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Shakespeare & Beyond

Repetition is celebrity: Shakespeare and Austen

WillandJaneCuratorsAs curators of Will & Jane: Shakespeare, Austen, and the Cult of Celebrity we both began our work in the archives with established interests in the connections between literary greatness and consumer culture. Janine has written about the marketing tactics and packaging of the earliest English novels as well as about modern book jackets, while Kristina studies what literary historians call “material” culture, the relays and relationships between literature, society, and the economy. The amazing collection of “realia,” the objects and nonbook artifacts of all things Shakespeare originally collected by Henry and Emily Folger, however, compelled us to rethink what we knew about literary celebrity and the history of a consumer culture increasingly based on the proliferation of commodities.

We knew that this culture was emerging just at the moment that Shakespeare’s fame began to soar near the end of the 18th century, and that by the 200-year anniversary of Austen’s life, it was full-blown. But the sheer repetitiveness of 18th and 19th-century porcelain figurines of Shakespeare’s most famous characters and the box after box of prints depicting Shakespearean actors in the same pose, over and over, seem to be saying more than just the fact that commodification feeds celebrity.