By MARTHA HOPKINS
All the city's a stage—and screen—as Washington, D.C., pays tribute to William Shakespeare in 2007 with a landmark festival of theater, films, music, dance and exhibitions at venues throughout the nation's capital. The Library of Congress is participating in the festival with a "Shakespeare in America" display, a film series titled "Screening Shakespeare" and Shakespeare-themed walking tours of the historic Thomas Jefferson Building.
"Shakespeare in America"
The Library's one-case display titled "Shakespeare in America" reflects the nation's long interest in William Shakespeare. Items are drawn from the Library of Congress's collections, which contain a wealth of Shakespeare-related material, from rare books such as the 1623 First Folio to popular culture items such as tobacco labels, comic books and cartoons. In addition to the many books in the general collections, areas of the Library with significant Shakespeare-related holdings include the Prints and Photographs; Music; Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound; Manuscript, Rare Books and Special Collections; Geography and Map; and Serials and Government Publications divisions. Materials include rare illustrated books; papers of famous actors and actresses, including prompt books, images, manuscripts and performance photographs; theatrical posters; costume designs; cartoons; fine prints; Shakespeare literary maps; films and sound recordings; manuscripts and printed editions of classical and popular music related to Shakespeare plays; items from the 1930s Federal Theatre Project; and newspapers and magazines.
The display features 20 items drawn from many of the above divisions. Among the items are a prompt book used by Charlotte Cushman (1816–1876) when she played Hamlet. Commonly believed to be the greatest American actress of the 19th century, Cushman was known for playing both male and female roles.
Edwin Booth (1833–1893)—brother of Abraham Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth, and a famed actor in his own right—is represented in the display by a photograph taken in his Hamlet costume, which Cushman borrowed for one of her performances. Hume Cronyn (1911–2003), who donated his papers to the Library, is represented by a memo showing his meticulous research before playing Shylock in "The Merchant of Venice."
Also featured are 19th- and 20th-century political cartoons with references to Shakespeare, by masters of the art such as Thomas Nast (1840–1902), the cartoonist for Harper's Weekly from 1859 to 1860 and from 1862 until 1886; and George Yost Coffin (1850–1896) and Herbert Block (Herblock) (1909–2001), both cartoonists for "The Washington Post." Each cartoon depicts a U.S. president as a character from a Shakespeare play as a way to comment on the issues of the day.
A holograph manuscript of the opera "Antony and Cleopatra" (1966) by Samuel Barber (1910–1981), which opened the new Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center, is also featured in the display, along with a photograph of noted soprano Leontyne Price (b. 1927), who created the role of Cleopatra. Other items from the Library's Music Division include materials from the Shakespeare-inspired Broadway musicals "Kiss Me Kate" (1948), by Cole Porter (1891–1964), and "West Side Story" (1957), by Leonard Bernstein (1918–1990).
Costume designs and other material from the 1930s Federal Theatre Project on display include items from the 1936 voodoo-inspired production of "Macbeth" that first brought fame to Orson Welles (1915–1985).
Popular culture items include a 1931 version of "Hamlet" written in Gregg shorthand and an 1873 chewing tobacco label depicting Romeo and Juliet.
The display is on view from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday–Saturday, through Aug. 18 in the "American Treasures of the Library of Congress" exhibition in the Southwest Gallery of the Jefferson Building. It is also available online at www.loc.gov/exhibits/.
A major contribution to the "Shakespeare in Washington" festival is the Library's film series titled "Screening Shakespeare," which features more than 70 films and television shows. Titles were selected from the Library's Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, which holds more than 200 Shakespeare-related films and television programs—some of which survive only in a single copy. The series is made possible by a generous grant from The Max and Victoria Dreyfus Foundation, Inc.
From a 40-second silent film depicting the duel scene from "Macbeth" (1905) to Kenneth Branagh's 4-hour unabridged version of "Hamlet" (1996), the series traces the history of Shakespearean cinema and showcases the breadth of Shakespearean screen adaptations during the past 100 years. Included are classic films starring Laurence Olivier, Orson Welles and Richard Burton, and Maurice Evans's legendary "Hallmark Hall of Fame" television performances. Other programs include broadcasts from the golden age of live television, BBC adaptations and Shakespeare-inspired animated films and sitcoms.
Many of these treasures have not been seen since their original release or broadcast. For example, the BBC's 1967 version of "Much Ado About Nothing" was considered lost until a videotape was unearthed in the Library's collection during preparations for this series.
These films inspired by the Bard's works will be shown from April 20 through Aug. 31 in the Mary Pickford Theater, located on the third floor of the Library's James Madison Building. A complete schedule of films can be found at www.loc.gov/rr/mopic/pickford/shakespeare2007.html.
The films are free and open to the public, but reservations are required. Call (202) 707-5677 one week before each show.
Another activity planned by the Library in conjunction with the festival is a Shakespeare-themed walking tour of the Thomas Jefferson Building, led by John Cole, director of the Library's Center for the Book, and staff from the Library's Interpretive Programs Office. Beginning with an overview of the Library's Shakespeare display, the tour highlights Shakespearean images and words in the Jefferson Building's corridors and ceilings and in the Main Reading Room. As noted in Cole's book "On These Walls" (Library of Congress, 1995), Shakespeare is the best represented writer in the building's iconography. The tour points out Shakespeare's name on the ceiling of the Jefferson Building's Great Hall, his bronze statue in the Main Reading Room and words and images from his poetry and plays on the first and second floor corridor walls.
Spearheaded by Kennedy Center president Michael Kaiser and Shakespeare Theatre Company artistic director Michael Kahn, the city-wide Shakespeare festival coincides with the 75th anniversary of the Folger Shakespeare Library, the largest collection of Shakespeare memorabilia outside England. For more information on the festival, visit the official Web site at www.ShakespeareinWashington.org.
Martha Hopkins is an exhibition director in the Interpretive Programs Office and curator of the "Shakespeare in America" display.