Despite having the longest title of any Biblio-Mat book thus far, Catalogue of the Books, Manuscripts, Works of Art, Antiquities and Relics Exhibited in Shakespeare’s Birthplace was actually a simple book compiled by Frederick C. Wellstood. With a grey paperbound cover bearing a black and white seal stating that it was published by the Trustees and Guardians of Shakespeare’s Birthplace, the 164 page book was in great condition considering it was published in 1925.
CotBMWoAAaREiSB was a fitting end to this year. It encapsulated the great range of feelings experienced through the year-long project with the wonderment of literary history and book-related antiquities representing the best of times and Shakespeare on the other end of the spectrum. Yep, still not a fan of the guy’s plays. Fortunately, this book was less about his works and more about his life and the world surrounding him.
The first thought upon looking at this book was that it would be a long read since catalogues generally did not exude thrills and excitement, not even when it’s music related. CotBMWoAAaREiSB, though, was actually more of a history book on Shakespeare than a traditional catalogue. True to its name, the book did seem to list every single item in the house that Shakespeare was born in, but instead of just simply listing the objects, the book has a blurb about each entry describing the item and giving a short history about it.
While there were a bunch of images scattered throughout, the majority of the catalog entries did not have accompanying photographs, which was terrible since they seem to have been written to be paired with visuals. Referencing different attributes of the items made it a frustrating read at times as curiosity was baited without any payoff. It was like walking through an exhibit where all the items were stolen and all that were left were the information labels describing the things that made the objects interesting. Perhaps it was an elaborate ploy to force readers to actually visit the birthplace.
Leading with a floor plan of the house, the book combed through every inch of the birthplace, room by room. Funny enough, the first few pages of entries were on items placed there well after Shakespeare’s time – portraits of Shakespeare historians, playbills of his plays from much later performances, and a bill of sale of the house that ultimately placed it in the hands of the Trustees. Seeing how his birthplace is now a museum, there were a lot of these types of entries in the book.
Moving further into the house, the focus turned to household items. While it was unclear if the pots, pans, and other fireplace paraphernalia were actually used by the Shakespeare family or just reproductions, the entries did describe how each item was used by the people of the time. After the kitchen section, I now feel confident in my ability to cook a meal properly if I ever find myself stranded in the 1500’s.
It wasn’t until the book got to the Inner Room of the ground floor that we are presented actual items from Shakespeare’s life. Being the house that Shakespeare was born in, there were a lot of documents surrounding his parents, John and Mary. With items ranging from the bill of sale of the house to John to notices of petty fines, it was surprising that this much documentation survived intact all these years since they were from before William was born. It was like they knew their son would grow up to be the most famous writer of all time so they kept all the paperwork they ever encountered to document his heritage. Or maybe they were just hoarders.
The later parts of the book became more like a traditional catalogue as they reach the museum portion of the house. With random relics from the period, the objects strayed away from William Shakespeare and more towards general society in the 1500’s. The entries on the documents also jumped back and forth between Shakespeare and works by other authors and playwrights, which were sometimes tied together but mostly placed in the museum to break the monotony, or so I would assume.
As the final book of this year, it was a respectable read and tied up the project in a nice way as this blog itself is like a partial catalogue to the Biblio-Mat. And since I already used the clip of Blackadderpunching Shakespeare in the face, I will end on this clip instead:
Book rating: 8/10 (Interesting but not very entertaining)
Random quote: “dated April 29, 1552, recording that Humfrey Reynolds, Adrian Quyney and John Shakysper, were fined 12d. each for having made a dirt heap (sterquinarium) in Henley Street.” (Can’t even make this stuff up)
Signing off on 2013, I think I’ll post a recap of the year in the next few days once my weary eyes have rested.