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University of Pennsylvania Library

The Horace Howard Furness Memorial, Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Collection Profile

A university library collects William Shakespeare? No surprise. But that the main entry for Shakespeare in Penn's catalog gets well over five thousand hits may seem a bit of overkill. Shabby old Milton gets under eight hundred, Dickens six, Chaucer four, Austen two. The Bard appears in industrial strength. Everyone else makes a cameo.

Of course, Penn acquired Shakespeare for years. The Furness Memorial, however, its Shakespeare collection, only arrived in 1931. Horace Howard Furness Jr. gave Penn the library begun by his father. Son and epigone of the Furness who began the New Variorum Shakespeare, Junior had continued the collection and wanted it kept intact, nurtured, and used. He got his wish. Ably curated by several generations of scholars—Matthew W. Black, Matthias A. Shaaber, Roland M. Frye, and Georgianna Ziegler, all assisted by William E. Miller—the collection actively supports in-house study, teaching, and use by Shakespearian students and scholars and, in a digital environment, work independent of physical location. The Furnesses might be surprised. They would not be disappointed.

Currently, a gaggle of Shakespearians and book historians make Furness their laboratory. Advanced study and textual work adjoin teaching. Students, asked to describe 16th-, 17th-, or 18th-century Shakespearian or related texts, learn to recognize kinds of information contained in original and early editions that later, modern editions or facsimiles, however good they may be for Shakespeare's text, cannot provide. Confronting the protean variability of "the text" in edition after edition, they grasp the constructed nature of all mediated texts—of every text with which editors, proofreaders, typesetters, and printers have interfered. Examining how individual words are used in the polyglot resources of Furness and its surrounding rare book and manuscript library, together with the digitized materials that modern research libraries provide their users, students find rich contexts for understanding early modern English, using sources not always themselves in English. Wherever they live, off-site users freely access Penn's Schoenberg Center for Electronic Text and Image. It presents Shakespeare's texts, including various quartos and the 1623 folio; Restoration, 18th-century, and later adaptations or editions; texts from neighboring libraries (such as Marlowe's Jew of Malta, 1633); promptbooks; 16th-century anti-theatrical texts; ancillary texts from Ovid and the Bible through the present; costumes; and masses of illustration.

Growth continues, as does use. Keeping current with critical and historical scholarship benefits both students and senior scholars. Nineteenth-century German-language translations, French opera posters, comic books, manga Shakespeare, juveniles and novels: all document reception. Sixteenth-century editions-Saxo Grammaticus, Latin school drama-document sources and context. Theatrical posters, playbills from the present as well as previous centuries, various forms of realia—a skull used for Yorick and signed by noted actors, a recently-donated second pair of "Shakespeare's gloves"—all support a collection built not for envious show but for use. Even the skull gets use, recently appearing as Vindice's murdered mistress in a student production of Tourneur's The Revenger's Tragedy. Shakespeare lives. So does the Furness Memorial Library.

Collection Profile and Overview: Daniel H. Traister
Illustrations: Schoenberg Center for Electronic Text and Image

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