Heritage & Collections
Stonyhurst College and the British Jesuit Province are lending three important artefacts to the British Museum for this summer’s major exhibition on the world of Shakespeare. As part of the exhibition, the College Curator, Mrs Graffius, has also recorded two programmes for Radio 4 with Dr Neil MacGregor, the Director of the British Museum, discussing two of the loans.
The exhibition will provide a unique insight into the emerging role of London as a world city interpreted through the innovative perspective of Shakespeare’s plays, and will be brought to life through objects, digital media and performance. The British Museum has collaborated with the Royal Shakespeare Company in the creative approach to the design of the exhibition, accentuating the connections between the objects, Shakespeare’s text and performance.
Stonyhurst is lending its First Folio, a rare copy of the very first edition of Shakespeare’s plays, printed in 1623. The College copy was bought by Lord Arundell in the 17th century, and is part of the Arundell Library collection. The famous engraved portrait of Shakespeare in the book, which is shown on all the British Museum publicity, is taken from the Stonyhurst Folio. The College is also lending the Pedlar’s Trunk, a unique link with the world of Jesuit missionaries working in secret in 17th century Lancashire. The ponyhair covered trunk is similar to those used by travelling salesmen of the time, but instead of containing ribbons, threads and silks for sale, it contains vestments, an altar stone and chalice, for celebrating mass. It was discovered in the 19th century concealed in a hiding hole at Samlesbury Hall, and is associated with the Jesuit martyr, St Edmund Arrowsmith sj. It will illustrate the Catholic world with which Shakespeare was so familiar, and also themes of hidden identity in his plays.
One of the most powerful relics lent to the exhibition by the British Province. It is the right eye of the Blessed Edward Oldcorne sj, who was martyred in 1606. Collected by Catholics after his execution, it probably made its way to St Omers quite soon afterwards, as it was a very dangerous object to be found with in post-Gunpowder Plot England. The Museum will explore the violent world of religious persecution of Shakespeare’s day, and also compare the reality of Tyburn with the violence in Shaekespeare’s plays.
Jonathan Bate, Professor of Shakespeare and Renaissance Literature at the University of Warwick and Provost of Worcester College, Oxford, who is contributing to the exhibition said "I am tremendously excited to be working with the British Museum’s brilliant curators in devising an exhibition for the London 2012 Festival. This show is potentially the most exciting thing to have happened in my thirty year love-affair with Shakespeare."