New sonnets and old Shakespeare

Russell Maret, 2017 printer-in-residence at the Bodleian, led a seminar looking at old and new printings of Shakespeare. Participating were some of the printers who had contributed to the Bodleian’s new collection of Shakespeare’s sonnets printed in 2016. The group discussed questions of fidelity to the early printed texts, artistic interpretation, and personal responses to the poems.

The seminar examined new and old: the earliest edition of Shakespeare’s Sonnets (1609) and the First Folio edition of his plays (1623), and a selection of the 2016-printed sonnets, each presenting one 14-line poem in a different format including:

  • Number 99: a library catalogue card drawer, with each word of the sonnet on a separate file card
  • Number 114: ‘Vibrate-lances Zone 114’, a poster-size Dadaist interpretation with the text printed in two colours
  • Number 112: containing a facsimile of the 1609 printing and a facsimile of a portion of the Droeshout engraved portrait from the First Folio
  • Number 110: a movable with winking eye and disappearing lines
  • Number 81: with a delicate decoration of gothic arches
  • Number 74: resembling an obituary broadside, aptly commemorating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death
  • Number 62: alternating lines of black and red giving original and modernized spelling
  • Number 50: in a wooden Old West wrapper
  • Number 25: on coloured paper with a calligraphic Spanish translation curving around the printed English
  • Number 15: on red paper, text set in Perpetua, with lines 6 and 7 picked out in Mila Script, and a flower-seed illustration
  • Number 3: fully linocut, with the last two lines depicted as a reflection in water
  • Number 27: in old style; type-written; and in binary code
  • Numbers 5&6: using a facsimile of the Doves Press type, referencing the Doves Press 1909 edition of the Sonnets
  • Number 28: several copies on beer-mats in two colours

This last sparked thoughts of adjourning the seminar, but there was some work to do first.  The printers’ expertise was put to work at the Bodleian’s Bibliographical Press to make a keepsake of the occasion;  lines from King Lear in three colours, with unlocked type interpreting loosening coherence.

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