The Relevance of the Major Scottish Collections of Printed Renaissance Drama to the Cultural History and Contemporary Reception of Shakespeare

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Sch of Literature Languages & Culture


This project will involve substantial research on the exceptional collections of Shakespearean and early modern drama material held by the National Library of Scotland and the University of Edinburgh Library. The research will be undertaken by the Principal Investigator in close collaboration with a Senior Curator in the Rare Books department at the National Library, and will provide the content and thematic structure for a major exhibition to be held at the National Library between November 2011 and February 2012. This exhibition, provisionally entitled 'Making Shakespeare: the Scottish Dimension', will be accessible to both academic and general audiences, and will be accompanied by educational materials for use by school students and their teachers. The research will also underpin a web feature to be launched at the same time, hosted indefinitely on NLS's open access website, which will allow visitors to browse digital copies of some items.

The research will be guided by four related principles. We aim to develop and deepen our understanding of the significance of particular items in the libraries' holdings and the histories of the various individual collections that make up those holdings. We are also seeking to understand the activities and attitudes of the collectors. Thirdly, we will use the fruits of these investigations to illuminate the processes by which the works of a Renaissance playwright became cultural treasures, and the practical ways in which that status was expressed and acknowledged; in so doing we will be contributing to the study of Shakespeare as a central and symbolic figure for Anglophone culture since the seventeenth century. Our fourth principle follows from this: we will be exploring the significance of the fact that these collections of materials by and about the English national poet, which to some extent derive their importance from that status, were partly gathered by Scots and are held in Scottish institutions.

In order to draw these principles together, the research will develop in two complementary directions. We will explore the significance of the bibliographical features of the early printed books that are the most prominent part of the holdings, asking what the evidence of the gathering, organizing and binding of these books can tell us about the patterns and purposes of collecting this material since the seventeenth century. At the same time, we will explore the contextual material relevant to these collections, looking in detail at the working notes, correspondence and other papers of those responsible for building them up. We have identified two individuals and a family from the 17th to 19th centuries who are central to the development of these collections, and whose papers and correspondence survive to an extent sufficient to furnish us with robust evidence. We will also look at the papers and contribution of John Dover-Wilson, Regius Professor of English Literature at Edinburgh from 1935 to 1945 and trustee of NLS, who helped to secure a significant proportion of both institutions' holdings.

The research will involve the fresh examination of these archival resources, and the study of materials relevant to the books and their collectors in other repositories elsewhere in Britain and, to a lesser extent, the USA. We will then have a deeper sense of the history of these collections, and of their place in the cultural history of Shakespeare, and we will also have identified the most striking and engaging items around which to build our exhibition. We will also carry the focus on the personalities of the collectors into the planning and design of the exhibition, with the aim of giving a series of faces and voices to the broader processes of cultural history we will be illuminating. In this way we aim to engage a wide audience with that history, and to provoke reflection on Shakespear's place in contemporary Anglophone culture in general, and in today's Scotland in particular.


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Loxley, J (2011) Exhibiting the Written Word in University of Edinburgh

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Loxley, J (2011) Beyond Macbeth: Shakespeare Collections in Scotland in Beyond Macbeth: Shakespeare Collections in Scotland

Title Beyond Macbeth: Shakespeare Collections in Scotland 
Description An exhibition of books, manuscripts, illustrations and sculptures, with interactive zone, focusing on four centuries of Shakespeare collecting in a Scottish context. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2011 
Impact NLS received £87722 of the funding given to the project to cover the costs of designing and building exhibition, web feature and learning resources. Helen Vincent, Senior Curator of Rare Books, also benefitted in having 10% of her time for the duration of the project bought out to enable her to undertake bibliographical research as part of the project. The library also benefitted in developing an increased understanding of its early modern drama collections as a result of the research, and of their place in the wider range of its Scottish collections and collections of early modern drama held elsewhere. NLS also benefitted from the research in other ways. The opening of the exhibition garnered media coverage with an advertising value equivalent of £18,872, and final visitor numbers were 26,628 - an increase of 30% on the previous comparable exhibition. The exhibition was also cited in the Scottish parliament by Fiona Hyslop, MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, as a prime example of how 'the National Library ensures that the past is brought to life in a modern context [and] its exhibitions and events remind visitors of the enduring relevance of the collections' (Scottish Parliament Official Report, 15 March 2012). The impact of this exhibition extends to encompass the visitors to the exhibition, the school students who participated in the learning programme, and current and future users of the online resources. 
Description A fuller understanding of the extent and significance of the collections of Shakespearean material held at University of Edinburgh and National Library of Scotland; a contribution to the understanding of Shakespeare's place in cultural life and activities over four centuries; a greater understanding of the place of the Shakespeare and his plays in the cultural life of Scotland from the 17th to the 20th centuries.
Exploitation Route Informing the understanding of Shakespeare's place in Scottish literary culture, and the sometimes complicated relationship between Shakespeare and Scotland; further engagement with the particular collections on which the project focused.
Sectors Creative Economy,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description Our findings informed the exhibition 'Beyond Macbeth: Shakespeare Collections in Scotland' staged at National Library of Scotland between November 2011 and April 2012. They fed into the exhibition content, and key elements of the design; they informed the education programme, the design and construction of a web feature, and an award-winning marketing campaign. The research was also cited in a Scottish Parliament debate on the cultural function and role of NLS, as exemplifying that institution's distinctive mission. Further to this, the research undertaken here has informed two documentary programmes made by BBC Radio for broadcast as part of the Shakespeare quatercentenary events in April 2016.
First Year Of Impact 2011
Sector Creative Economy,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Economic

Description Shakespeare exhibition project 
Organisation National Library of Scotland
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I worked closely with a Senior Curator of Rare Books in researching the Shakespeare holdings at NLS; I also worked closely with NLS colleagues in the exhibition design and tendering process, in exhibition curation, in designing educational and web materials, in creating public events, and in writing the marketing brief.
Collaborator Contribution NLS provided special access to collections and premises, exhibition space, the time and expertise of curators and staff in exhibition development, IT, education and public events.
Impact A major temporary exhibition, Beyond Macbeth: Shakespeare Collections in Scotland, held at NLS in 2011-12 An exhibition catalogue A web feature on Shakespeare at NLS/University of Edinburgh Educational resources
Start Year 2009