catching you up

Tuesday night we saw Henry IV, Part 2, and while I have no complaints about the production, it’s just not as good of a play as 1H4 or Henvy V. Too many scenes drag on with dialogue and exposition; I feel that way when I read the play, and I felt that way watching it. I saw a production in 1995 at the D.C. Shakespeare Theatre where they performed part 1 and part 2 back to back. I wish I remembered enough of that production to compare, but the only thing I can recall is that they cut many of the comic scenes in order to limit the time. Hmm…still and all, I’m glad to have seen these performances. Every good production of Shakespeare is another interpretation worth putting into memory.

Last night William St. Clair lectured on “The Political Economy of Reading,” a lecture that was very good and very well attended. St. Clair has written a book (free sample chapter) that is making quite a stir in book history circles, not so much for the conclusions he draws from the evidence he has gathered, but rather for his methodology and for the massive amount of evidence he has gathered. He has modelled an approach that is staggering in its comprehensive survey of the available historical data, and he has also presented his data–in a huge series of appendices–in a way that will be very useful to other book historians. One of the best lines from his introduction is this one:

The history of reading is at the stage of astronomy before telescopes, economics before statistics, heavily reliant on a few commonly repeated traditional narratives and favorite anecdotes, but weak on the spade-work of basic empirical research, quantification, consolidation, and scrutiny of primary information, upon which both narrative history and theory ought to rest.

Something tells me we’re going to see that one quoted a good bit in the next few years.

Let me tell you, sometimes it feels like it’s a small academic world, as I keep seeing people I know from academic conferences and other venues. I attended last night’s lecture with my friend Nancy and Ian Gadd (whom I know from past SHARP conferences), and Ian’s friend and collaborator Patrick Wallis. In the audience were probably a half dozen people I recognized from events that have taken place in years past as far away as Lyons, France or Springfield, Missouri. It’s really not so hard to believe, I suppose, as

  1. the British Library (and environs) is one of the most important places to work if you want to do serious archival research, and
  2. if you were a book or literary historian in London yesterday, St. Clair’s lecture was the hot ticket.

There was a nice reception after the lecture (open bar! woo-hoo!), during which I was privy to some interesting talk about how St. Clair’s argument was going over, and then the four of us went out for Italian food. I am quite allergic to something here, and I had a sneezing fit during dinner, but I managed to recover. After a night cap at a pub, I made it home to my sweltering room by about 11:30 or so.

Research continues to go well, though no stunning finds are presenting themselves lately. Instead, a more complete picture of the publishing scene is now visible to me. I spent some quality time with the English Short Title Catalogue database yesterday morning, searching on titles I have gathered of late eighteenth-century religious periodicals to find out if they’re available at the BL or on microfilm. The database is also useful to seeing when, where, and for how long these publications existed, and who was involved with printing and selling them. I used to live on the ESTC when in grad school at a university that subscribed to it. Oh, precious ESTC! How I have missed you!

I’m about to head in for another day’s work, but I want to say that one of the most incredible things about working at the BL is that you can get your hands on just about any book you might possibly need. Provided it’s not something incredibly rare, like a Gutenberg Bible, they’ll pull it up for you and let you read it. Anything.

Amazing. I am extremely lucky.

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One thought on “catching you up

  1. I have a bit of a soft spot for 2 Henry IV, partly because it was the first staged reading I saw by the Shakespeare Project Chicago (it wasn’t much earlier that I heard Kenneth Brannagh talkingg about how you’re not likely to see a production of 2H4 on Fresh Air). After that I was hooked on the staged readings and I stuck with them until they finished reading through all of Shakespeare’s plays. I missed about half of their staged readings and after they were finished they’d kind of run out of energy (they ended up going from a play a month to 4 a year after that), but it was great fun. Some of their productions were better than fully realized productions I’d seen (e.g., Twelfth Night in which it was a lot easier to accept the conceit of identical fraternal twins when there wasn’t much more effort made to make them identical than putting them in matching gray blazers).

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