NOTE: Sonnet 38, printed by Armina Ghazarian, in Ghent, will be pictured in an update of this post.
The Bodleian Libraries welcomed two unique sets of sonnets into the Libraries’ collections at a special event on 10 November, 2016.
One was a set of sonnets written by Oxford schoolchildren as part of a series of workshops led by the Poet of Oxford Kate Clanchy. The other was a unique collection of Shakespearean sonnets that have been hand-printed by printers around the world as part of the Bodleian’s Sonnets 2016 project.
The Bodleian Library’s printing workshop holds three 17th-century composing frames, along with presses and type of more recent date, all in working order and regularly used to teach type-setting and printing on hand-operated presses.
The workshop is housed in a ground-floor room, the Schola Musicae, opening from the Old Schools Quadrangle in the Old Bodleian Library. The room holds five free-standing iron presses, all dating from the 19th century, one proofing press and one etching press.
Richard Lawrence is the supervisor and teaches classes for beginners and more advanced printers, as well as teaching University of Oxford postgraduates. The Press hosts hands-on experiments, which have included publication of a broadside of Martin Luther’s 95 theses, produced by students from the Medieval and Modern Languages Faculty, and the ‘print-tweets’ made by artist Tamarin Norwood.
The Bodleian Library offers classes in hand-printing for students on University of Oxford courses and visitors from other universities, as well as regular workshops for families, adults, and primary school groups. Experienced printers may register to attend weekly open sessions in termtime.
The Shakespeare sonnets collected in 2016 contain an astoundingly broad range of printed versions, coming from a wide range of printers from around the world. I recently looked through some of these and was fascinated to discover the many differences between the different editions, which caused me to ponder whether to write Shakespeare using a different typeface, orthography or other presentational choice is to reproduce precisely the same essential message.
Take, for example, the difference between two different editions of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 (“Shall I compare” etc) which were presented side-by-side to one another. One, taken from Shakespeare’s 1609 First Folio, is written with Shakespeare’s original spelling and orthography, now fairly antiquated in its use of such archaisms as “u” in lieu of “v”, or the “long s” (“ſ”). In contrast, the second version, taken directly from Wikipedia, not only uses a modern sans serif typeface, but also a modern and standardised form of spelling throughout.
For the modern reader, this functions as something of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it could be argued that placing Shakespeare in a modern typeface and orthography causes him to appear more directly relevant to an audience more familiar with that more contemporary style. But it could also be seen to appear strangely synthetic and divested of its original meaning. It could be seen to lose something of its “authenticity”. A rather vague term, this could be here seen to refer to a certain consistency between the physical appearance of a work and the cultural context in which it originated. To take an Elizabethan poem and write it down in a modern style could be seen by some as deeply jarring in its inconsistency.
This then raises the important question of whether, as Ben Jonson said, “[Shakespeare] was not of an age, but for all time” or whether there is some specific temporal quality to his work that necessitates it being placed into its original cultural context. This is the same debate which tends to come into play, for example, when it is debated whether Shakespeare should be staged in modern or period costume. Several of the sonnets printed for this project gesture towards “authenticity”, with Sonnet 105 (“To me, fair friend” etc), from earlier this year, while at first appearing mock-Elizabethan through its antiquated typeface and use of illustration, nonetheless, upon closer inspection, also making use of modern orthography. The implication may be then that a balance must be preserved, so that Shakespeare’s message may retain more or less its original meaning, but also be capable of altering that meaning in subtle ways in order better to fit a contemporary cultural context.
For modern readers, there is a certain value both in understanding Shakespeare’s work as it originally would have been and as it is now and therefore a certain value in comprehending how the way in which Shakespeare is written could be seen to affect what it means.
from Benjamin Maier, Intern at the Bodleian Libraries
The Bodleian Library invited hand-press printers to send examples of Shakespeare’s Sonnets (printed by any form of relief printing in 2016) and the collection of 154 is taking shape. Sonnets arrive daily and reports of printing successes (and disasters) are also circulating. Juan Pascoe’s Sonnet 54 has arrived from Mexico, Ivan Gulkov has set Sonnet 85 in Russian at the Pillowface Press, California https://thebeautyofletterpress.com/printer/pillowface-press/,
Gordon Chesterman has sent Sonnet 128 with an ornate linocut border, Annette Disslin has shown an elegant design on grey, and, as an ‘extra,’ University College students printed a sonnet in college colours, under the supervision of expert letterpress printer and University College librarian, Liz Adams.
Arie Koelewyn, from The Paper Airplane Press, delivered sonnets 18 and 43 in person, from East Lansing, Michigan, and also visited the wooden common press in the Weston Library.
In September 2015, the Bodleian’s Bibliography Room re-opened in the Old Bodleian Library, after a move from temporary quarters in the Story Museum, Oxford. The workshop is now housed in a ground-floor room, the Schola Musicae, opening from the Old Schools Quadrangle. Inside are five free-standing iron presses (four Albions and a Columbian)*, a number of table-top presses, and several composing frames, including three seventeenth-century frames, with a quantity of wooden and metal type.
The room hosts classes in hand-printing for students from Oxford and other universities, and regular workshops for families, adults, and primary school groups. One group from a local school printed a sonnet by Shakespeare; seven children set two lines each while their classmate created a linocut of the school emblem.
Many former students and visitors from other universities will remember that Paul W. Nash expertly shepherded the room through its previous incarnations in the New Library (now refurbished as the Weston Library) and in the Story Museum. His successor as superintendent of the press is Richard Lawrence, who teaches printing to university students and visiting groups and also supervises open sessions, when experienced printers are welcome to use the workshop, on Thursday evenings during term-times. Several projects initiated by students are underway, including the printing of Luther’s 95 theses, catalyst for the Reformation, in time for the 500th anniversary in 2017. Courses in printing history, practical printing, and letterpress printing, open to the public, are offered in June 2016.
This year the Bibliographical Press hosts an effort to gather copies of all of Shakespeare’s sonnets printed in 2016, the 400th anniversary of his death. A call for contributions of sonnets went out in January and was quickly answered by printers around the world. (http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/csb/sonnets2016 ) Though all 154 sonnets are now promised for the Bodleian Rare Books collection, anyone wishing to participate in the effort is invited to contact the Centre for the Study of the Book, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; the CSB will endeavour to announce and display sonnets printed in 2016 by any technique of relief printing.
*A further note on the presses contained in the room. These were reported by Philip Gaskell in the Journal of the Printing Historical Society no. 1, 1965:
“(1) Albion (demy), serial number 539, (1835), from the Daniel Press” [This was the press used by C.H.O. Daniel, Provost of Worcester College, from 1880-1906 and presented to the library in 1919.]
“(2) [now removed] Albion (royal), serial number 2919, (1853), from the Ashendene Press” [The Bodleian Library Record Vol. 5, No. 6, Oct. 1956, reported the gift of “An Ashendene Press. Mr Michael Hornby has presented to the Bibliography Room the Ashendene Press, the Albion used by his father from 1900 onwards. We are most grateful for the gift of this historic machine. It is a Royal, and Mr Davis is already planning to print bigger and better books.” The press referred to by Gaskell, is now at the Bridwell Library, Dallas Texas ,a ‘Hopkinson & Cope Albion, serial number 2919, patent number 3325, 1853. This press belonged to Charles Harry St John Hornby and is referred to as the Bridwell-Ashendene Press‘.]
“(3) Albion (pot), serial number 4993, (1898), from the Moss Press”
To those recorded by Gaskell have been added more recently
(4) A Columbian, from the Samson Press
(5) An Albion, from the Gehenna Press
(6) A card-size Albion, maker Ullmer, number 2919
Lucy Evans, Rare Books
An enthusiastic response meant all 154 sonnets were quickly assigned. The UK and the USA are the most heavily represented countries with particularly strong showing from Oxford, California and Iowa. Submissions are also expected from Australia, Belgium, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy , Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Spain.
The printers involved range from large scale operations to university departments, not for profit organisations, the Virginia Arts of the Book Center , individuals printing at home and an ex-librarian from Australia.
The project is now well underway and we eagerly await parcels winging their way to the Bodleian from across the world. Congratulations to the Kings Bookshop, Callander, who were the first to submit sonnet 92, translated into Scots!
Follow the links to see some of the presses and people involved in this effort.
Pictures of sonnets in type and on the press, as these are received from the printers, can be seen on our twitter feed @bodleiancsb, #154sonnets
In a cycle of 154 short, 14-line poems first published in 1609, William Shakespeare meditated on themes of love, death, and desire. During 2016, the Bodleian Libraries will be producing and collecting newly printed copies of each of Shakespeare’s sonnets. The Bodleian is seeking examples from hand-press printers worldwide made in this, the 400th year since the death of William Shakespeare.
Contributions of individual sonnets by Shakespeare, whether in English or in translation, will be welcome from printers up to the deadline of 30 September 2016. These should be created by hand, using any means of relief printing. Selected submissions, forming at least one complete collection of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets, will be added to the Bodleian’s permanent collection and the donors will be notified.
If you would like to join this effort, please see the Sonnets 2016 webpage.