Students Celebrate Shakespeare From Classical to 'Kitch'

Story posted November 05, 2007

Jimenez
Angela Fabunan, left, and Natalie Jimenez, examine items.

If first-year student Natalie Jimenez '11 wanted to steep herself in Shakespearean theater this year, she is certainly getting her wish. Among the novelties she is encountering in her first-year seminar, "Shakespeare's Afterlives," is a teapot shaped like the Globe Theater.

"When you pick up the lid you kind of expect to look in and see people in there," she says, peering in. "It's cute."

This is only one of many Shakespeare-inspired objects that she and her classmates are reviewing for possible inclusion in an upcoming Bowdoin College Museum of Art exhibition titled, aptly, "Shakespeare's Afterlives." The exhibition will be on view Nov. 27, 2007–Jan. 27, 2008, in the Becker Gallery, a faculty-curated space that draws on the Museum's collection of prints and drawings to enhance course-specific learning.

Kitch teaching
Prof. Kitch (left, by window) and Richard Lindemann tutor students about selecting objects and books.

The student-co-curated show traces visual representations of Shakespeare's plays across centuries and is the culmination of a semester of study with Assistant Professor of English Aaron Kitch.

"The course studies literary and cultural adaptations of Shakespeare's drama. We explore the various ways that his language and themes still shape our culture," says Kitch. "The Museum show opens up a new window on the history of adaptation. We are framing the show around the twin poles of a monumental, canonized Shakespeare and a popular, commodified Bard. I think the students are intrigued by the movement between these forces, and the show will capitalize on that."

On their first curatorial expedition, the students meet with Richard Lindemann, director of the George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives at Hawthorne-Longfellow Library. He has assembled a range of collections of Shakespeare's works, including a 17th-century edition of Shakespeare's "Second Folio" (London: 1632), which is among the earliest printings of Shakespeare's plays the College owns.

Sniffing books
Students gather around a 17th-century book for a "sniff" at history.

"Wash your hands, and then wash your hands again," he calls out, as students line up for their chance to handle the tome.

"Oh my God, this is the oldest book I have touched ever," says one student. "Feel how thick these pages are."

"Hey smell it!" says another, grinning: "It smells like the Renaissance." A group clusters around for a good sniff.

Students look at books
Students (l to r) Lauren Xenakis, Leah Hughes and Tu Anh Dinh examine collections of Shakespeare's works from among the Library's Special Collections.

"This is not so uncommon," notes Lindemann with a smile. "One of the things we find most successful about the classes we teach is the ability to provide the real stuff, so that students really do get a sense of imprinted works. Their responses don't necessarily have anything to do with the content of the work, but with the student's tactile experience. The feel of it, how the type buries into the surface of the page, the smell. It all adds a quality to the reading experience that is impossible to reproduce in a facsimile or digital surrogate."

The book, by unanimous vote, will be a centerpiece for the exhibition.

Set atop a side table in the library seminar room is an assortment of more kitschy items for their consideration, including Shakespeare beer, coasters, statuettes and packaged Shakespearean "insult" gum with barbs from the Bard such as, "Thy breath stinks with eating toasted cheese."

Kitch picks up his personal favorite: a set of Shakespearean finger puppets. "A handful of Hamlet," he quips.

Insult gum
"Thy breath stinks with eating toasted cheese."

Their next stop will be the Museum itself, where Curator Alison Ferris has helped Kitch select prints from among the Museum's collection of 18th- and 19th-century Shakespeare engravings, some of which depict scenes from the plays the students are studying in class.

"We really do have a fantastic art trove at the Museum," notes Kitch. "There is an excellent collection of prints by Boydell, Fuseli and others. I've used prints in my classes before, but this is the first time I've ever done a Becker Gallery show. It's wonderful to be able to integrate it into the actual syllabus."

Already, Jimenez is enjoying her brew. She looks at the books and objects around her and pauses in thought: "The idea that people have taken Shakespeare's text and turned it into something new is really interesting to me," she says. "You see themes overlap and carry over. It really brings out the immortality of these works."

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