A Few Scraps of Shakespeare

  They have been at a great feast of languages, and stolen the scraps.

Love’s Labour’s Lost, 1594

April 23 is a big day for Anglophiles, marking the birth (and death) of William Shakespeare and the Feast of St. George, the patron saint of England. I have never really understood how St. George became the patron saint of England, so I’m going with Shakespeare. And as I’m not a literary scholar, I’m going for scraps, bit of ephemera that were quite the rage in the nineteenth century, when scrap-booking became a popular leisure activity, and scrap screens began appearing in parlors on both sides of the Atlantic.

shakespearelge

Decoupage screen decorated by Jane Carlyle in 1849, in the Drawing Room at Carlyle's House , London

Title Page of Shakespeare’s First Folio, 1623, British Library; Jane Carlyle’s Scrap Screen, 1849, at the Carlyle House in London, Treasure Hunt.

There’s nothing particularly novel about pasting images in a book or on a wall, but printing and paper technologies in the nineteenth century commercialized the activity, like everything else. Scraps for sale first appeared as black and white engravings at the beginning of the century, and by the latter half they were colored by chromolithography, embossed, die-cut and sold as sheets at the local stationer. Mrs. Carlyle’s screen above is made of more “found” examples, but many people seem to have  preferred the more glossy materials that could be found at the shop. In the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, there are some wonderful scraps of Shakespearean characters, vividly bringing them to life for those that could not see them on the stage. Sigmund Hildesheimer & Company’s Characters from Shakespeare. A Series of Twelve Relief Scraps depicted characters played by popular actors, and were sold in packs costing one shilling in the 1890s. My favorites are below:  Romeo and Juliet, Richard III and the two “princes in the tower”, Ophelia and Hamlet, and Cromwell and Wolsey from Henry VIII.

Shakespeare Scrap RJ

Shakespeare Scrap Richard

Shakespeare Scrap Hamlet

Shakespeare Scrap Henry VIII

Shakespearean Scraps by Siegmund Hildesheimer & Co., c. 1890, Victoria & Albert Museum, London.


3 responses to “A Few Scraps of Shakespeare

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