Category Archives: Books

Art Books Shakespeare Uncategorized

A Room Of One’s Own

Shakespeare’s England travels forward in time in this post, to visit two historic and literary properties in Sussex. One dates from the seventeenth century, and one contains a unique Shakespeare collection, so I hope you’ll permit the deviation.

Today, armed with my trusty National Art Pass, a friend and I set out for an afternoon of Bloomsbury loveliness. The Art Pass is an excellent way of saving money AND contributing to the preservation and exhibition of the arts in the UK. It entitles the holder to free and discounted entry to many museums, art galleries, exhibitions, and historic houses. Single membership costs £53 a year. Find out more here.

Our first stop, and free entry for me with my Art Pass, was Charleston Farmhouse, situated in the rolling Sussex countryside not far from Lewes. Charleston was home to the artist Vanessa Bell and her partner Duncan Grant. They initially rented the house in 1916 to escape London during World War One, but they gradually fell in love with Sussex and relocated to Charleston permanently. The house, which dates back to the 1690s, is an eclectic cornucopia of Bloomsbury art. Inspired by French Impressionism, the couple and their Bloomsbury friends designed and painted the walls, furniture, curtains, and even the bathroom in bold geometric patterns, flowers, acrobats, and Greek gods. Charleston has had many famous house guests including Lytton Strachey, E M Forster, and the economist Maynard Keynes, who had a bedroom set aside for him in which he wrote for lengthy periods. Vanessa Bell’s sister, Virginia Woolf, was, naturally, a regular visitor. The house also has a large collection of paintings, including works by Renoir, Picasso, Derain, Matthew Smith, Sickert, Tomlin and Eugène Delacroix.

To find out more or to visit Charleston, and to view photographs of the interior, visit the website here


Door Knocker, Charleston


Our next stop was Monk’s House in Rodmell, just a few miles down the road from Charleston. Monk’s House was the retreat of Virginia Woolf and her husband Leonard. Unfortunately it does not as yet permit free entry with an Arts Pass, but I was happy to pay the entry fee since I’d saved so much money at Charleston. The interior of Monk’s House is similar in style to that of Charleston, although it has a calmer, less chaotic feel. Fortunately, unlike at Charleston, photography was allowed, so I did my best to capture the bohemian interior of the house. To find out more about visiting Monk’s House visit the website here.

Below are photos of both houses. I’m no photographer and almost all of these were snapped with my iPhone, but they should give a sense of both houses and perhaps even tempt a few people to visit. And if history is your thing, you might like to visit the wonderful new Pompeii and Herculaneum exhibition at the British Museum this summer. Arts Pass holders save 50% on the entry price!


Vanessa Bell’s Bedroom, Charleston










Monk’s House


Monk’s House


Monk’s House


 Monk’s House


Monk’s House


Monk’s House


Monk’s House


Monk’s House


 Virginia’s bedroom


 Virginia’s bedroom


Chair in which Virginia wrote when it was too cold for the summer house


 Virginia’s personal Shakespeare Collection, with Bloomsbury dust covers


 Virginia’s Shakespeare Collection with her hand-written spines



Monk’s House, garden


Monk’s House


 Virginia’s writing desk in the summer house,


 Bronze marking the place where Virginia’s ashes are buried, beneath a Magnolia tree


Monk’s House


Books Printing Shakespeare

A reference to Shakespeare?

Reading a digitised copy of a 1688 edition of John Florio’s English-Italian Dictionary (original in the Henry E Huntington Library), I was, as usual, intrigued by the scribblings in the margins. However, what really caught my eye was this note alongside the entry for ‘Bragiare – To burn to coals or cinders’:



It struck me that the jotted ‘Shaks’ might be a reference to Shakespeare. Since Shakespeare uses ‘carbonado’ in Henry IV (1) ,’let him make a carbonado of me’, to refer to a grilled piece of meat, and ‘carbonadoed’ in The Winter’s Tale, ‘how a usurer’s wife…longed to eat adders’ heads and toads carbonaoed’ (see Crystal, David, Shakespeare’s Words, Penguin, 2002) it is tempting to assume this seventeenth century reader is indeed referring to Shakespeare in his or her scribbled marginalia. I’d love to know what others think.

Books Playwrights Printing Shakespeare

Reader looke, Not on his Picture, but his Book

Close-up of fore-edge and battered binding
©Bodleian Libraries

Today’s post comes from Pip Wilcox, digital editor at the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford. She unveils exciting news about the digitisation of a rare copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio, which everybody will be able to download and read from 23 April 2013.

A Prodigal First Folio

In the winter of 1623, a copy of Shakespeare’s newly printed First Folio arrived at Oxford’s Bodleian Library from London. Some time later, it left the Library and for years it was lost from view.

But in 1905, Gladwyn Turbutt, an undergraduate at Magdalen College, brought a tattered copy of an early Shakespeare Folio into the Library for advice on its binding. The sub-librarian on duty, Falconer Madan, immediately knew it was the lost Bodleian First Folio, still in its original binding.


Cymbeline © Bodleian Libraries

Excited as he was, Madan publicized the discovery. Word of it reached America, from where an anonymous prospective buyer offered an enormous £3,000 for the book. Later the would-be buyer was revealed as the chairman of Standard Oil, Henry Clay Folger.

The book’s owners, the Turbutt family of Derbyshire, gave the Bodleian a chance to match Folger’s offer. Funds were scarce, but the book was particularly precious, and so the first public fund-raising campaign in its history was born. It needed an extension from the Turbutts and over 80 donors to raise the sum, but finally, in 1906, the First Folio returned to its first owners.

In the winter of 2011, Emma Smith gave a talk on her research into this copy of the book, rarely seen by scholars due to its fragility. Emma’s lecture, her generosity, and her passion for sharing knowledge sparked a new public fund-raising campaign, Sprint for Shakespeare. With support from champions led by Vanessa Redgrave, and hundreds of donors, colleagues from across the Bodleian are working to conserve, digitize, and publish the book online.

Vanessa Redgrave and Thelma Holt with the First Folio © Bodleian Libraries

Emma Smith (the academic whose research started the project) & Maev Kennedy (Guardian)
© Bodleian Libraries 


This book, lost and found, tells an extraordinary story of overwhelming generosity, recent and historic, intellectual and financial. We know an unusual amount about its past: who bound it, and when (William Wildgoose, in February 1624); we know its exact position during the first years of its life – through the theatre closures of the Commonwealth – chained to a shelf in the recently completed Arts End of Duke Humfrey’s Library. Thanks to the efforts of Falconer Madan and Strickland Gibson, we have a detailed description of its state in 1905. E W B Nicholson’s gift for administration has left us a complete archive of its first funding campaign.


Damage with 18th Century patching © Bodleian Libraries  

More surprising may be what we do not know of its history: how the book came to the Bodleian in 1623 – whether through the Library’s agreement with the Stationers’ Company or as a presentation copy; how and when it left the Library; who owned it before the Turbutt family.

But perhaps the best stories are the ones the book itself tells – its plays, of course, but also how it was printed, bound, kept, and above all read. It has plenty left to tell us, with its first-instance Droeshout engraving, the poor quality of its paper, an unidentified manuscript poem, an apple pip squashed flat in its gutter, of how King John appears barely touched while Romeo and Juliet has been read to tatters.

Conservation in action © Bodleian Libraries


We are delighted that public support and digital technology allow us to share, rather than compete for, this treasure of the Bodleian’s collections. On 23 April 2013 we will publish the digital facsimile online, freely available for study and download. We hope you will help us tell its stories.


The battered binding © Bodleian Libraries


Title Page © Bodleian Libraries

Pip Willcox is a digital editor at the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

Books Curiosities Death Murder Playwrights Poison

‘Thou’rt poisoned with that book’

I wanted to share this fascinating object which I stumbled upon on Friday. It is a bible dating to 1600 which contains a secret arsenal of poison. Given its nature, one might assume it was used by travelling assassins, or kept hidden in the library of a large house to dispatch unwanted guests. It was for auction at the Hermann Historica auction house in Germany, and is described, in translation, as follows:

Original book cover in 1600 with finely embossed parchment-related covers. Close book intact, the pages glued to a solid block, and cut out rectangular. Inside, finely crafted device with eleven different sized drawers and an open compartment. The individual drawers with colored paper glued on, the front frame and knobs flame strips of silver and ebonised wood. Handwritten paper labels with the Latin names for various poisonous plants (like Rhicinus, datura, belladonna, valerian, etc.). The greenish glass bottle labeled “est. Statutum hominibus semel mori” (It is given to man to die). In the book cover [is] glued old engraving depicting a standing skeleton, dated “1682”. Dimensions of the book 36 x 23 x 12 cm.

John Webster, in his play The Duchess of Malfi, has the Cardinal kill Julia with a poisoned bible, and it’s fascinating to speculate that rather than coming from his imagination, Webster had instead either seen or heard of an object similar to the one above.

I originally found the image here and the auction house details are here

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