Conventional wisdom sets up two distinct experiences of Shakespeare’s plays: readers encountering a text, and audiences encountering a performance. The Folger recently acquired a 1995 version of The Tempest by London book artist Sue Doggett that complicates the distinction. Readers of this one-of-a-kind book encounter Shakespeare’s text through Doggett’s artistry, where her choices of paper, lettering, imagery, texture, and color help interpret the selected scenes. The book is not an edition of The Tempest, but rather an artist’s encounter with it, entitled The Tempest, a sketchbook from the play by William Shakespeare. Shelved as ART Vol. d108 (see Hamnet entry), a custom clamshell box hints that something special is inside.
The opening storm begins on the book’s binding, where Prospero’s face emerges from the upper right of the front cover, molded in hand-painted leather. The shipwreck spans both front and back covers, and is made of found brass and metal pins, knotted bookbinder’s sewing thread, and mull (the open-weave fabric binders use as the under-layer of a book’s spine).
Doggett used the tracing paper technique throughout the book, sometimes providing a backward glimpse of text to come, sometimes a mirror-image reminder of what came before. The effect is unsettling, and evokes something of the magic and deception at work on the island.
Most of the play text is typewritten on tracing paper, with hand-written commentary:
Select portions are rendered in calligraphy. Usually, the calligraphy is legible, but in act 1, scene 2, invisible Ariel’s song appears as confusing and mysterious to us as it does to Ferdinand:
The “several strange shapes” are, not surprisingly, accompanied by strange shapes, including sinuous lines that seem completely abstract until you notice that they’re grouped in fives, like a musical staff. “What harmony is this?” indeed.
It seems a bit obtuse to blog about something that really has to be heard and felt as well as seen to be fully appreciated, but to throw in a fourth sense metaphorically, I hope I’ve given at least a taste of this book’s richness.
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What a beautiful book this is. The precision of the calligraphy is stunning, floating as it does above images of lost territories and places. One gets the sense — one I never got in watching Peter Greenaway’s Prospero’s Books — that an entire kingdom has been possessed and repossessed through writing, symbols and incantations. A terrific acquisition.
Michael Witmore — August 29, 2011
[…] out Erin Blake’s blog post on this beautiful book posted on “The Collation” — a Folger Shakespeare studies […]
“To Please”: Sue Dogget’s Art Book edition of _The Tempest_ (Shakespeare) | Masterpieces of British Literature, ENG 1500-004 — September 25, 2011