Shakespeare’s Culturally Relevant Halloween Story.

Shakespeare’s Culturally Relevant Halloween Story.

It is that time of year again. It is starting to feel like fall and Halloween is right around the corner. Netflix is coming out with their top Halloween picks. And a category such as “gory” or “gruesome” is bound to be featured, as it is nearly every year. If you are like me, not only do you enjoy a scary film, but there are also books that fit the season. Maybe you are cracking open Bram Stoker’s Dracula or Stephen King’s Carrie. However, I just may have a new recommendation for you. Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus is a horror story that would definitely be featured on Netflix’s gory or gruesome film choices. And, believe it or not, it would be appealing to the same fans who adore American Horror Story or Sweeney Todd. But apart from appealing to the horror genre buff, this play addresses some issues that may be very close to home.

Shakespeare, William. The Works of Shakespeare. Vol. 7, London, J. Tonson, 1728. Image obtained from the University of Cincinnati Archives and Rare Books Library.

Although this story features a horrific fourteen killings, six severed members, one rape, one live burial, one case of insanity and an instance of cannibalism, we can find a number of these barbaric acts relevant to today’s culture. First and foremost, the issue of racism is addressed through these events. Titus Andronicus’ opposing sides consist of the Romans, which are revealed to be the more civilized pale skinned people, and the Goths, the darker skinned people known for their lawlessness and tactlessness. These are simply cultural biases that our culture is no stranger to. However, as the story progresses, both parties commit crimes of hatred, causing the audience to wonder who the heartless and reckless people really are in the end.

Secondarily, the themes of sexism and rape are ever present. Unfortunately, being a college student at a large public university means students are exposed to this horrible occurrence on almost a weekly basis. The girl who is raped in the play also suffers a be-handing and the severing of her tongue, causing her to be unable to communicate or help herself.  This causes me to wonder if this symbolism accurately reflects how many women who are victims of sexual violence and assault feel today.

While the amount of violence and gore in this play may seem overwhelming and overdone, critics often question whether Shakespeare had the same intents as Quentin Tarantino does in his films, such as Once Upon a Time in Hollywood in which the gore was portrayed in nearly a comedic way because of its hyperbolic nature. Could Shakespeare’s work, (classified as a tragedy) be a comedic act representing a sobering and horrific cultural reality?

This Halloween season, I encourage you to delve into the world of Titus Andronicus in order to immerse yourself in a horror story that is of utmost cultural relevance and perspective. Maybe it could possibly serve as entertainment that enlightens you about the state of our society.

Shakespeare, William. The Works of Shakespeare. Vol. 7, London, J. Tonson, 1728. SpecCol R.B. PR 2752 .P7 v. 7
First Wave Feminism-Is it Still Relevant?

First Wave Feminism-Is it Still Relevant?

Bradstreet, Anne. The Poems of Mrs. Anne Bradstreet. Compiled by Charles Eliot Norton, The
Duodecimos, 1897.

Many of us remember being forced to read the poetry of Anne Bradstreet in high school or even college. And most of us read summaries online or in SparkNotes so we could still get an “A” without having to spend the time to decipher certain poetry. In high school, I was that person too.

However, when a college professor assigned us the week’s reading, I actually took the time to read Bradstreet’s works. Maybe it was because of lack of anything else to do. Or maybe I just really liked the professor’s approach to teaching. Regardless, I delved into the world of Bradstreet and I was both inspired and pleasantly surprised.

This free thinking first wave feminist started to inspire my life. And in particular, I took to her poem, “The Four Elements”.  Bradstreet observed the world around her. And I began to realize what could happen if I too decided to become more aware of the world around me.  Bradstreet reminded me that there is beauty in the natural chaos of life. And though everyone is different, we can use our differences to our advantage.

You see, Bradstreet’s thinking was not welcome for her time.  A woman was not thought to be someone who valued knowledge and intellect. And though her feminism was subtle, it was impactful then, and it has the same ability to be just as impactful today.

In her poem, “Flesh and the Spirit”, she talks about the inner person being more important than their physical body. In other words, it’s on the inside what counts. She was not worried about looking a certain way or having all of the things that society deemed was popular or acceptable. And even when she caught herself longing to change things about herself to fit in, she remembered that her spirit was stronger than her flesh.

Therefore, give Bradstreet a try. Because, even after her death in 1672, this woman’s still work is relevant in 2019. If we were to allow ourselves to be inspired by first wave feminists such as Anne Bradstreet, how might our lives look a little bit different?

Seventy-Five Years in Bookselling

Seventy-Five Years in Bookselling

“The old corner book store, Boston, 1853. From a contemporary water-color, showing how Ticker and Field’s, which shortly became Dutton’s, looked when Dutton’s was first organized.”

Seventy-Five Years in Bookselling recounts the history of Dutton’s Books from 1852 to 1927. The book is filled with gorgeous prints and engravings of the store, its many locations, and some special artifacts from their collection. The watercolor print above is especially striking, and it depicts the store in its first iteration with stunning vividness and color.

The book continues to catalog images of the store, including incredible black-and-white images of the store, like this one, which shows the interior of their store on Fifth Avenue.

“The Interior of the Fifth Avenue Store”

 

This photo depicts the shop’s Rare Book Room, which holds a chair that was used by Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll, and more prominent figures.

“Small Rare Book Room: The chair on the right is known as the ‘Shop Chair’ and came from England in 1919. In its seventy years of life it has never been outside a book shop, and while in continuous service for its three different owners it embraced an unbelievably large number of literary and other geniuses: Charles Dickens; Cruikshank; Leech; Tenniel; Gladstone; Thackeray; Charles Reade; Ruskin; Lewis Carroll; Mansfield; George Barr McCutcheon; John Drew; A. E. Newton; Owen Johnson, not to mention many other prominent men and women in other walks of life.”

There are a total of twenty-six prints included in the volume, and all of them tell stories of the bookshop, detailed in their captions:

“Björck & Börjesson, Stockholm, Sweden who within a month found for us a First Edition of ‘Don Quixote’ in Danish, a book so rare there is only one record of a copy ever being offered for sale in Great Britain.

 

“The exterior of the Fifth Avenue premises”
“Looking south on Fifth Avenue—1926”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Terquem, Paris, France, who find out-of-print books for us and for years, until they retired from modern fiction, kept us in touch with the latest worth-while French books.”

 

This book is enthralling to flip through, not only because of the images, but also because of the stories. It is an in-depth look at the history of a single bookseller, their stock, their locations, and their international trading practices. It is also a story of dedication to not only their customers, but to the art of bookselling.

 

Seventy-Five Years in Bookselling, or The Joys and Sorrows of Publishing & Selling Books at Dutton’s is available here in the Rare Books Library: Z473.D8 A3 1927

Art and Empire in Nineteenth-Century India

Art and Empire in Nineteenth-Century India

Travel literature in 19th-century India was closely linked to the British empire. Behind every picture was an army. This is especially true of Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Ramus Forrest’s illustrated book, A Picturesque Tour Along the Rivers Ganges and Jumna, In India, (SpecCol RB Oversize DS408 .F65) published in 1824.

Title Page
Title page of A picturesque tour along the rivers Ganges and Jumna, in India. (Spec Coll RB Oversize DS408 .F65)

Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Ramus Forrest (d. 1827) was a British infantry officer and amateur artist who served in India between 1802 and 1811, first with the 3rd Regiment of Foot (“The Bluffs”) and later as an aide-de-camp to his father-in-law, General William St. Leger. His pictorial tour of India remains one of the most famous illustrated books on India in the 19th century. Forrest undertook his tour from Calcutta to Khanpore in December 1807 with a party consisting of seven British officers, three elephants, 200 servants, and an armed guard of 40 sepoys, or Indian soldiers.

Forrest - End of Book
Last page, with aquatint tail-piece

An accomplished draughtsman, Forrest’s drawings and watercolors of his India travels highlight the close relationship between the military and visual arts during the 19th century. During this time, military academies trained soldiers in drawing and watercolor, which is where Forrest most likely honed his skills. The excellent aquatints by G. Hunt and Thomas Sutherland capture the watercolor impressions of Forrest’s plein air compositions, with special attention to the changing light and cloud formations of the Indian landscape. Forrest ends his primary tour of India at the place he knew best, at Khanpore, the headquarters of the field-command in Bengal where he was stationed.

Plates showing Hindoo Village and Khanpore
Left: Plate 2, Hindoo Village on the Ganges, Near Amboo; Right: Plate 18, Surseya Ghaut, Khanpore
Exploring Tagalog Grammar

Exploring Tagalog Grammar

The University of Cincinnati’s Archives & Rare Books Library holds a rare first edition of Sebastián de Totanes’s Tagalog grammar, Arte de la lengua tagala y manual tagalog para la administración de los Santos Sacramentos.  Printed entirely on rice paper and bound in vellum, this book served as a Tagalog language primer for Spanish missionaries.

Left:  Vellum cover of Arte de la lengua tagala (PL6053 .T7 1745),  Right: Title page

Sebastián de Totanes (1688-1748) published his grammar in Manila in 1745 after spending 30 years as a Franciscan missionary in the Philippines. Language and empire went hand in hand in the Spanish colonies and the Spanish influence on the Tagalog language is apparent not only in what Totanes included in his grammar but also what he omitted. Excluded from the book is Tagalog’s native script known as baybayin, which Totanes references on the first page, “No se trata de los Caracteres Tagalos” (The Tagalog characters will not be treated here). Baybayin is related to the Brahmic script and was widely used among the Tagalogs and other linguistic groups prior to Spanish colonization in 1521.  Below is contemporary rendering of the baybayin alphasyllabary.

Baybayin script
Baybayin alphasyllabary. (Image from: Diringer, David. The Alphabet: A Key to the History of Mankind. New York: Philosophical Library, 1948)

Instead of using the indigenous script, Totanes transliterated Tagalog words into the Latin alphabet or, “Caracteres Castellanos,” as he calls them. Totanes was not alone in romanizing the Tagalog language. Spanish missionaries began rejecting baybayin as a written vernacular as early as the 16th century when they found the syllabary too complex and ambiguous for the purposes of missionary work. Totanes reveals the cultural impact of colonial script selection on the indigenous population, “…rare is the indio who knows how to read Tagalog characters and rarer still is the one who knows how to write them. All of them read and write our Castilian characters now” (the original Spanish can be read below). Despite the efforts of Spanish missionaries to replace the indigenous script, the use of baybayin never completely disappeared in the Philippines and survives to the present day.

First page
First page of Arte de la lengua tagala. (PL6053 .T7 1745)
Scroll of Esther

Scroll of Esther

The inaugural post of the new Rare Book Occasional looks at the Rare Books Library’s two manuscript copies of the Scroll of Esther (Megillat Esther). Produced sometime in the 18th- and 19th centuries, these parchment scrolls illustrate the ritual importance of scroll reading in Judaism.

The Book of Esther holds a prominent position in the Jewish faith, as it is one of the Five Megillot, or five scrolls that mark particular festival or fast days in the Jewish calendar. This important Biblical book recounts Esther’s role in securing the salvation of the Persian Jews, and its recitation marks a day of joyous celebration for Jewish people. Esther scrolls are traditionally read twice during the festival of Purim, once in the morning and again in the evening.


Top:  Scroll of Esther (Ms. no. 22), before treatment,  Bottom: Scroll open to the names of Haman’s sons (Esther 9:7,9). Photos: Jessica Ebert

The materiality of the Scroll of Esther forms an important part of its religious significance. Early rabbinical writers composed rules regulating its production and public recitation. According to rabbinic tradition, the ceremonial Scroll of Esther can only be handwritten on parchment with ink using the square Hebrew script. Esther scrolls are also distinguished by their arrangement on a single dowel. These rabbinical prescriptions continued to influence the scroll’s material construction in more contemporary times, as illustrated by the Rare Books Library’s 18th– and late 19th-century Esther scrolls. In accordance with tradition, these scrolls are handwritten on vellum in the traditional script.

Featured here are images of one of the Library’s Esther scrolls that recently underwent conservation to repair small tears and damage to the parchment (Ms. no. 22). The scroll was rehoused on two dowels to enable the manuscript to be safely viewed.

Additional information about the conservation process can be found here.


Scroll of Esther (Ms. no. 22), after treatment. Photo: Jessica Ebert

Archives and Rare Books Library
University of Cincinnati
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