Friday, July 17, 2009

Shakespeare Centre Library and Archive, Stratford: "Fleet the time carelessly, as they did in the golden world"

Today our class ventured away from the city to Stratford-upon-Avon, which is a very lovely little place (albeit quite touristy - which is to be expected). As an English major, I couldn't help but feel some sort of reverence for Shakespeare's Town. We were allowed to wander around a bit when we initially got there, so Jenn, Megan, Cassie, Brittany, Chaitra and I walked around, bought souvenir or two, ducked into shops, and had a great lunch at The Falcon.
Around 2:30, we met the rest of the class at the Shakespeare Centre Library and Archive, and were given a tour by Madeleine. The SCLA (as I will now call it to avoid typing the name each time) is the premier source in the UK for anything Shakespeare related. It was formed in the late 1800s; the collection received its first librarian in 1873. Last year, SCLA merged with the local records office. The library is open access, with the exception of rare books, but is not a lending library. It receives about 3,000 readers (and about 10,000 inquiries), a year. Much like the British Library (with the exception of the awesome mechanical system at BL), one can fill out a slip of paper requesting an item, and someone will fetch the item in a timely manner.

The SCLA's catalogue is actually a card catalogue for items before 2001; it reminded me of elementary school, searching for the book I wanted, and it was great to see one again. After 2001, new entries into the collection appears in an online catalogue, which includes the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) image database.

The collection houses modern books of criticism and commentaries, but not every new book about Shakespeare makes it into the collection; there is a selection process of key books. There are books from the 1700s in the collection that are not open access - one must have a specific research need to see them. With the addition of the local records department, the collection grows substantially each day; the SCLA does not track the growth. Surprisingly, there is no government funding for the library. It is considered a charity as a part of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, and 75% of its income is derived from visitors. The library also employs fundraising.

After Madeleine's tour, we were introduced to Jo Wilding, who provided us with the opportunity to see some of the library's rare books and talked a bit about each of them. I love rare books, and these were are wonderful; she showed us books such as the 1642 edition of Rosalinde, the source for Shakespeare's As You Like It. I was most interested in the copy of Shakespeare's first folio, which is the first collected edition of Shakespeare's plays - if it hadn't been published, we may have never known of some of Shakespeare's most famous works, as some had not been previously published or fully attributed to him. I also enjoyed seeing a copy of Edmund Spenser's 1611 Shepheard's Calender, since I read it when I took a class on Spenser in my undergrad.

After the library tour, we had a little more time to explore Stratford before seeing the play As You Like It, so a few of us wandered down to the river Avon to take pictures and to visit the church where Shakespeare is entombed.Finally, we wandered to the Courtyard Theatre for the production of As You Like It by the Royal Shakespeare company. The play was absolutely wonderful; I had read it, but never seen it before, and I thought everything was fantastic. Touchstone was my favourite character, but all of the actors were spot on. I enjoyed the functional "trap door" set, and it worked really well for their purposes. I also liked the transition from the traditional costumes to modern day clothing. The plot was over the top, of course, but the play really came to life for me. I really appreciated being able to see a British play with British actors.

Overall, Stratford-upon-Avon is absolutely lovely, and contains a wealth of information and history. If I ever go back, I'd love to explore the Shakespeare collection further. I also believe that seeing an RSC play in Stratford is a must, and I hope to see another one day.

For more information about the SCLA, go here.
For more information on the Royal Shakespeare Company collection, go here.

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