989, this time starring George Henare in the lead role.

Boyce also holds a closer connection to Shakespeare: he acted as the Executive Designer for the four Globe Hangings, also known as the New Zealand Hangings, which were presented to the newly rebuilt Globe Theatre in London, and unveiled in 1994. There, they adorned the frons scenae throughout the fortnight-long Festival of Firsts to celebrate the official opening of the Globe Theatre, and have now taken their place as part of the permanent Globe Exhibition.

Denise Roughan
Assistant Curator Drawings, Paintings and Prints

Shakespeare in New Zealand Music

William Shakespeare has been muse to many New Zealand composers over the years. Some have composed for stage productions, others for radio and ballet adaptations, or song arrangements. Many such scores are preserved in the Archive of New Zealand Music, including those by Dorothea Franchi, David Farquhar, Edwin Carr, and Jenny McLeod. Douglas Lilburn was especially prolific. Recently the Library commenced a long-term project to digitally preserve Lilburn’s holograph scores and we have taken the Bard’s quatercentenary as an opportunity to turn next to some of his Shakespeare-inspired work.

Ngaio Marsh (with beret) stands centre; Douglas Lilburn is third from the right (holding bottle). Identified as the cast of Othello (1944). Ref: PAColl-0285-1-072Ngaio Marsh (with beret) stands centre; Douglas Lilburn is third from the right (holding bottle). Identified as the cast of Othello (1944). Ref: PAColl-0285-1-072

Lilburn’s Shakespearean compositions began with incidental music for five Ngaio Marsh productions in Christchurch during the 1940s. Of particular note is the stately theme he wrote for the Player’s mime in Hamlet (1943), which he reworked several times and has become especially popular as the first of Four Canzonas for strings (1980). ‘Willow Song’, as sung by Desdemona in Act 4 Scene III in the Othello production of 1944, became the second Canzona. Digitised holographs of Othello , Willow Song , and Four Canzonas for strings are now viewable in the Library reading room. Lilburn composed more Shakespearean incidental music through the 1950s and 1960s, with digitisation also being recently completed for ‘Pardon Goddess of the Night’ as sung by Claudio in Act 5 Scene III of Much Ado About Nothing, which was composed for Maria Dronke’s 1955 production at Victoria University.

Song from Much Ado About Nothing (‘Pardon goddess of the night’). Ref: MS-Papers-5885-12Song from Much Ado About Nothing (‘Pardon goddess of the night’). Ref: MS-Papers-5885-12

Michael Brown
Curator Music

By Anthony Tedeschi

Anthony is Rare Books and Fine Printing Curator at the Alexander Turnbull Library.

Post a Comment

(will not be published) * indicates required field

Be the first to comment.