The Shake­speare year: A coda

James M. Keller rounds up some of 2016’s fi­nal Shake­speare-re­lated of­fer­ings

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The Year 2016 will be long re­mem­bered as the an­nus mirabilis for Shake­speare afi­ciona­dos in Santa Fe. Dur­ing this 400th an­niver­sary of the play­wright’s death, our city was for­tu­nate to be se­lected as a stop for the Fol­ger Shake­speare Li­brary’s tour­ing ex­hi­bi­tion of copies of the First Folio, the orig­i­nal “col­lected works” com­pi­la­tion pub­lished in 1623, seven years af­ter the writer’s pass­ing. Dis­played at the New Mex­ico Mu­seum of Art, it served as the cen­ter­piece for a spate of an­cil­lary exhibitions, lec­tures, and per­for­mances that surely rep­re­sented the great­est con­cen­tra­tion of Shake­spearean ac­tiv­i­ties this town has ever seen.

The in­ter­na­tional Shake­speare in­dus­try went into high gear for the me­mo­rial year. As 2016 creeps to­ward its end, we thought we could clear the desk by not­ing a few items that might keep the Shake­spearean flame alive as we turn the page to another year. Among the many books about the Bard pub­lished this year, the most cu­ri­ous may be The Poet of Them All: Wil­liam Shake­speare and Minia­ture De­signer Bind­ings from the Col­lec­tion of Neale and Mar­garet Al­bert by El­iz­a­beth R. Fair­man (Yale Cen­ter for Bri­tish Art, dis­trib­uted by Yale Uni­ver­sity Press). Neale Al­bert, a prom­i­nent merg­ers-and-ac­qui­si­tions at­tor­ney, col­lects many things, but — as James Reid-Cun­ning­ham tells us in an es­say on the art of con­tem­po­rary de­signer book­bind­ing — “Above all else, [Al­bert] col­lects minia­ture books. … He claims that his pas­sion for minia­tures is a re­sult of liv­ing in a two-bed­room co-op apart­ment in New York City; that is, space con­straints limit his col­lect­ing to small ob­jects and paint­ings that fit onto his walls. Minia­ture-book en­thu­si­asts of­ten can­not ar­tic­u­late the at­trac­tion, per­haps be­cause some things wor­thy of in­fat­u­a­tion tran­scend ex­pla­na­tion.”

Al­bert is no dilet­tante; he has served two terms as pres­i­dent of the Minia­ture Book So­ci­ety and been elected an hon­orary fel­low of De­signer Book­binders, Great Bri­tain’s most no­table or­ga­ni­za­tion for artis­tic book­bind­ing. He was orig­i­nally a gen­er­al­ist when it came to minia­ture bind­ings, but af­ter build­ing a sub­stan­tial col­lec­tion, he do­nated it to the Grolier Club of New York, the coun­try’s “old­est so­ci­ety for book lovers & graphic arts fans.” Over the past decade or so he cre­ated another col­lec­tion, this time de­voted to

Shake­speare-re­lated minia­ture books that he com­mis­sioned from lead­ing book artists. These will be go­ing into the col­lec­tion of the Yale Cen­ter for Bri­tish Art, af­ter about a hun­dred of the books have been shown there and at the Grolier Club in the ex­hi­bi­tion doc­u­mented by this book.

The el­e­gant color pho­tog­ra­phy and de­sign of this vol­ume is at a level one would ex­pect, given that it was born into the realm of book art to be­gin with. You can al­most smell the tooled leather as you page through. Many of the tiny vol­umes Al­bert com­mis­sioned re­late to Shake­speare via Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate, the fa­mous Broad­way adap­ta­tion of The Tam­ing

of the Shrew. (Mu­si­cal notes and danc­ing gang­sters are fa­vorite mo­tifs in this por­tion of the col­lec­tion, which is called “Brush Up Your Shake­speare,” af­ter a song from the Porter show.) Another group in­volves mod­ern, artis­tic re­bind­ings of vol­umes from minia­ture Shake­speare edi­tions orig­i­nally pub­lished in 1825 by the Lon­don firm of Wil­liam Pick­er­ing, and around 1910 by the Knicker­bocker Leather & Nov­elty Com­pany of New York. Ex­am­ples of the lat­ter group range creatively through Paul Del­rue’s rain­bow-hued Romeo and Juliet (2005), on the cover of which the lovers seem to emerge out of a stage cur­tain; Mia Lei­jon­st­edt’s Antony and

Cleopa­tra (2005), which in­cor­po­rates painted pa­pyrus and a band of snake­skin — though per­haps not asp skin, strictly speak­ing; and Ge­orge Kirk­patrick’s King Henry IV, Part 1 (2007), of which the artist ex­plains, “I de­cided to make a replica of the tomb, which, in­stead of the re­mains of King Henry, con­tains the hid­den trea­sure of Shake­speare’s play.”

any books through the years have been de­voted to Shake­speare’s flow­ers, as one might ex­pect, given how of­ten he refers to them in his plays and po­ems. An un­usu­ally fine one ap­peared this year cour­tesy of the Shake­speare Birth­place Trust: Shake­speare’s Gar­dens by Jackie Ben­nett, with gor­geous pho­to­graphs by Andrew Law­son (Frances Lin­coln Lim­ited). The vol­ume is pep­pered with thought-pro­vok­ing flo­ral quo­ta­tions, in­clud­ing “One touch of na­ture makes the whole world kin”

(Troilus and Cres­sida), or “The straw­berry grows un­der­neath the net­tle,/And whole­some berries thrive and ripen best/Neigh­bored by fruit of baser qual­ity”

(Henry V). Page-long side­bars ex­am­ine spe­cific plants to which Shake­speare refers, ac­com­pa­nied by de­tailed pho­to­graphs that are sure to delight the hor­ti­cul­tur­ally in­clined. Chap­ters are given over to Tu­dor gar­dens in gen­eral, and to the gar­dens of Lon­don in the play­wright’s day, in­clud­ing the Inns of Court and the ma­nia for “plea­sure gar­dens.” But the heart of the book is its com­pre­hen­sive con­sid­er­a­tion of five gar­dens that re­late di­rectly to Shake­speare and his fam­ily.

Ar­chae­ol­ogy gets us close to some of these as they were in or around Shake­speare’s time, but a good deal of the dis­cus­sion in­volves the his­tory and de­sign of these spa­ces since his life­time. The start­ing point was a home on Hen­ley Street in Strat­ford-upon Avon, where baby Wil­liam was born in 1564 to John Shake­speare and Mary Ar­den. The story of the place is in­ter­laced with a well-told ac­count of the fam­ily and of their child’s early years. Ben­nett imag­ines how the out­door spa­ces must have func­tioned, be­ing at­tached to the fa­ther’s glove-mak­ing busi­ness: how hides were stripped, how leather was tanned and cured, what hap­pened to the refuse, and how the fam­ily nour­ished it­self from what grew in the gar­dens and orchards men­tioned in con­tem­po­rary doc­u­ments. “The in­ter­est in vis­it­ing the house where Shake­speare was born,” Ben­nett writes, “be­gan in the 1750s and was fu­elled, in part, by David Gar­rick’s re­vival of the plays in Lon­don the­atres and his to­tal ob­ses­sion with ev­ery­thing Shake­spearean.” She traces how the prop­erty was ex­ca­vated and how the gar­dens were de­vel­oped to re­flect the hor­ti­cul­tural aes­thet­ics of en­su­ing gen­er­a­tions, right through to the de­ci­sions that in­form how the prin­ci­pal gar­den ap­pears to­day. “The High Vic­to­rian for­mal­ity,” she writes, “while be­ing light years away from the mud­died yard and sim­ple beds of John Shake­speare’s time, is a suc­cess­ful choice for a gar­den that has close to a mil­lion pairs of feet walk­ing through it ev­ery year.”

Our tour con­tin­ues with a visit to Mary Ar­den’s farm: “Shake­speare’s affin­ity for botany came not from his ed­u­ca­tion and read­ing but from his up­bring­ing in War­wick­shire, and es­pe­cially from time he spent at his mother’s home.” Here he be­came fa­mil­iar not just with plants but also with ac­tual farm­ing prac­tices at this an­ces­tral home, where the house has been dated pre­cisely to 1514. We then look in at Anne Hath­away’s Cot­tage — a farm then called Hew­lands — in the vil­lage of Shot­tery, just west of Strat­fordupon-Avon; that is where Shake­speare’s wife grew up and where he courted her prior to their mar­riage in 1582. We ob­serve its trans­for­ma­tion into a re­spected tourist des­ti­na­tion in the mid-19th cen­tury and the de­vel­op­ment of its gar­den in the 1920s un­der the di­rec­tion of Ellen Will­mott. She is still re­called by to­day’s gar­den­ers, as her name be­came at­tached to many species and cul­ti­vars, in­clud­ing pop­u­lar forms of rose, zin­nia, po­ten­tilla, and eryn­gium. Among the plants grow­ing at Anne Hath­away’s Cot­tage to­day

is Lathyrus odor­a­tus ‘Miss Will­mott’, a sweet pea of pink-apri­cot hue.

Ben­nett also ex­plores the gar­den at Hall’s Croft, which Shake­speare bought in 1602 in Old Strat­ford and gave to his daugh­ter Su­sanna and her hus­band, John Hall, on their mar­riage in 1607; an an­cient mul­berry tree is par­tic­u­larly revered there, per­haps dat­ing to the 18th cen­tury. A fi­nal visit takes us to New Place, the home in Strat­ford-upon-Avon that Shake­speare bought in 1597, at the age of thirty-three, and where he died in 1616, at the age of fifty-two. He paid £60 for it. “A mur­der had been com­mit­ted in the fam­ily of the peo­ple sell­ing it (the Un­der­hills). This, added to the fact that it was a ruin, sug­gests he was buy­ing a house that no one else wanted.” It was ren­o­vated into some­thing lovely, but in 1753 it was bought by a Rev. Fran­cis Gas­trell, who was an­noyed by the stream of vis­i­tors who ar­rived ask­ing to see Shake­speare’s mul­berry tree. “In 1758, the Gas­trells cut down the mul­berry — out of spite. The towns­peo­ple were nat­u­rally ou­traged, be­cause vis­i­tors spent money in their inns and shops. A year later, in 1759, af­ter a vi­o­lent dis­pute with the Strat­ford-upon-Avon Cor­po­ra­tion, the Gas­trells had the house it­self de­mol­ished. The shocked towns­peo­ple hounded him out of the town, and the site of New Place has been ‘house-less’ ever since.” Ben­nett’s writ­ing, clear and el­e­gant, com­bines with Law­son’s stun­ning doc­u­men­tary pho­to­graphs, plus many his­tor­i­cal im­ages, to yield one of the most beau­ti­ful Shake­speare books to emerge out of this quadri­cen­ten­nial year.

Left, the old mul­berry tree at Hall’s Croft marks the bound­ary be­tween the old town and the “new” bor­ough of Strat­ford-upon-Avon; be­low, left to right; Shake­speare’s birth­place; Mary Ar­den’s farm; Anne Hath­away’s cot­tage; pho­tos Andrew Law­son, im­ages cour­tesy

Shake­speare’s Gar­dens by Jackie Ben­nett, ©Frances Lin­coln, part of the Quarto Pub­lish­ing Group, 2016

mes M. Keller I The New Mex­i­can

Above, Brush Up Your

Shake­speare, bound by David Sel­lars, 2011; all im­ages from the col­lec­tion of Neale and Mar­garet Al­bert; cour­tesy Yale Cen­ter for Bri­tish Art

Neale Al­bert with Works of Wil­liam Shake­speare, 40 vol­umes, bound by Jana Pribíková, 2005; be­low, from left, King Henry IV, Part 1 from Shake­speare’s Works, bound by Ge­orge Kirk­patrick, 2007; Romeo and Juliet from Shake­speare’s Works, bound by Paul Del­rue, 2005; Brush Up Your Shake­speare, bound by Michael Wil­cox, 2010; in palm, Julius Cae­sar from Shake­speare’s Works bound by San­ti­ago Bru­galla, 2004

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