Inside take on a Folger, Bodleian, and Ransom Center exhibition on the creation and afterlife of the King James Bible on the 400th anniversary of its publication.

Archive for November, 2011

Shakespeare and the King James Bible: Ships Passing in the Night

Shakespeare. Double-sided enamel. 1769. Folger.

Since at least the great Shakespeare Jubilee of 1769, Shakespeare and the King James Bible have been yoked together as the twin pillars of English culture. Dozens of books in the nineteenth century printed extracts from Shakespeare and the KJV, often on facing pages, showing that they were morally and spiritually equivalent on matters such as the Sabbath, the World’s Dissolution, Fears, Adultery, and Wisdom.

The association of these two works (and neither of them really is “a work”—they’re both anthologies) encouraged the idea that there must be a stronger link between them. I’ve written before about the nutty notion that Shakespeare was a KJV translator. But even the idea that Shakespeare read and was influenced by the KJV is mistaken.

Shakespeare did read the Bible, and he heard it in church. We can tell this because of the hundreds of biblical allusions and references in his plays and poems. In fact, there is no work that Shakespeare alludes to more often than the Bible. Bottom garbles Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (“The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen…”); Richard II compares his tormentors to Judas and the Pharisees; Shylock cites the story of Jacob and Laban from Genesis; King Lear alludes (unconsciously) to the Book of Job. Shakespeare makes these allusions, counting on his audience to recognize and interpret them, and so add deeper meaning to the play.

King Lear. Unknown artist. 1874. Folger.

The KJV was published only in 1611 (possibly even in early 1612, since England was still on the old calendar with New Year’s in March), and while parishes in London and some other dioceses did acquire copies of the new Bible fairly quickly, it was not immediate. Up until this time, Shakespeare, like everyone else, had known other English Bible translations. The Bishops’ Bible (first published in 1568) was the official translation read in most English churches. The Geneva Bible (1560) was by far the most popular, though, and Shakespeare obviously had a copy that he read from, since most of the biblical allusions in his works that are identifiable with a specific translation are to the Geneva.

The KJV simply arrived too late for Shakespeare to know it. Even if he did see a copy or hear it in church, it didn’t supplant the Geneva from his ear and memory. Moreover, by this time Shakespeare had only a few more plays to write before he died: perhaps only the Fletcher collaborations, Henry VIII, Two Noble Kinsmen, and the lost Cardenio. It’s probably unreasonable to put too much emphasis on one Bible translation or another, however, since most of the translators (KJV companies included) saw themselves as revisers, and the succession of translations from Tyndale and Coverdale on as just stages in the development of the English Bible. Shakespeare knew the English Bible intimately—just not in the revision known as the KJV.

Hannibal Hamlin, associate professor of English at The Ohio State University, is co-curator of the Manifold Greatness exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library.


The First King James Bible in America?

The John Alden Bible. 1620. (c) The Pilgrim Society. Pilgrim Hall Museum.

As we approach Thanksgiving, perhaps thinking of those Pilgrims who came over on the Mayflower and feasted with the Indians, we might think about the English Bibles they brought with them. (We ought to note, though, that despite the popular myth about the Pilgrims founding Thanksgiving, it was actually Abraham Lincoln who fixed the official November date after the Civil War. The Pilgrims had a feast of “thanksgiving” in 1621, but it was hardly the state holiday we know today.)

As the hotter, more godly variety of Protestants, the Pilgrims used the Geneva Bible. It was far the most popular English Bible until the mid-seventeenth century, but especially so among those termed Puritans, given its associations with Calvinist Geneva. John Alden, however, brought a copy of the King James Bible printed in 1620. Though Alden became a prominent member of the Plymouth Colony, he wasn’t originally a member of the Pilgrims, but rather the ship’s carpenter on the Mayflower. This may explain why he carried the KJV.

Virginia before Jamestown. Thomas Hariot. A briefe and true report. 1590. Folger.

Alden’s 1620 KJV may be the first copy of this translation on American soil, but it’s impossible to be certain. The Roanoke Colony was settled long before the KJV and the colonists had disappeared by 1590. Jamestown was founded in 1607, again too early for the KJV. The first colonists probably brought Geneva or Bishops’ Bibles.

The question is, were copies of the KJV brought to Jamestown between its first printing in 1611 and the arrival of the Mayflower in 1620? Alden Vaughan, professor emeritus at Columbia University, informs me that there was considerable traffic across the Atlantic in those years, and it might yet be possible to determine whether Bibles were part of the cargo.

On the other hand, as Kenneth Fincham pointed out at the Folger Institute conference in September, English churches did not immediately purchase that KJV when it was hot off the presses. Within a few years most London churches acquired copies, but in other dioceses churches were using the Bishops’ Bible, the Geneva, or even the Great Bible, well into the 1630s and 40s. It all depended on whether presiding bishops were keen on the idea.

So who knows what happened in Jamestown? That’s a story waiting to be told, if we can ever find out enough to tell it! For now, we’ll remember the King James Bible John Alden brought over on the Mayflower, which is now on display in the Great Hall at the Folger, and which after January will return to its permanent home at Pilgrim Hall in Plymouth.

Hannibal Hamlin, associate professor of English at The Ohio State University, is co-curator of the Manifold Greatness exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library.


The Bible in Old English Verse

MS. Junius 11. Bodleian Library, University of Oxford.

I really wish that I had been there when Bodleian Library MS. Junius 11 arrived at the Folger Shakespeare Library. Dating from around 1000 CE, this manuscript contains Old English verse adaptations of Genesis, Exodus, and Daniel. These biblical poems were originally thought to have been authored by the seventh-century poet Cædmon. Thus the manuscript is often referred to as the “The Cædmon Manuscript,” though the true author or authors remain unknown.

The page that is being highlighted in the Folger’s Manifold Greatness exhibition (first image, at left) presents the creation of Eve. On the right side of the drawing God takes a rib out of Adam’s side. On the left, God holds the hand of newly born Eve.

MS. Junius 11. Bodleian Library, University of Oxford.

The image from MS. Junius that I personally find captivating is the depiction of Noah’s ark as a kind of Viking ship (the second image in this post, at right). At first glance you might not realize that you are looking at Noah’s ark, but if you take a good look in the small space in the center of the ship—click on the image to see it a little larger—you can see what appears to be two peacocks and two deer standing two-by-two. Noah is at the back of the ship holding the rudder.

A world of thanks is owed to the Bodleian Library for their willingness to loan this amazing artifact to the Folger. It really is a privilege to have such an incredible piece of history on view in the United States.

To examine the Bodleian Library’s MS. Junius 11 online, visit Early Manuscripts at Oxford University.

Steven Galbraith, Curator of the Cary Graphic Arts Collection at Rochester Institute of Technology, is co-curator of the Manifold Greatness exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library.


The KJB and Young Audiences

With Thanksgiving quickly approaching and the need for activities to break the monotony of cabin fever, we felt the time was right to highlight a few kid-friendly educational features of the Manifold Greatness website and exhibition.

On Saturday, November 26 the Folger Shakespeare Library will be hosting a “Shake Up Your Saturday” program exploring the translation of the James Bible with games, a scavenger hunt, and other free, family-friendly activities. If you are not in the Washington, DC area, the  Manifold Greatness website has several features created especially for younger visitors.

One of the challenges presented in the Manifold Greatness exhibition was to make to content available to as many audiences as possible—including children—in ways that are satisfying and appropriate for each. The For Kids section is inspired by the storytelling found on the rest of the site, but incorporates activities and features specially developed for today’s tech-savvy youngsters.

The folks at Swim Design were great partners in making it all technically possible, and our graphic designers Andrea Leheup and Sherrill Cooper did a stunning job rendering these concepts into art.

Some favorites include:

Design a Binding

In this activity, users can create their own customized binding by virtually using techniques and tools from the 17th century. In researching this, I got to spend a couple hours in the Folger’s world-class conservation lab learning about how book covers were made and what equipment was necessary to create the gorgeous designs seen on many rare books. It was a truly “behind the scenes” kind of moment that made working on this project so enjoyable!

Translator Scavenger Hunt

This interactive activity is another popular feature in the Kids’ section. Our goal was to educate kids (and maybe adults, too!) about the types of materials and tools the translators of the King James Bible used, and we wanted to present the information in a fun, engaging format. Developing this feature involved research into all sorts of topics that were new to me: 17th-century clothing and interiors, writing tools, and reference books that the KJB translators consulted.

Last but not least, what could be more classic than coloring and crosswords? These features allow visitors to “color” online, or download pictures to color the old-fashioned way. Users can also select from crossword puzzles at a range of difficulty levels.

Presenting content associated with the King James Bible in a kid-friendly manner is not a new idea, as a “Hieroglyphic Bible” dating from 1788 demonstrates; in it, illustrations substituted for words in Bible passages, allowing children to “read” a mixture of words and pictures.

The funny thing is, while these features were developed to educate younger audiences about the history of the KJB and how it influences life today, I found my grown-up self learning all sorts of new things about the King James Bible and the men who produced it. From the manuscript Bibles that preceded it to fun factoids about King James himself, creating this was an incredibly rewarding experience in presenting a historically significant book in a fresh and appealing way.

Amy Arden is a Communications Associate at the Folger Shakespeare Library and developed the Manifold Greatness Family Guide and online content for children.


Manifold Greatness at Rhodes College

L to R: Naomi Tadmor, Vincent Wimbush, Hannibal Hamlin, Ena Heller, Robert Alter. Notice the Manifold Greatness panel at left!

I just got back from Memphis and the fabulous 1611 Symposium organized by Scott Newstok at Rhodes College. A professor of English at Rhodes, Scott organizes the annual “Shakespeare at Rhodes” Symposium. This year, Scott decided to capitalize on the KJV anniversary by combining several events into one. The symposium itself brought together five international scholars to talk about different aspects of the King James Bible and its rich history: Brian Cummings (Sussex), “In the Literal Sense: The Protestant Bible and the Theory of Reading”; Naomi Tadmor (Lancaster) “The Social Universe of the King James Bible”; Ena Heller (Museum of Biblical Art, New York), “Against the King’s Wishes: Art and the King James Bible”; Vincent Wimbush (Claremont Graduate School), “White Men’s Magic: The Black Atlantic Reads King James”; and me (Ohio State), “Reflections after 2011: What I’ve Learned about the King James Bible.” The distinguished literary critic, biblical scholar, and Bible translator Robert Alter (Berkeley) was the respondent, and he also delivered the Naseeb Shaheen Memorial Lecture, “The King James Bible and the Question of Eloquence,” at The University of Memphis the previous evening. Many audience members attended both events, and they also had the opportunity to see the panel exhibition of Manifold Greatness, which had arrived at Rhodes earlier in the week.

Traveling panel exhibition at Rhodes College.

The Manifold Greatness panels were displayed brilliantly, fanning across a beautiful sunlit room in Rhodes’s stunning Barret Library. Hats off to the librarians, and to Scott, for this location! The exhibition, supplemented with some early English Bibles from the Barret collection, was officially opened Friday morning, with remarks by Scott, some brief background on Manifold Greatness by me, and a lovely reception. The guests included a who’s-who of Memphis, from scholars and teachers at Rhodes, U. Memphis, and other local colleges and seminaries, to the Director of Opera Memphis, board members of the Tennessee Shakespeare Company, and other civic, religious, and cultural leaders. I really had the sense that the whole Memphis community was coming together for these several days.

Robert Alter’s lecture was brilliant, delving into aspects of the KJV style and the work of its translators in a way few others could. How many scholars can legitimately speak of the KJV translators as colleagues? The symposium was a rich and exciting exchange of ideas. Brian Cummings wasn’t able to come due to a family emergency, but his intriguing paper was read by Rhodes professor Michael Leslie. The packed audience was diverse, bringing together students and faculty from several institutions, as well as members of the community.

Naomi Tadmor and Hannibal Hamlin during special Graceland tour. Scott Newstok.

Even after five papers and a formal response, the audience was keen, asking an array of questions for another couple of hours. At several points, we broke for refreshments, and the discussion simply spilled out into the reception area. Conversation continued among all the presenters and several faculty members at a dinner kindly hosted by Scott at his home.

The next day, we had a VIP tour of Elvis’s home Graceland, our special status owing to the Folger’s borrowing of Elvis’s Bible for the Manifold Greatness exhibition. I actually saw the Folger exhibition announced on a videoscreen in the Graceland lobby. And the gentleman who took us on the tour also knew about the Rhodes conference from an article in the local newspaper. We had lunch at the “world-famous” Gus’s Fried Chicken, and there was a “1611 Symposium” poster on the wall. Memphis definitely did Manifold Greatness proud!!

The Manifold Greatness traveling panel exhibition is on display at Barret Library at Rhodes College in Memphis through December 21.

Hannibal Hamlin, associate professor of English at The Ohio State University, is co-curator of the Manifold Greatness exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library.


After the Exhibit: Final Thoughts

Kennesaw State University's 1611 King James Bible facsimile on display.

Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible left Kennesaw State University early last week, but it was not until Monday evening that we concluded our series of collaborative programming. To cap off a month of events, author Phillip DePoy spoke on his historical thriller, The King James Conspiracy, highlighting the continued fascination with the Bible’s translation.

The Manifold Greatness exhibition allowed the Department of Museums, Archives & Rare Books the unprecedented opportunity to partner with the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, the Cobb County Public Library System, the Smyrna Public Library, and Clayton State University in a span of five weeks.

Treasures found in a Bible at the event: Family Bibles: A Historical and Genealogical Resource.

All of our events were well attended, drawing over 300 university and community members to participate in panel discussions, lectures, and workshops. Topics that spanned the spectrum from 17thcentury religious music to the development of a novel’s plot drew diverse crowds and sparked interesting and insightful discussions. We anticipate that this dialogue will continue through ongoing book clubs and upcoming events hosted as part of Kennesaw State University’s exhibit, How God Became English: The Making of the King James Bible.

Thank you to the National Endowment to the Humanities, the American Library Association, the Bodleian Libraries at the University of Oxford, and the Folger Shakespeare Library for their wonderful work and guidance on this project. Best of luck to the remaining institutions, we look forward to reading about, and learning from, your programs and experiences.


Touchstone Moments for the Folger Exhibition

Parlor radio, mid-20th century. Photo: Julie Ainsworth. Folger.

You might think that exhibitions at the Folger Shakespeare Library are all about books and manuscripts and art—and you’d be right. But precisely because these types of paper-based artifacts can be challenging to display in new and engaging ways, I encourage curators to look for other types of objects to reflect the content and themes of each exhibition. For Manifold Greatness, we were presented with a rich and interesting topic, but one that was explicitly about a single book. One of the goals was to make this 400-year-old book come alive with human stories about its creation and its afterlife, so curators Steve Galbraith and Hannibal Hamlin began brainstorming with me about how to do that with a series of “touchstone moments” around the Great Hall.

Hannibal wanted a scene all about the sounds of the King James Bible, and for this, we borrowed a pew and lectern from the Lutheran Church of the Reformation. With a nineteenth-century Bible on the lectern, and a listening station with an interactive feature from the website, exhibition-goers can hear short, familiar passages read aloud by actors, as well as commentary from Hannibal and Steve.

Across the hall is a family Bible scene that brings to mind nineteenth-century households where the King James Bible was a fixture in the lives of many American and English families. Here, a nineteenth-century Bible sits open on a table, with candlesticks for light, and a pair of reading glasses. Touring the exhibition recently, a colleague said to me, “The spectacles really make this one come alive.”

A mid-twentieth-century parlor radio (photo, above) and a postcard from the Moody Bible Institute comprise a third touchstone. The Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, which began broadcasting Moody Radio in the 1920s, remains one of the largest Christian radio stations in the country. Its greatest popularity was in the 1950s and 60s, and we included it as an example of the more contemporary influences of the King James Bible in American culture.

Detail of Tyndale's execution. Foxe. Actes and Monumentes. 1570. Folger.

Perhaps the most challenging touchstone in Manifold Greatness is the very first one. Our case on martyrs and heretics explores early English Bible translators like John Wyclif, William Tyndale, Miles Coverdale, and John Rogers. A wall panel displays woodcuts from John Foxe’s Actes and Monuments that depict the grisly fates some of these translators met. Tyndale and Rogers were both burned at the stake, and Wyclif’s bones were exhumed and burned in the late fifteenth century.

When Steve Galbraith walked into my office and suggested it would really make a statement to have our own stake at this point in the exhibition, I wasn’t sure what to think—or how we’d manage it. But with a small tree, a few bundles of twigs, a friend at the Smithsonian who gave us access to a large freezer (to make sure nothing was alive in that small tree or those bundles of twigs), a handy technical director in the Folger Theatre, and some creative camouflage painting by our Folger conservators, we built a modest stake right there in the Great Hall.

While we don’t intend to burn anyone at our touchstone stake, we hope these vignettes make the exhibition come alive for visitors, and draw them into its unique world. Come see for yourself!

The Manifold Greatness exhibition is open through January 16 at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC. Admission is free. See our Tips for Visitors blog post for more information. 

Caryn Lazzuri is exhibitions manager at the Folger Shakespeare Library and has previously written about previewing the traveling exhibit at the ALA annual meeting in New Orleans and installing the Folger Manifold Greatness exhibition.


Curators’ insights: new Folger exhibition audio and video

Scene from "The Making of a Folger Exhibition." Hannibal Hamlin, Steve Galbraith, and 1611 King James Bible.

In the month and a half since the opening of the Folger exhibition Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible, curators Hannibal Hamlin and Steven K. Galbraith have appeared in a number of new audio and video features about the exhibition, all of which are available online. Herewith, a quick survey:

Hannibal Hamlin’s lively half-hour speech introducing the exhibition, delivered in the Folger Elizabethan Theatre on the night of the exhibition opening, is available as a Folger audio podcast. He and Steve Galbraith also appear in a series of three short (one or two minute) original videos, available on the Manifold Greatness YouTube channel: Mistakes and Misprints, The Dangerous World of Early English Bibles, and The Literary Influence of the King James Bible. (We’ve already posted here about the five-minute video, The Making of a Folger Exhibition, which debuted the day of the opening.)

As with other Folger exhibitions, Manifold Greatness is complemented by a cell phone tour recorded primarily by the two curators and geared to highlights from the exhibition. You can listen to the exhibition Audio Tour online—or with your cell phone in the exhibition hall!

The Manifold Greatness exhibition is open through January 16 at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC. Admission is free. See our Tips for Visitors blog post for more information. 


A Flying Start: Update on the Traveling Exhibition

A large crowd gathered to hear four Kennesaw State University faculty disccus the history and language of the King James Bible.

After a very busy first four weeks at a trio of libraries across the United States, the Manifold Greatness traveling exhibition banners are packed up and on their way to three new locations, where the traveling exhibition will open in early to mid-November.

As chronicled in our Manifold Greatness tweets and Manifold Greatness Facebook page, each of the October sites (Northwest Christian University in Eugene, Oregon; Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Georgia; and Columbia’s Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary) offered its own array of public events to go with the exhibition, including lectures, panel discussions, and—this Tuesday night, November 1—Sacred Songs for Sacred Texts with soprano Lisa Holsberg and harp at Burke Library in New York.

NCU also exhibited rare Bibles from its Bibles collection, which marks its 100th anniversary this year. KSU, which shared updates here and here on this blog about the Manifold Greatness exhibition (and its much appreciated intern-docents), opened its How God Became English King James Bible exhibit at the same time.

Photo by Lloyd Wolf.

The traveling exhibition moves now to three new libraries around the country, each of which will open the exhibition in early to mid- November:

Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee, launches its Manifold Greatness exhibition on November 9 in connection with an international King James Bible symposium that includes a keynote address by Robert Alter, talks by a number of other scholars, including Folger exhibition curator Hannibal Hamlin, and an early modern music concert (events list).

Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, California, which opens Manifold Greatness on November 10 at the Honnold Mudd Library, plans four lectures, a Bible printing workshop, and a student-organized companion exhibition of rare materials (see this new video), including a first edition of the Book of Mormon (events list; video interview; image gallery of CGU highlights).

Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona, which opens the exhibition on November 14, plans two panel discussions and a symposium organized by the Arizona Center of Medieval Renaissance Studies (events list).

For more information on the traveling exhibition schedule, consult the Manifold Greatness website for an overview, a list organized by state, or a list organized by date. 

The Folger exhibition Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible is open to visitors seven days a week through January 16 at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC. Admission is free.


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