Shakespeare’s Ghost: Matter and Meaning in the Imagined Object

Date: 12 June 2017
Time: 5:30 p.m.
Location: Beinecke Library Mezzanine, Yale University
Lecturer: Kathryn James - Curator of Early Modern Books and Manuscripts & the Osborn Collection, Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University

At twenty minutes past two on the morning of 23 April 1616 in Stratford, William Shakespeare wrote his deathbed note and tucked it into the diminutive 1581 New Testament to which he turned for comfort.  “All asleep but me,” he writes, “farewell this world, O I grow sick again, Mercy on my soul O God, now to my little book again for comfort.”

This lecture draws on William Henry Ireland’s eighteenth-century Shakespeare forgeries to examine the rare book and manuscript as fetish object. Ireland’s imagined Shakespeare was omnipresent in his books and papers, endlessly and abundantly signaling his presence to his readers. Even after they were debunked, the Ireland creations were collected as “original” Shakespeare forgeries: “Shakespeare’s” New Testament was acquired by the collector Francis Douce, who penned his acerbic commentary on the front endpaper, adding his layer of provenance to a book whose importance lay in its associative relationship with an imagined Shakespeare. But what makes the book as object more (or less) persuasive or meaningful? What is the nature of the relationship it is assumed to bear with the past?  Taking Ireland’s Shakespeare as case study, this lecture asks about the relationship between materiality and meaning in the rare book or manuscript as object.