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.

At the Folger

Translating Manifold Greatness from Scholarship to Exhibition

Miles Smith, one of the King James Bible translators. (c) The Governing Body of Christ Church, Oxford.

Miles Smith, one of the King James Bible translators. (c) The Governing Body of Christ Church, Oxford.

Back in 2009, when we first started working on Manifold Greatness, we identified a number of themes we wanted the exhibition to touch on, and one of those was the nature of translation. In our grant proposal, we talk about how translation is a true literary act, one that requires choices in tone, style, vocabulary, and emphasis, and how translation is a process of culture adapting, changing, and potentially growing. On our main website, we note that the translation of the KJB was, above all, a collaboration.

The Manifold Greatness traveling panel show is now on the way to its final location, the Conyers-Rockdale Library System in Conyers, Georgia, where it will appear, with much related programming, from May 29 to July 12. And as this touring phase comes to a close, I’ve been looking back at our own process, and thinking about the way in which exhibitions themselves are a process of translation. Of course we collaborate—anyone who has worked on an exhibition can tell you that it is one of the most collaborative undertakings they have experienced. But because we tend to think of translation as a text moving from one language into another, it’s not immediately obvious that the work we do in exhibition is also a process of translation. And yet, on many levels, I think it is.

Tuscaloosa Public Library, Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Tuscaloosa Public Library, Tuscaloosa, Alabama

We begin with an idea, and shape it into a narrative: here is our story; here is what can be said about the history of the King James Bible. But as scholars, our curators have a certain language, a way of packaging their knowledge. This does not always (ahem) translate well to an audience which may be made up of everyone from schoolchildren and educators to tourists or subject specialists. We need a way of speaking, and of writing, that provides information accurately and succinctly, and in accessible nuggets for a broad range of audiences.

For Manifold Greatness, we did this twice: once for the artifact-based exhibition in Washington, DC, and again for the panel exhibition that traveled the country. For these, we needed two different “languages.” The Washington, DC, show was in the language of artifacts, showing the here and now, and revealing KJB stories through what could be seen on the open pages before a visitor. The traveling show retracted the lens a little further, and gave weight to story over object. We covered the same material, but we translated the content in slightly different ways in order to best serve the format of the shows.

Courtesy of the University of Minnesota

Courtesy of the University of Minnesota

I like to think that the KJB translators would have appreciated our process. Our translation process was, like theirs, concerned first and foremost with accuracy. Every word needed to be true; each idea needed to be formed and informative. We were not reading Hebrew, Greek, and Latin—but remember, of course, that the King James Bible was not the first English Bible, and the translators drew liberally from the English translations that came before. Although they produced a masterpiece of English literature, their concern was not for lyricism or rhetorical power; they aimed for accuracy as they translated both from ancient languages and from previous English versions.

Have a look at the website to compare translations, and see for yourself how the KJB translators ended up creating a new version at once lyrical and accurate. One of my favorites is the passage from Ecclesiastes (1:2), in which the translators don’t really change the meaning or emphasis from the previous English translation, but they manage to create a verse that is poetic, song-like, and memorable—and also just that much more true to the original Hebrew:

Great Bible (1539)
All is but vanity (saith the Preacher) all is but plain vanity.

King James Bible (1611)
Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.

Would that our exhibit text was as memorable as that! Perhaps it is indeed vanity to compare our process to that of the King James Bible translators. But as we near the end of this commemorative exhibition, I’m very pleased to have been part of such a process, to understand it, and to see the many thousands of people we have reached through the work that we did to turn ideas into language, and to use language to deliver the right information.

Caryn Lazzuri is the Exhibitions Manager at the Folger Shakespeare Library.


Interleaving History: An Extra-Illustrated Book of Common Prayer

A post about the Book of Common Prayer—the source of such familiar phrases as “ashes to ashes, dust to dust”—recently appeared on the Folger Shakespeare Library blog, “The Collation,” and we wanted to share a short excerpt here. First produced in 1549 (see this web page for details), the Book of Common Prayer has gone through different editions over time. In 1649, Charles I was beheaded. After his son, Charles II, was restored to the throne in 1660, a new edition was published in 1662. Whitney Trettien has been studying an intriguing Folger copy of a 1664 Book of Common Prayer with numerous added images; you can read her full blog post (with a wealth of other images) on the Collation blog:

Guy Fawkes, interleaved image. STC 22634.5 / Folger.

Guy Fawkes. 1664 Book of Common Prayer. Folger.

In Henry Fielding’s novel Tom Jones (1749), Partridge and his friends go to see a play. As they watch a man light the upper candles of the playhouse, the predictably inane Partridge cries out, “Look, look, madam, the very picture of the man in the end of the common-prayer book before the gunpowder treason service!”

The picture Partridge refers to is most likely the one at left, a widely circulated and often reproduced image of Guy Fawkes sneaking toward the House of Lords, matches and lantern in hand. It’s easy to read Partridge’s bumbling analogy as a comedic misinterpretation of the seriousness of the Gunpowder Plot—after all, he seems to see no difference between a flame intended to ignite barrels of gunpowder and one used to light candles in a playhouse (!).

There’s a second level to his comedy, though, lost to most modern readers: namely, that by the eighteenth century this iconic depiction of Fawkes simply was as common as lit chandeliers. Found interleaved in many (if not most) extant post-1662 copies of the Book of Common Prayer, this image, along with another showing Charles I’s execution and a third celebrating Charles II’s return, iconically punctuated the state services added to the end of the restored Prayer Book.

While the Folger holds many fine examples of extra-illustrated Prayer Books, I’ve been researching a copy that makes particularly interesting use of the practice of interleaving liturgical texts with images. Like many others compiled in the seventeenth century, this Prayer Book is bound within a collected volume that includes several religious texts, including a Bible, a copy of Sternhold and Hopkins’s Psalms, an Apocrypha, John Speed’s genealogical tables, and John Downame’s concordance.

Unlike other composite volumes, however, this book—really, an aggregate of multiple printed books bound together—is heavily interleaved with loose prints, diagrams, maps, illustrations extracted from other texts, contemporaneous portraits of religious and political figures, even an elaborate (and as-yet unidentified) manuscript monogram.

Dutch navy defeats the Spanish in the English Channel, Battle of Downs. 1664 Book of Common Prayer. Folger.

Dutch navy defeats the Spanish in the English Channel, Battle of Downs. 1664 Book of Common Prayer. Folger.

In fact, most of the leaves of the Bible in this copy have been removed and replaced with images culled from different sources, including William Slatyer’s illustrations of Genesis (a set of 40 plates published in the 1660s) and an unidentified German book, possibly some form of illustrated Bible that includes scriptural passages in both German and Latin. In short, the owner(s) of this volume went far beyond the standard practice of interleaving one’s Prayer Book with a few ready-made prints of Guy Fawkes!

If (returning to Tom Jones) Partridge’s offhand remark satirizes how common images of the Gunpowder Plot had become, then the volume at the Folger indicates how uncommonly such images could be used. Through a highly material process of cut-and-paste composition, the owners of this book transformed a set of mass-reproduced religious texts into a wholly new document that uniquely reflects—or perhaps carefully projects—their political and religious affiliations.

Whitney Anne Trettien is a PhD candidate in English at Duke University, where she is writing her dissertation on the Little Gidding Harmonies. She works on a variety of projects related to book history, digital humanities, and early modern material culture. As noted above, you can read the rest of her blog post here.

To learn more about extra-illustrated books, you may want to explore the online content for a past Folger exhibition, Extending the Book: The Art of Extra-Illustration, which includes this volume. You can learn more about the November 1605 Gunpowder Plot here. 


A Curator Looks at 400

Steven Galbraith. Photo by Ryan Jenq.

Steven Galbraith. Photo by Ryan Jenq.

Thinking about the one-year anniversary of Manifold Greatness takes me back to August 2009 and a balcony overlooking the ocean at Bethany Beach, DE. Miles from the Folger, my mind was more in Margaritaville than Jacobean England, but I owed Hannibal Hamlin a phone call regarding the King James Bible. A few days earlier we had met with my Folger colleagues regarding plans for the KJV’s 400th anniversary. We agreed to co-curate a Folger exhibition in 2011, but as ideas flew around the room, the scope of the exhibition grew and grew. There was talk of partnerships, grants, websites, and traveling exhibitions.

In some ways this is the most exciting moment in the life of an exhibition: the moment when you think as creatively as you can, without yet worrying about what might not be possible. The KJV anniversary was clearly going to be a bigger project than we had first imagined. I think that I can speak for both Hannibal and myself in admitting that although it was exciting, it was also pretty overwhelming. We agreed to talk everything through in a few days. I left the library for the beach.

Fast forward to this past fall. Like Hannibal, who recently shared his reflections on the one-year anniversary of the exhibition, I was inspired by our meeting last fall with representatives from the exhibition’s host sites. As I stood before this amazing group of people and heard their plans for their exhibitions, it really dawned on me that the exhibition on which we all had been working was really about to launch. With the Folger Shakespeare Library, the NEH, and all of these dynamic librarians, curators, and educators putting their efforts behind the exhibition, I knew things could only go well.

A year in and I am thrilled by the reach of Manifold Greatness. So far the exhibition has traveled to eighteen sites (counting the larger exhibitions at the Folger, the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford, and the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, Austin).  The Folger exhibition broke previous attendance records and the turnout at the exhibition sites has been very impressive. We are so thankful for all the support. The blog itself has been visited 30,948 times. Thank you for reading!

I couldn’t have seen any of this three years ago from my perch looking out over the ocean. When I did phone Hannibal we talked at length about how fun it was going to be to work together and agreed that we wouldn’t let things get too overwhelming. We were right on one count!  But from my vantage point the future looked pretty promising.

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.


Manifold Greatness On the Road: One Year On

A family Bible from a workshop hosted at the University of Minnesota. Courtesy of the University of Minnesota.

A family Bible displayed at a workshop hosted at the University of Minnesota. Courtesy of the University of Minnesota.

Hard to believe the panel exhibition of Manifold Greatness has been traveling across America for a year! Like you, I’ve followed its progress, reading reports from Whitworth University (Spokane, WA), Winfield Public Library (Winfield, KS), Mobile Public Library (Mobile, AL), and Hope College (Holland, MI). And these are only the posts on the blog’s first page! I remember when Steve Galbraith and I, as co-curators of Manifold Greatness, met with representatives of all the host sites.

In September, 2011, the American Library Association hosted a daylong workshop, where Steve and I talked about the genesis and realization of the exhibition, and about what we saw as its most compelling stories. It was fascinating and moving to hear then from all the representatives, as they described the diverse array of events with which they would surround the Manifold Greatness panels. So many of these have now come to pass: lectures and colloquia on the translation of the Bible, on the influence of the King James Bible on American writers, on family Bibles, on rare book preservation, and much more. Through the wonders of communication technology, we’ve been able not only to read about these celebrations but to see photographs, and even watch a live stream of the colloquium at the University of Minnesota. It’s as if the conversation we started at the Folger is ongoing, being joined and carried on by other communities across the country.

In a way this reminds me of the spread of the King James Bible itself. I wrote in the exhibition book about Parson Weems, the almost legendary Bible salesman of the Philadelphia printer Matthew Carey. Weems hawked Bibles in the 1790s and early nineteenth century in Maryland, the Carolinas, Georgia, and his native Virginia. But he sold Bibles to Northerners, too. From New York he wrote to Collins that their publishing plans had “knock’d up just such a dust here among the Printers as would a stone if thrown smack into the center of a Hornet’s nest.” As an interesting aside, Weems was also the author of The Life of Washington , a collection of stories about America’s first president and the origin of the famous (but untrue!) anecdote of young George Washington chopping down his father’s cherry tree.

Weems was the Johnny Appleseed of Bibles, planting them wherever he and his horse rode. Weems’s efforts were later eclipsed by those of the American Bible Society, whose goal was to put a Bible (King James Version) in every household. By mid-19th century they were printing and distributing a million Bibles a year. In the twentieth century, the Gideons took on the task of putting a Bible in every hotel room. The huge dissemination of the King James Bible in America ensured its influence on American literature and culture. The influence of Manifold Greatness will be more modest, I’m sure, but like the book it explores, it will have a wide reach. The panels have already traveled to 14 states, and they will reach 13 more before they reach the end of their road in 2013.

Happy trails!

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


Handel’s Messiah Reigneth

Charles Jennens. Messiah. An oratorio. London, 1749? Folger Shakespeare Library.

On April 13, 1742, a new oratorio by the famous composer George Frideric Handel made its debut in Dublin, Ireland.

The performance was held to benefit three local charities:  prisoners’ debt relief, the Mercer’s Hospital, and the Charitable Infirmary.  The Dublin News-Letter provided an early critique on the work, praising the oratorio as “…far surpass[ing] anything of that Nature which has been performed in this or any other Kingdom”.

Handel’s Messiah has continued to be performed ever since. Its librettist, Charles Jennens, drew from the King James Bible for his text, with one exception: lines from the psalms are taken from Miles Coverdale’s earlier translations in the Book of Common Prayer.

 To hear excerpts from Messiah, with information on their KJB connections, please enjoy the Handel’s Messiah interactive feature on the Manifold Greatness website. More information on Handel himself appears in this previous post.

 

Amy Arden assisted in the development and production of the Manifold Greatness website. She is a communications associate at the Folger Shakespeare Library.


Looking Back

Rockwell Kent. Plattsburgh State Art Museum. Bequest of Sally Kent Gorton. Copyright 1930, R.R. Connelley & Sons, Inc and the Plattsburgh College Foundation, Inc. All rights reserved.

 

Well, as I write this, Manifold Greatness is coming down, making way in the Folger’s Great Hall for the next exhibition. I’m in Columbus, but I can imagine the Bibles and books being carefully carried back down to their usual resting places in the Folger vaults. The couriers are sealing up loan items to transport them back to their homes at the Library of Congress, the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, Graceland (Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc.), the Bodleian Library, Lambeth Palace, and elsewhere. The Hamlin Family Bible will find its way back to me. The ever-resourceful Caryn Lazzuri will no doubt find a storage space for the antique radio she scrounged up for the exhibition, and the pulpit and pew we borrowed from the Lutheran Church of the Reformation will be returned.

It’s been a remarkable experience planning, making, mounting, and writing and talking about Manifold Greatness. Thinking back on how much it involved is almost dizzying. And I’ve learned so much. I remember coming (online) upon the John Alden Bible at Pilgrim Hall, for instance, and how exciting it was to think that this might have been the first King James Bible in America. We almost got a Bible owned by Bob Marley, a photo of which we did use on the traveling panel exhibition. That loan, like some others, didn’t work out, but Elvis’s King James Bible was a fine addition. It was fun to see this loan, and Manifold Greatness, advertised at Graceland, which I visited in November. We borrowed Bibles and other books from around the world; the Library of Congress and the Bodleian were especially generous. Steve Galbraith, Caryn, and I sat down with Mark Dimunation, the Library of Congress’s Chief of Rare Books and Special Collections, and he showed us some gems: the Massachusett Bible of John Eliot, the first Bible printed in America, and Robert Aitken’s “Revolutionary” Bible, America’s first homegrown KJV. We made a pitch for the KJV Abraham Lincoln was sworn in on, but it had been traveling too much and needed a rest from exhibitions. A happy alternative was the George Washington Family Bible, which we found at the George Washington National Masonic Memorial, across the Potomac in Alexandria, Virginia.

John Bois’ manuscript notes of the proceedings. Courtesy of Corpus Cristi College, University of Oxford.

Especially momentous was the loan of the “Big Three,” the only surviving manuscripts from the KJV process itself. Manifold Greatness brought these together for the first time; they’re normally at the Bodleian Library, Corpus Christi (Oxford), and Lambeth Palace (London). They met first in Oxford’s exhibition and then travelled to the Folger, their first visit to America as well. I was fascinated, as visitors were, by the Bishops’ Bible with the inscriptions of one of the KJV translators, deleting a word here, adding one there, noting changes in the margin. I gave at least half a dozen tours of the exhibition, and it was a treat to be able to read aloud from this document, showing how the specific language of this most influential of books actually came into being.

My memories stay with me, but I’ll miss the physical experience of the exhibition. I loved the contrast between  the massive and luxurious Bishops’ Bible of Queen Elizabeth I and the tiny, spare Bible brought to sea by Justinian Isham. The case of Literary Influences (also viewable as an interactive timeline on the exhibition website) was another favorite. I hadn’t realized until they were all in place what a radical bunch of biblical writers we’d assembled: John Milton, John Bunyan, William Blake, Herman Melville, Allan Ginsberg. You could practically hear their rebellious roaring through the glass! Finally, being able to walk from the case with the fragile little leaves from Tyndale’s 1530 Pentateuch across to the 1968 photo of Earthrise, listening on cellphone to the Apollo 8 astronauts reading Genesis from outer space—that was an amazing leap across the centuries. Manifold Greatness indeed.

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


Final Days and Beautiful Sunshine for the Folger Exhibition

It will be tough to say goodbye to the Folger Manifold Greatness exhibition after this Monday (in the words of Juliet, “Parting is such sweet sorrow”)… but we hope to see you before it goes!

The Folger exhibition is open today (Saturday), Sunday, and Monday; admission is free. And we’re delighted to have started the last weekend of the exhibition with brilliant sunshine.

Some of the many “don’t miss” items now on display in the Folger exhibition include:

Bishops' Bible. 1568. Folger.

• An Anglo-Saxon manuscript from about the year 1000 that retells biblical stories in epic verse
• A rare Wycliffite Bible from the 1380s
• A 1530 fragment from William Tyndale’s contraband biblical translations, discussed by Hannibal Hamlin in this post: Tyndale was executed in 1536
• Queen Elizabeth’s 1568 Bishops’ Bible
• A Bodleian copy of a 1602 Bishops’ Bible annotated with translators’ changes
• The Folger first edition of the King James Bible
• The Prince Henry Bible, an elaborately bound copy of the King James Bible owned by James I’s older son, Prince Henry, who died in 1612
• A “Wicked” Bible (1631) in which the printer omits a key word from the commandment on adultery
• A King James Bible that came over on the Mayflower
• King James Bibles owned by Frederick Douglass and Elvis Presley
• Early family Bibles, with century-old handwritten records of births, christenings, and other events, including the Hamlin Family Bible

Earthrise. Apollo 8, December 24, 1968. NASA.

And what story does it all tell? In the words of the Washington Post from last September:

The exhibition includes fascinating mysteries, epic battles, stake burnings and other enthralling episodes in the lives of the men involved in Bible translation. It covers the events that led to the birth of the King James, as well as the book’s influence on art, literature, popular culture, music and history—from Handel’s “Messiah” to the reading of Genesis by the astronauts aboard Apollo 8, a broadcast heard by a quarter of the people on Earth at the time, making the Bible’s reach literally astronomical.

The New York Times (also in September) put it this way:

Pay close attention to the major new exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library here, “Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible,” and you will see not only manuscripts going back to the year 1000, an early translation from the 14th century, Queen Elizabeth I’s copy of the Bible, and imposingly bound versions of the King James; you will also sense the gradual birth of the modern English language and the subtle framing of a culture’s patterns of thought… you cannot survey the riches at the Folger without realizing that you are being given a glimpse of a culture’s birth.

In his recent blog post about an American Civil War POW’s King James Bible, curator Steve Galbraith noted “the long reach of the King James Bible and how much history was covered by our one exhibition.” Another reminder of those historical KJB associations comes this weekend, with the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday on Monday and Dr. King’s actual birthday on Sunday. Curator Hannibal Hamlin wrote about Martin Luther King and the King James Bible last August, and King is recognized in the Folger exhibition as well. On Monday, the exhibition’s last day, the Folger Shakespeare Library also offers a free, family-friendly event for the King holiday on the theme of protest. And once again, the King James Bible of 1611 traces its connections to the present day.


Thomas P. Meyer Prisoner of war

Inscription. New Testament. New York: American Bible Society, 1863.

With each new post I write for the Manifold Greatness blog, I am struck anew by the long reach of the King James Bible and how much history was covered by just our one exhibition. Take, for example, the 1863 King James New Testament loaned by the American Bible Society for the Folger exhibition. When images of the Bible first arrived at the Folger, we were all struck by the book’s inscription:

Presented by the Sanitary
Commission, through
the rebel authorities at
Richmond, Feb. – 1864
Belle Island
Richmond, Va.
Thomas P. Meyer
Prisoner of war

This extraordinary copy dates back to the American Civil War, when it was given to a Union prisoner of war named Meyer “through the rebel authorities” by the United States Sanitary Commission, an organization that provided relief to Union soldiers. Wanting to learn more, I began reading about the prison on Belle Isle and ended up on a website that had a transcription of the diary of Zelotes A. Musgrave, a Union prisoner of war from Ohio, who spent about five months in the prison. Spare, though compelling, daily entries such as “Belle Island. The body lice are fat.” provide a captivating glimpse of the harsh conditions at Belle Isle. At one point Musgrave receives a blanket from “our government, as rather the Christian Commission,” a moment of comfort reminiscent of the Sanitary Commission’s gift of the New Testament to Thomas P. Meyer.

Reading through Musgrave’s diary also brought back memories of what I had learned about the Civil War history of my own hometown. I grew up in Elmira, New York, which was the site of a rather brutal Union prison. I thought about how the words of the King James translation have brought relief to many in need. A Confederate prisoner of war in Elmira likely read the same Biblical passages as a Union prisoner of war at Belle Isle (see Hannibal Hamlin’s earlier post on the Civil War)—just as a young man sailing “beyond the seas” sought comfort in the Psalms and Martin Luther King inspired millions with verses such as Amos 5:24.

In the planning stages of the Manifold Greatness exhibition, Hannibal and I agreed that we wanted to show the human side of the history of the King James Bible. Meyer’s Civil War New Testament is a powerful example and we are thankful to the American Bible Society for allowing it to be a part of our exhibition.

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, open through Monday, January 16.


Happy New Year! Manifold Greatness in 2012… and 2013!

On the road: Franz Hogenberg after Georg Hoefnagel. Elizabeth I arriving at Nonsuch Palace (detail). Civitates Orbis Terrarum, 1582. Folger.

With 2011, the 400th anniversary year of the King James Bible, now firmly in the history books itself—and with the world now turning its attention to Charles Dickens’s 200th anniversary—you might think that Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible would be wrapping up, too.

Not so! Although Manifold Greatness was created to mark the 400th anniversary of the 1611 King James Bible in 2011, the project continues throughout 2012 and into 2013. And, of course, we hope the Manifold Greatness website and Manifold Greatness publication continue to provide helpful resources to online visitors and readers even longer.

A quick overview of what’s on right now… and what lies ahead:

And that’s not all! During 2012 and 2013, the Manifold Greatness traveling exhibition will be displayed at another 31 libraries around the United States, each of which—like all of the host institutions so far—plans multiple public programs. Many are exhibiting rare works from their own collections as well. Try our traveling exhibition schedule to follow the travels of the panel exhibition in the months and years ahead.


Apollo 8 and the King James Bible

Earthrise. NASA.

Forty three years ago today, on December 24, 1968, a global radio and television audience estimated at half a billion people listened to a live broadcast from lunar orbit by the Apollo 8 astronauts. Their spacecraft was the first manned vehicle in history to reach the Moon and the first to go into orbit around it; hours earlier, they had photographed the planet Earth above the lunar surface in a famous image now known as “Earthrise.”

As the Christmas Eve broadcast came to an end, Lunar Module Pilot William Anders began to read from the book of Genesis, using the words of the King James Bible translation, produced more than three and a half centuries earlier. (Genesis, in particular, was translated by the First Westminster Company, one of six companies of translators who worked at Oxford, Cambridge, or Westminster.) Using a copy of the text on a fireproof page, prepared in advance of the mission and kept at the back of the flight plan, Anders started with the familiar words, “In the beginning…”

Command Module Pilot James Lovell continued the Genesis passage, followed by Commander Frank Borman, who had chosen the reading. Borman then brought the broadcast to an end with the words: “And from the crew of Apollo 8 we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you—all of you on the good earth.”

Listen to the original audio of the Apollo 8 crew’s reading from Genesis (with transcript) on our Manifold Greatness website. The Apoll0 8 recording is also included in the  audio guide to the current Folger Manifold Greatness exhibition.


From Graceland to Shakespeare’s Globe, Our Top 10 Blog Posts of 2011

Shakespeare's Globe

Succumbing to an irresistible urge, we’ve put together this list of the most-viewed posts from our Manifold Greatness blog to date this year. Seasoned online observers may not be surprised that mentions of Elvis Presley, debunked myths, and Bible printing errors earned high viewing statistics.

1) Manifold Greatness at Rhodes College. Folger exhibition curator Hannibal Hamlin reports in this blog post on the recent 1611 Symposium at Rhodes College in Memphis, which also hosted the Manifold Greatness traveling exhibition. As he notes, the trip included a keynote address by scholar and Bible translator Robert Alter—and a tour of Graceland, which lent Elvis Presley’s King James Bible to the current Folger Manifold Greatness exhibition.

2) Taking the Stage at Shakespeare’s Glove (and beyond!). The 400th anniversary year of 2011 included countless full-length readings of the 1611 King James Bible, most famously for a full week on stage at Shakespeare’s Globe, described here. We later shared a great eyewitness report from Folger Education festivals project coordinator Carol Kelly, who was there on Easter Sunday.

3) Shakespeare Did Not Write the King James Bible, No Way, No How. Curator Hannibal Hamlin debunks the common, but mistaken, belief that Shakespeare contributed to the King James Bible. In other posts, he’s taken on the idea that the King James Bible influenced Shakespeare’s plays (earlier English Bibles did, the KJB didn’t), and the notion that May 2 is the KJB’s publication date (it isn’t).

Elvis Presley King James Bible. Courtesy Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc.

4) The King and the King James Bible. Folger exhibition curator Steve Galbraith writes on the King James Bible owned by Elvis Presley (and now displayed at the Folger Manifold Greatness exhibition, as noted above) and Presley’s love of gospel music. Other “association copies” on view include a King James Bible owned by Frederick Douglass and one made for King James’s older son Prince Henry, as well as Bibles linked to Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Anne.

5) The Wicked Bible. The commandment “thou shalt not commit adultery” just isn’t the same without the word “not”! This famous printing error is the subject of another post by curator Steve Galbraith on what may have caused it, the consequences for the Bible printer, and the “wicked” challenge of locating this rare edition.

6) Hallelujah! Handel’s Messiah and the King James Bible. The words of the King James Bible may well be most familiar to audiences today from performances of this familiar oratorio, first noted in this blog post from the April 13 anniversary of its Dublin premiere. Folger Consort artistic director Bob Eisenstein recently shared this fascinating, fresh look at the Messiah, which one early admirer said was worth riding “40 miles in the wind and rain” to hear.

7) Gregory Peck Moby Dick Released Today — 1956. One of many literary works (and subsequent movies) deeply influenced by the King James Bible is Melville’s Moby-Dick, represented in this blog post by the classic film.

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

8) The First King James Bible in America? This Thanksgiving week post considers the King James Bible that came over on the Mayflower (this Bible, on loan from Pilgrim Hall,is in the Folger exhibition, too!)… and the open question of Bibles in Jamestown.

9) The Bible and Othello. This fall, Folger Theatre produced Othello, first performed in 1604, the year that work began on the King James Bible; scholars believe Shakespeare wrote Othello in 1603 or 1604. Curator Hannibal Hamlin writes about biblical (though not KJB-specific) connections to the play.

10) Discovering a “Judas Bible.” Curator Steve Galbraith writes on about another classic early King James Bible printing mistake—and on making a discovery within the Folger collection as the current exhibition was prepared.

Our thanks to everyone who contributed to the Manifold Greatness blog this year (see this full list of blog consultants and contributors) and to all of you who read our blog and created these rankings, one view at a time!  Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible  will be open to the public, free of charge, at the Folger Shakespeare Library through January 16. (Holiday hours: The Folger exhibition will be closed on December 24 through 26, but will be open as usual on December 31, January 1, and January 2.) 


“A New Song: Celebrating the King James Bible” from Folger Consort

We’re delighted to announce that CDs and mp3 downloads of Folger Consort’s “A New Song” are now available online. You may recall from this earlier blog post that the Folger’s resident early music ensemble, Folger Consort, joined forces with the Washington National Cathedral’s vocal chamber ensemble CATHEDRA in late September and early October to perform “A New Song: Music Inspired by the King James Bible.” This new release is the happy result.

A New Song: Celebrating the King James Bible is Folger Consort’s first entirely new recording in eleven years. Musical settings of biblical verse and other sacred works from the reigns of England’s James I and James II by composers Henry Purcell, Thomas Tomkins, Orlando Gibbons, and John Blow are complemented by instrumental fantasies by Purcell, Gibbons, and Giovanni Coprario. Much more information, including preview audio clips, album notes, and more, is available at the link cited above, www.cdbaby.com/cd/folgerconsort11.

Performers include Washington National Cathedral’s chamber vocal ensemble CATHEDRA and instrumentalists Risa Browder, violin; Robert Eisenstein, violin; Christopher Kendall, lute, theorbo; Adam Pearl, organ; Alice Robbins, viol, basse de violon; and Henry Valoris, viola. Robert Eisenstein and Christoper Kendall are the artistic directors of Folger Consort. The running time for the full CD is  77 minutes, 24 seconds.

The “New Song” concerts were among several KJB-related Folger Shakespeare Library programs produced during the current Folger Manifold Greatness exhibition, on display through January 16. Another Folger Manifold Greatness program takes place this Friday, December 16: Poetics and the Bible, with poet Jacqueline Osherow and scholar Michele Osherow.


The Hamlin Family Bible

Hamlin family Bible on display at Folger Manifold Greatness exhibition. 2011.

It was a particular treat to be able to include a Bible from my own family in the Family Bibles case of the Folger Manifold Greatness exhibition. My fellow exhibition curator Steve Galbraith, exhibition manager Caryn Lazzuri, and I had been looking for a nineteenth-century Bible to represent the later history of family Bibles, when publishers provided pre-printed genealogical pages. We also thought it would be good to use an American Bible, continuing our transatlantic story.

Around the same time, after my father’s death in January 2011, I came across an old Bible in my parents’ home in New Haven. It was an old, somewhat worse-for-wear, King James Bible, printed in Boston in 1841 by B.B. Mussey. A battered plastic wrapper around it still had a mailing label attached, addressed to Louise Hamlin, known to me in childhood as “Cousin Louise.” On looking through the Bible, I found some family history recorded on blank leaves between the Old Testament and the New, one of the places often used for this purpose. The information related to, and was presumably written by, my great-great-great grandfather, Hannibal Hamlin.

Campaign banner. 1860. Library of Congress.

Hannibal Hamlin is actually of more than family interest, since he served as Vice-President of the United States from 1861 to 1865, during the first term of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency. Hamlin entered politics in his home state of Maine, where he was a member of the House of Representatives. Hamlin later served as U.S. representative, U.S. senator, and Governor of Maine, before becoming Vice President. He started out as a Democrat, but in a move that caused considerable shock in Washington, he crossed the floor of the Senate in 1856 to join the new Republican Party as a protest against the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Hamlin was a life-long opponent of slavery, which was part of the reason he was dropped from the ticket for Lincoln’s second presidential campaign.

In the Bible, Hamlin records his two marriages, first to Sarah Jane Emery. Sarah Jane died in 1855; Hamlin must have liked the family, since he married her sister Ellen Vesta Emery the next year. The births of Hamlin’s children are also recorded in the Bible. Charles and Cyrus were the most important historically, both serving as officers during the Civil War. Cyrus championed the enlistment of African-American troops, and led a brigade of black soldiers at the Siege of Port Hudson. On retirement he was awarded the honorary rank of brevet major general. He died of yellow fever in 1867. Charles fought at Gettsyburg, and retired with the honorary rank of brevet brigadier general. Charles and his sister, Sarah, were at Ford’s Theater the night Lincoln was shot.

Charles had a number of children. One of them, Cyrus, was my great-grandfather. Another, Charles Eugene, was the father of Louise, to whom the Family Bible was passed down, along with much other family memorabilia. I still have Hamlin’s baby rattle, the walking sticks that got him around Washington, his copy of Byron’s works, and lots of pictures. Charles Eugene also wrote a biography of the vice president. I’m lucky to have so much information about my family history, but like so many American and British families, I have some of that information stored in the old family Bible.

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


Handel’s Messiah: Worth “Forty Miles in the Wind and Rain”

On display in the Folger Manifold Greatness exhibition: Messiah. ca. 1807. Folger.

It always strikes me around this time of year, when our thoughts turn toward Messiah, that if things had turned out differently Georg Frideric Handel might never have invented the English oratorio. Most of us are familiar with the form through Messiah, which received its first performance in Dublin in 1742, and has been wildly popular practically ever since. In fact, since its first London performances it has been performed every year and unlike so much music from the first half of the eighteenth century it has never fallen out of favor with audiences.

A little digression here: Messiah (which takes much of its text from the King James Bible) was never intended as a Christmas piece, but rather was first offered during Lent. We of the Folger Consort, although we too have succumbed to the modern tradition of Christmas-time performances, favor the institution of Monteverdi’s masterpiece, the Vespers of 1610, as the new standard December masterpiece and the return of Messiah performances to their original schedule. But that is probably material for another blog post…

But back to the chain of events which led Handel, a German living in London who loved Italian opera above all else, to invent the English oratorio, and hence to write this most beloved of works.

Starting with fifteen wildly popular performances of Rinaldo in 1711, he had great success with opera. But Handel’s three decade run in London as a successful opera producer and composer ended in 1737. It really wasn’t his fault—his operas continued to be sung by famous singers and the tunes were just as appealing as ever. But by the 1730s he had rivals, all competing for the shrinking number of Londoners who were still inclined to attend long Italian operas. Audiences were becoming dissatisfied with pieces featuring implausible plots sung entirely in an incomprehensible language.

Messiah word book. London, 1749(?), Folger.

Yet Handel still yearned to compose theatrical music. As early as 1713 he was in the habit of playing on the organ at St. Paul’s Cathedral and then crossing the street to the Queen’s Arms Tavern to indulge his legendary appetite for, well, extra-musical refreshments. Some of his Cathedral companions there no doubt assisted the German opera composer in acquiring a thorough knowledge of the English choral tradition, especially the music of Henry Purcell.

He used this knowledge in the creation of his only truly original musical form, the English oratorio. Although the oratorios were never staged, the musical style and dramatic sweep of the recitatives and arias are straight from the opera tradition. Handel’s use of English and choruses made the form unique. The struggles of the Old Testament heroes and fates of their people portrayed in their librettos, or ‘word books,’ found a national resonance with the subjects of George I. Prosperous Londoners, at the center of their vast empire, really did identify with the chosen people of the Bible.

Christopher Kendall and Robert Eisenstein, artistic directors of the Folger Consort. Photo: Mig Dooley.

It has been fashionable for scholars to deny the supremacy of Messiah in Handel’s vast body of works, and it is unfortunate, in a sense, that the popularity of this and a few other works overshadow the true scope of Handel’s genius. He was a composer who drew equally upon French, Italian, German, and English traditions to forge a uniquely personal musical style in orchestral, chamber, vocal, and especially theatrical music. And yet Messiah does illustrate his greatness, in a perfectly proportioned work including splendid examples of Handel’s wit, great humanity and compassion. And, of course, the work has remained incredibly popular. It seems pointless to deny the judgment of those like Benjamin Victor, who in 1752 declared his willingness to “ride forty miles in the wind and rain to be present at a performance of the Messiah in London.”

As a gift to the public in conjunction with the Folger Manifold Greatness exhibition, the Folger Shakespeare Library and the Folger Consort present a free download of six selections from a live audio recording of Handel’s Messiah from performances by Folger Consort and the Choir of Magdalen College, Oxford. 

Robert Eisenstein is, with Christopher Kendall, one of two artistic directors of the Folger Consort, the resident early music ensemble of 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.


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. 


The King James Bible, a New Nation, and Noah Webster

Aitken Bible. 1782. Library of Congress.

A post about the Folger Institute’s recent King James Bible conference by Adrienne Shevchuk, program assistant to the Folger Institute, recently appeared on the Folger Shakespeare Library blog, “The Collation,” and we wanted to share some excerpts here. Adrienne has a master’s degree in Shakespeare Studies, with particular interest in film adaptation. You can read her full Collation blog post here—including a fascinating anecdote about Ben Franklin’s playful ways with the King James Bible.

As part of the Folger Shakespeare Library’s celebration of the 400th anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible, the Folger Institute hosted a conference bringing together scholars from across the United States and the United Kingdom to discuss the effect of this Bible on social, cultural and political societies of early Stuart England and colonial America.

The breadth of discussion in the conference, entitled An Anglo-American History of the KJV, took us far beyond the king’s castle and our New England and Virginia roots, however, demonstrating how the language of the KJV was disseminated throughout the various regions and cultures of the United States, including its translation for the native Cherokee nation as well as its role in the lives of slaves and later emancipated African Americans.

The keynote speaker to kick off the conference was Jill Lepore, novelist, professor of American history at Harvard University, and a contributing writer for The New Yorker. Professing, humbly, to know more about psittacosis, or parrot fever, than the KJV, Professor Lepore nonetheless presented a packed theater with an early American reception of the KJV that was quite different from the one it received on its home turf.

That is, while it could be argued (and was throughout the first day of the conference) that James himself wasn’t zealous about the distribution and use of the 1611 version over all others, allowing for a lukewarm dispersal and reception in Britain, colonial and postcolonial America grappled with the KJV, either accepting it into religious life or expelling it completely. Forbidden by decree to print Bibles, colonists had to bring their Bibles with them, or order them from England. However, in 1775, when British imports were banned, Americans began printing Bibles on their own.

Webster's edited Bible. 1833. Amherst College.

Noah Webster, of dictionary fame, preferred that some of the wording of the KJV be expelled not just from his house, but from all of America. A religious man, Webster would provide America with its very own dictionary—a distinctly Christian dictionary at that. He also felt that America needed its own language (we can thank him for saving us from the likes of the anglicized “favour,” “theatre,” and “mimick”). Webster described some aspects of the language of the KJV as “ungrammatical,” “filthy,” and interestingly enough, “obsolete.”

His edit of the KJV turned out to be a failed endeavor. In spite of that, however, Professor Lepore’s witty and informative lecture described a patriotic man and a young country, desperate to step onto the world’s stage away from the shelter of the British colonial umbrella, on its own terms and with its own language.

Professor Lepore’s talk is now available as a Folger podcast. 

For more about the 1782 Aitken Bible (also called “The Bible of the Revolution”), Noah Webster’s edit of the King James Bible, and more, see the Historic American Bibles image gallery in our Manifold Greatness website.

Adrienne Shevchuk is the program assistant to the Folger Institute.


Bibles for Two Queens

Elizabeth dei gratia... 17th century(?). Folger.

Joseph Nutting. Anna d. gratia... Folger.

Elizabeth I, last of the Tudors, reigned from 1558 to 1603. Anne, last of the Stuarts, reigned from 1702 to 1714. The ghosts of these two queens hover across the Folger’s exhibition hall in the form of their great Bibles, on display together for the first time as part of the Folger Manifold Greatness exhibition.

I had long known about the Folger copy of the Bishops’ Bible bound for Elizabeth I, but not about the King James Version bound for Queen Anne. There they are, facing each other, in all their weighty red and blue splendor.

Bishops' Bible. 1568. Folger.

Two years after Elizabeth came to the throne, English Protestants on the Continent published the Geneva Bible. Although it was dedicated to Queen Elizabeth, her bishops didn’t much like the numerous marginal annotations, so Matthew Parker, Elizabeth’s Archbishop of Canterbury, organized a new translation. This is usually called the Bishops’ Bible because it was mostly translated by bishops from the Church of England. (For more details about early English Bibles, see The Road to Hampton Court on the Manifold Greatness website.)

The copy on display, published in 1568, was designed as a presentation copy from Archbishop Parker to Elizabeth, whose youthful portrait graces the title page. Bound in red velvet with silver-gilt bosses decorated with Tudor roses, and a central bosse featuring a crown and the initials EL RE for Elizabeth Regina, it also features hand-colored woodcuts of Elizabeth’s chief minister William Cecil, Lord Burghley, and of her favorite courtier, Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester. Elizabeth liked a little “color” in her private chapel—she kept a silver cross and two candlesticks on the altar and preferred her priests to serve in proper vestments—so this Bible would have fit in perfectly.

Queen Anne's Bible. 1701. Folger.

Fast forward about 130 years. The 1611 translation of the Bible commissioned by Elizabeth’s successor (and Anne’s great-grandfather) King James I was still the “official” version of the Church of England. A copy of the 1701 edition of this massive volume was bound especially for Queen Anne around 1705, not long after her accession. The binder was Robert Steel, and he did the queen proud—dark blue goatskin blind-stamped with a floral design, with the queen’s arms in gold on front and back and two large blue silk ties trimmed with gold tassels.

Like her distant cousin, Elizabeth, Anne survived religious tumult. Though her father, mother, and stepmother were all Catholics, Anne was raised in the Church of England at the behest of her uncle, King Charles II. When her father, James II, lost the throne in the so-called “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 because of his Catholic leanings, Anne had only to wait her turn to succeed her sister and brother-in-law, the Protestant Mary and William. After Anne’s reign, the Church of England was firmly established, and these two massive and ornate Bibles help to tell its story.

Georgianna Ziegler is the Louis B. Thalheimer head of reference at the Folger Shakespeare Library.


The Bible and Othello

Owiso Odera as Othello in Folger Theatre's 2011 production. Photo by James Kegley.

Like all of Shakespeare’s plays, Othello contains many significant allusions to the Bible, the book he could count on most members of his audience knowing best. Shakespeare most often alludes to the Geneva Bible, a copy of which he surely owned, but he also knew the Bishops’ Bible and the Coverdale Psalms from the Book of Common Prayer, since he heard them in church. (As noted in our Manifold Greatness website FAQs, Shakespeare was not influenced by the later King James Bible.)

Most people today think of Othello as a play about race. This has been a common view for decades. Indeed, U.S. President John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) thought the play a failure because of its representation of a young Venetian girl making “a runaway match with a blackamoor.” The play was a hit in the pre-Civil War South, since it offered, so it was believed, a lesson in the dangers of miscegenation. Audience react to the play differently today, but they still focus on race.

Tragedy of Othello (quarto). 1622. Folger.

In Shakespeare’s day, before the expansion of the transatlantic slave trade, what was most risqué about Othello was not race but religion. Othello is a Christian, it’s true, but he is descended from Muslims. Shakespeare’s subtitle The Moor of Venice would have suggested Islam as well as blackness. And the conflict that threatens Venice in the play is with the Muslim Turks.

One of the most overt biblical allusions in Othello is in Iago’s early speech, when he says to Roderigo, “I am not what I am.” At first hearing, this sounds like Viola’s coy remark in Twelfth Night, “I am not that I play.” But it’s more complex.

Iago’s statement is actually logically impossible. How can anyone not be what they are? The key is that Iago is parodying God’s naming of himself to Moses in Exodus: “I am that I am.” It’s not a name, really, but a statement of God’s eternal sameness and essential being. Iago inverts this, which implies something essential unstable or even empty about him.

Owiso Odera, Ian Merrill Peakes. Othello, Folger Theatre, 2011. Photo: James Kegley.

Another important reference to the Bible comes at the end of the play when Othello says that he, “like the base Judean, threw away a pearl richer than all his tribe.” (Though some editors argue for “Indian” rather than “Judean.”) The “Judean” in question is Judas, who, according to the note in the Geneva Bible (with the later “Tomson” New Testament), was of the tribe of Judah. The “pearl” Judas threw away was Jesus, whom he betrayed, and who was also of the tribe of Judah. Because he has betrayed and murdered Desdemona, Othello is thus likening himself to the greatest betrayer in Christian history.

Othello later says to Desdemona’s body, “I kiss’d thee ere I kill’d thee.” A biblical literature audience might hear this as an echo of Judas’s kiss, which identified Jesus to the chief priests and elders.

The Folger Theatre production of Othello opens October 18 and runs through November 27. Othello was performed at James I’s court in 1604, the year that work began on the 1611 King James Bible; scholars believe Shakespeare wrote the play in 1603 or 1604.

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


Robert Pinsky on the KJB and his Life of David

Robert Pinsky. Photo: Dodge Hanson.

Poet Robert Pinsky read from his poems and from his prose book The Life of David on Tuesday evening, October 4, 2011, as part of the O. B. Hardison Poetry Series at the Folger Shakespeare Library, an event introduced and moderated by Folger director Mike Witmore. The Life of David is an imaginative portrait of David, the biblical warrior, poet, and king.

It was my editor Jonathan Rosen’s idea for me to write The Life of David. I protested that I lacked scholarship, couldn’t even read Hebrew. Jonathan said that was irrelevant: the goal was not a work of scholarship but a writer’s understanding of that greatest of lives.

So, along with embracing David’s life story as it is told in Samuel I and II, the book needed to be informed by how that story and its telling had become part of the English language itself, embedded there by the hundreds of writers who had inspired me to write. Implicitly, I needed to respect how the biblical text had formed Milton, Swift, Keats, Austen, Lincoln, Dickinson, Joyce, Faulkner, Stevens, as well as others, great and less great—and how the writers in turn had formed our understanding of David’s story and of the Psalms that are designated as being “of” David.

These are the considerations that compelled me to decide, in a book published in 2005, that all the quotations must be from the King James translation, with its countless and still increasing echoes.

Robert Pinsky, who served an unprecedented three terms as United States Poet Laureate, teaches at Boston University and is the poetry editor of Slate. His books of poetry include Selected Poems, Gulf Music, Jersey Music, and The History of My Heart. He is also the author of the prose book The Life of David and is a well-known and award-winning translator. He has written several books about poetry including Poetry and the World, which was nominated for a National Books Critics Circle Award, and The Sounds of Poetry.


A royal copy of the King James Bible

Prince Henry Bible. Washington National Cathedral. Photo: Julie Ainsworth.

When planning an exhibition a curator expects to find a few discoveries and surprises. In earlier posts I’ve written about discoveries such as the Isham Bible and the surprise of finding a “Judas Bible” in the Folger collection. But there is one artifact in the Manifold Greatness exhibition that we would never have imagined: a copy of the 1611 “He” Bible that was bound for King James’s son Henry Frederick, prince of Wales. This treasure is undoubtedly one of the most exciting surviving editions of the King James Bible and, as good luck would have it, it was residing just a few miles from the Folger Shakespeare Library at the Washington National Cathedral.

As you can see from the photograph, this book is bound beautifully in red Morocco leather with intricate ornamental gilt tooling that provides clues identifying both the owner and binder. Prince Henry’s arms are stamped onto the front and back boards, along with royal symbols such as the crowned thistles on the corners of the binding and Tudor roses sprinkled around the border.

If you look closely at the detail below, you’ll see two little squirrels perched on each side of the crown found on Henry’s arms.  There was only one binder during this period who decorated his bindings with such squirrels. We do not know the binder’s name, but modern scholars have taken to calling him the “Squirrel Binder.” Active from c.1610 to 1635, the “Squirrel Binder” appears to have worked for many English nobles and several members of the royal court, including James I, Charles I, and Prince Henry.

Detail, Prince Henry Bible. Washington National Cathedral. Photo: Julie Ainsworth.

The book’s engraved title page held another surprise. The signature of the engraver, Cornelis Boel, usually appears engraved at the bottom left center “C. Boel fecit [he made it]”  On the title page to Prince Henry’s copy, Boel’s name is not engraved, but signed!

This extraordinary copy of the “He” Bible is the greatest treasure of the Washington National Cathedral’s impressive rare book library.  I know that I speak for Hannibal and the rest of the Manifold Greatness team when I say how grateful we are to our friends at the Cathedral for loaning us this remarkable book.

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.


KJV in the USA: Folger Institute’s King James Bible conference begins

Jill Lepore

The Folger Institute, a consortium of 40 universities and the Folger Shakespeare Library, kicks off a major scholarly conference this evening with a public lecture, “KJV in the USA: The King’s Bible in a Country Without a King,” by keynote speaker Jill Lepore.

Lepore, who is both a New Yorker staff writer and David Woods Kemper ’41 Professor of American History at Harvard University, offers something of a (hilarious) preview today on the New Yorker’s blog, The Book Bench, with a post entitled “An American King: Noah Webster’s Holy Bible.”

Noah Webster’s edit of the King James Bible is also included on our Manifold Greatness website in the site’s Historic American Bibles gallery. While the project was enormously important to Webster, it was—as Lepore explains—not particularly successful among American, or any other, Bible readers.

Noah Webster. Library of Congress.

Webster's edited Bible. 1833. Amherst College.


The Folger Institute conference, “An Anglo-American History of the KJV,”continues through Saturday, October 1. The conference includes plenary lectures, panels, and round tables, with a focus on the King James Bible and early modern England in the Friday sessions and a focus on the King James Bible and America on Saturday.

For a look at the great variety of subjects to be covered, including links to additional materials supplied by some of the speakers, consult the online program at the link above.


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