Like spectacle in stage productions, printed images are a form of visual communication that our own culture shares with Shakespeare's. Such images would seem to lack the blatant anachronism presented by electronic communication, video, and film. In a number of respects, however, printed images differ from one historical moment to another, just as they differ from one culture to another. These differences turn on

  • what the images represent
  • how they are manufactured and distributed
  • what their intended uses are
  • how they are related to verbal texts.
As David Summers formulates it in his essay "On the Histories of Artifacts," images are "factures," literally "things made" or "things done." They don't just represent something—they are something in their own right: a wooduct printed on a broadside sheet without any accompanying words, a woodcut printed in a book alongside a text, a copperplate engraving printed on a separate sheet of paper and inserted into a book, a painting in oils on a wooden panel, a computer-generated image printed in offset from a negative that reproduces the text of a book and its illustrations via the same technical process. As such, Summers points out, any given image is not just a symbol (an arbitrary sign of something) but an index (a sign that actually embodies or touches the thing it represents). That, at bottom, is Aristotle's idea of a sign: "that which coexists with something else, or before or after whose happening something else has happened, is a sign [semeion] of that something's having happened or being" (quoted in Summers 591).

Images printed in early modern books provide perfect examples of "facture." Roger Chartier in his introduction to The Culture of Print has called attention to the technical differences between woodcuts and copperplate engravings. As far as an early modern printer was concerned, woodcuts worked like lead type: they both could be locked into the same form and printed on the same page. Printing from copperplate engravings required a whole different technique: they had to be printed on separate paper and inserted into a book separately from the text, often as a titlepage or frontispiece. The result was two different relationships between image and text. Woodcuts could be printed right next to the relevant text; copperplate engravings were often inserted many pages away from the text they illustrated, fostering a more abstract relationship between text and image. Another mark of "facture" in early modern printed images is the range of uses to which they could be put by consumers. Mary J. Carruthers' observations in The Book of Memory about illuminations in medieval manuscripts seem equally apt for illustrations in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century printed books: the images function less as reproductions of objects, people, and events than as mnemonic devices: "the letters and other images are signs not primarily by virtue of imitating an object but by virtue of recalling something that is past to memory" (222). Woodcuts and copperplate engravings printed as part of early modern playtexts provide good examples: rather than reproducing a particular moment onstage, such illustrations are often composites of several different moments in the play. The titlepage to Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy (1615), for example, combines two distinct moments in the play. The implication is that the text itself, no less than the woodcut image, may be a mnemonic device for book-buyers who had seen the play onstage. To cite another example, the first quarto of Richard II (1597) is like printed editions of many early modern playtexts in carrying a subtitle promising that the text presents the play "as it hath been publically acted by the Right Honorable the Lord Chamberlain's Servants." (For a complete catalog of all known illustrations connected with the English professional theater in Shakespeare's day see R. A. Foakes, Illustrations of the English Stage, 1580-1642.)

The illustrations collected in the Folger exhibition "Seeing What Shakespeare Means" demonstrate quite a different relationship between printed images and Shakespeare's texts. Nicholas Rowe's edition of Shakespeare's complete plays in 1709 was not only the first to carry the name of an editor but the first to include "interpretative pictures" for each play. Unlike the woodcuts and copperplate images on the titlepages of printed playscripts in Shakespeare's own time, these eighteenth-century images have little to do with stage productions; they are designed, rather, to stimulate the imaginations of readers. The images in "Seeing What Shakespeare Means" are similar in this regard. The Folger edition of Shakespeare's works, in separate paperback volumes, is designed to make the plays and poems accessible to modern readers. Right-hand pages in each volume carry the edited text; left-hand pages carry verbal explanations of difficult words and phrases—and visual explanations in the form of images culled from early modern books. In effect, these images become "visual footnotes." The images may have been taken out of their original printed context, but in the context of the Folger edition they function in a way not unlike their original purpose, as indices that are physically connected with the thing they represent. For a reader who may already be familiar with the objects represented, they function, indeed, as memory-joggers in just the way Carruthers describes.

The varying ways in which printed images have been related to Shakespeare's texts at different historical moments inspire many of the contributions made by seminar participants to this website. To introduce these in chronological order, Kristin Olson in "Visual Poetics" takes up one of the most distinctive composites of image and text in early modern culture, emblem books, and speculates about the ways in which visuality gets into language in texts like Shakespeare's "The Phoenix and Turtle." Chiasmus, she argues, is the trope that makes this conjunction possible. In "Parallel Texts: Shakespeare Publishing Histories," Andrew Murphy studies eighteenth-century illustrated editions of Shakespeare's works and follows a culture-war of sorts as enterprising printers strove to break monopolies and bring cheap Shakespeare editions to a larger public. Nancy Glass Hancock in "Picturing Desdemona: Verbal Images, Iconography, and Screen" takes a wider frame of history as she surveys the variety of ways in which Desdemona has been depicted in verbal imagery and printed images as well as in stage productions and films. Each historical era has fashioned an image according to its own ideas about women—and in the process has lost touch with what Hancock sees as Shakespeare's original image of Desdemona. Francesca Royster's "Everyday Shakespeares: Confronting Othello at the Mall " looks at representations of Othello and Desdemona in nineteenth-century extra-illustrated editions of Othello—and goes on to document Royster's own attempt to enact the play's racial challenges in various commercial locations in State College, Pennylvania. In "Approximating Early Modern Art: An Accommodation," Margaret Rose Jaster describes the synesthetic strategies she has used to get her students at Penn State Harrisburg actively involved in the painted images they are studying.

Parallel Texts: Shakespeare Publishing History
Visual Poetics
Approximating Early Modern Art: An Accommodation
Everyday Shakespeares: Confronting Othello at the Mall
Picturing Desdemona: Verbal Imagery, Iconography, and Screen

Digital Media/Film & Video/Stage Production/Printed Media