Shakespeare exhibit displays contentious history

Shakespeare exhibit displays contentious history

By Sara Zakaria, news correspondent

Boston Public Library’s (BPL) “Shakespeare Unauthorized” displays newspaper clippings, initial publications of the Bard’s work and rare texts to enlighten viewers about the controversies surrounding authorship of William Shakespeare’s work.

The exhibit, which opened Friday, Oct. 14, is a selection of approximately 70 pieces. All come from the BPL’s own collection of more than 10,000 pieces of Shakespeare-related works and the selection is deliberately designed to captivate the attention of all viewers, from the ones experienced in the scholarship of Shakespeare, including and debates and controversies surrounding his texts, to the ones with limited or no prior knowledge of Shakespeare.

“We wanted to present the books in an environment of mystery, discovery, and wonder,” said curator Jay Moscella in a Oct. 19 email to The News. “The exhibition is therefore designed to bring visitors back stage and behind the scenes.”

The front of the room displays texts pertaining to biographical details of Shakespeare’s life, the pieces in the center of the room illuminate controversies surrounding the autonomy of his texts and the exhibition culminates with a copy of the BPL’s own first folio, which has captivated public attention said Moschella.

“[It is] vaguely organized into themes along the lines of manipulation,” Moscella said in person at the BPL. “[People are] spending time, absorbing [and] not just running through the experience.”

Erin Harris, 35, of East Cambridge, said the exhibit depicts detail that is not readily available to Shakespeare readers and helps further understand his writing.

“I don’t think we fully appreciate all of the work that went into these pieces before we had the technology we have now,” Harris said. “A lot people have trouble reading Shakespeare because of the language–it is not in our form of English. When you see it is different, it feels more theatrical.”

The exhibition was designed with see-through walls, interactive touchscreens and stage flats made out of clear fabric with images printed on them to make the hall appear transparent and layered, said Moscella.

“This exhibition took several years to put together,” he said. “Thousands of objects were considered before being narrowed down to only 70.”

The decision-making process involved an advisory board of prominent scholars, actors and university professors that engaged in rigorous debate to determine which objects to put on display.

BeeBee Horowitz, 58, of Martha’s Vineyard, said she has performed Shakespeare’s plays and enjoyed how the exhibit gives an insider perspective to the works.

“I’ve actually performed Shakespearean plays, but that was a while ago and just the simplicity of how this is presented belies how thoughtful this information is,” she said. “It’s quite exciting to see this stuff first hand. You can flip the pages and read the plays in their original form.”

The exhibition is located at the McKim building of the BPL’s Central Library.

Photo by Alex Melagrano

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