The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 22.0185  Wednesday, 3 August 2011

From:         Sylvia Morris <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:         August 2, 2011 6:52:23 PM EDT
Subject:     The Catalogue of English Literary Manuscripts 1450-1700

See the latest post at The Shakespeare blog for Shakespeare-related items in conference launching new online Catalogue of English Literary Manuscripts 1450-1700.

Sylvia Morris

Blog reproduced below:

Shakespeare writing fair: The Catalogue of English Literary Manuscripts 1450-1700
Posted on August 2, 2011 by Sylvia Morris

Last Friday I attended a conference organised by the University of London School of Advanced Study to celebrate the imminent launch of a great new online resource, the Catalogue of English Literary Manuscripts 1450-1700. This will supersede the printed Index of English Literary Manuscripts, published in four large volumes beginning thirty years ago. Now only the proof-checking and final alteration phases remain before it is made freely available on the internet.
The mastermind of this work is Peter Beal, who has personally examined the majority of the 35,000 documents listed. He’s expanded the number of authors from 123 to 237, over 60 of whom are women compared to just one in the original Index.  The technology will ensure the Catalogue is fully available and will also allow for more flexible searching.

During the day papers were delivered by many scholars who had examined manuscripts featuring in the Catalogue including Queen Elizabeth’s Italian letters, the poems of Ann Finch, and a commonplace book held at the Somerset Heritage Centre.

Grace Ioppolo spoke about documents relating to Shakespeare, difficult because none of Shakespeare’s manuscripts have been found in spite of three centuries of searching. To date, apart from the few signatures, only a few pages of the play Sir Thomas More are thought to be in Shakespeare’s hand, but it is still impossible to be certain. Almost more mysteriously, why are there no presentation copies of Shakespeare’s plays made for wealthy patrons by professional scribes? Employing someone to make copies was expensive: Edward Alleyn paid for legal documents to be copied, paying up to a shilling (5p) a sheet, twice the cost of a printed copy of a single play in Quarto.

I particularly enjoyed Steven May’s paper on Samuel Watts’s anthology, a commonplace book mostly compiled between 1615 and 1622. Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis, Lodge’s Rosalinde (a source for As You Like It) Spenser’s Faerie Queene and Marlowe’s Hero and Leander are frequently quoted in this collection which focuses on courtship and romantic love.
 One entry in the anthology is a piece of text containing gaps where it appears the name of the lady being wooed is to be inserted. There’s a direct parallel here with The Merry Wives of Windsor, where Falstaff writes identical love letters to both Mistress Page and Mistress Ford. Unfortunately for him, they compare notes: “I warrant he hath a thousand of these letters, writ with blank space for different names -sure, more!- and these are of the second edition”, says Mistress Page. “Why, this is the very same…the very hand…the very words!” replies Mistress Ford.

 Although we don’t have any of Shakespeare’s own letters, 111 letters feature in his plays, only five of which don’t contain any letters. These include love letters and poems like Don Armado’s letter to Jaquenetta and the four poems written to the French girls in Love’s Labour’s Lost, letters written to deceive, such as Edmund’s forged letter in King Lear which persuades Gloucester that Edgar plans to murder him, and undelivered letters like the one Friar Laurence writes to Romeo explaining Juliet’s sleeping draught. The dedications to the Earl of Southampton printed in Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece are the nearest we get to letters written by Shakespeare as himself.  Alan Stewart’s recent book Shakespeare’s Letters is an admirable study of the subject.
 One of the great benefits of the Index has been the growth of research using original documents in the thirty years since it began to be published. The online catalogue will continue to open up study of these original materials. Perhaps there are still documents somewhere relating to Shakespeare just waiting to be discovered.

I’ll be writing a second blog based on this conference later in the week.

The Catalogue of English Literary Manuscripts 1450-1700


The Catalogue of English Literary Manuscripts 1450-1700 Project began in June 2005. This major resource is being compiled by Dr Peter Beal, FBA, Senior Research Fellow at IES and a former Director and English Manuscript Expert at Sotheby's. The database is designed, constructed and monitored by Dr John Lavagnino, Lecturer in English and Humanities Computing at King's College London. The Project's general overseer and principal advisor is Professor Henry Woudhuysen, Head of the English Department at University College London. The Project also has an international Advisory Board currently composed of seven other distinguished scholars.

CELM will be a freely accessible on-line record of surviving manuscript sources for over 200 major British authors of the period 1450-1700. It will incorporate descriptions of many thousands of manuscript texts of poems, plays, discourses, translations, etc., as well as notebooks, annotated printed books, corrected proofs, promptbooks, letters, documents and other related manuscript materials, many hitherto unrecorded, found in several hundred public and private collections world-wide. It will provide a new and productive research tool not only for those interested in particular authors and works, but for anyone interested in the literary culture of the early modern period, in manuscript production and dissemination as a social phenomenon, and in the history of literacy and readership. It will be published on this website and archived in the School of Advanced Study 's forthcoming e-Repository.

This Project will not only create an integrated resource within defined parameters, but will establish the basis for massive future development and for research by others. Innumerable further authors and texts may eventually be incorporated, so that CELM will effectively develop into a manuscript STC . This searchable resource will make available a wealth of relevant detail so that wider interdisciplinary aspects and historical contexts of manuscript texts may be explored. These include social, literary and editorial questions raised by issues of authorship, genre, patronage, censorship, gender, locality of production, distribution, and the relationship of manuscript culture to print culture.

CELM will supersede Dr Beal's ground-breaking printed Index of English Literary Manuscripts (4 vols, 1980-93). Given the increased attention to writing by women in this period, so much of it embodied in manuscripts, the 72 or more additional early modern authors represented in CELM will include 60 female authors. With the extensive revisions to the coverage of the original authors, these inclusions will augment the Index 's depth, scope, usefulness and potential and provide the basis for a major new expansion of our knowledge of early modern manuscript culture.

With all its new information and search facilities, CELM will be a radical innovation, opening up new research possibilities and transforming the current methods and ways of thinking in the field. The database will make it possible, among other things, to establish connections based on evidence such as handwriting, dating and provenance between large numbers of different, widely scattered manuscripts. It will open up a huge range of generic resources (commonplace books, miscellanies, etc.) which lead the way to other authors, as well as to much unrecorded or anonymous writing. It will throw light on scribes, compilers, owners, and other participants in the history of the text, as well as on points of origin in specific cultural communities (provincial families, universities, inns of court, ecclesiastical circles, recusant circles, the royal court, parliament, etc.) and to coterie practices which so often lie behind literary commercialisation in this period. With its extensive programme of detailed 'tagging', CELM will allow users to search readily for authors, patrons, scholars, compilers, composers, etc. (with the ability to distinguish by gender), titles of works, first lines of poems and songs, and up-to-date locations, as well as many other elements of information which have not yet been readily available. Although initially and essentially author-centred, CELM will, paradoxically, lead ultimately to ever-widening categorisation, helping to break down the barriers between traditional 'literature' (poems, plays, fiction) and the wider flourishing of political polemic, speeches, sermons, academic performances, diaries, biographies, personal compilations, etc., produced by private citizens, merchants, politicians, lawyers, philosophers, clerics, annalists, antiquaries, students, and others who contributed no less actively to the intellectual life and history of the nation.

A publicly accessible website hosting the Catalogue will be made available in due course.

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