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.

Posts tagged “Elizabeth I

A Rousing Renaissance Kickoff for Manifold Greatness

Manifold Greatness, Tifton, Georgia

Library employees Trina Jones and Mack Freeman pose with artist/student worker Jesse Carpenter.

What do you do when you have an exhibit celebrating the 400th anniversary of the printing of the King James Bible? What do you do to get a small, rural community in south Georgia in the right mindset for an exhibit and an onslaught of information on the politics and history surrounding a book that most people know very well, but probably have never thought seriously about? Well, in Tifton, Georgia, we put on a Renaissance Faire and partied like it was 1611!

This event gave a lot of people an opportunity to get in touch with their inner RenRat. Attendees were encouraged to attend in costume and were given handouts instructing them on how to speak “The King’s English.” The library staff and our amazing volunteers lavished endless attention on costumes and pavilions. Jesse Carpenter, one of our student workers, was recruited to produce cutouts that included King James himself. Members of the Literacy Volunteers and the Rotary Club were cajoled into selling era-appropriate food to our visitors. One of the interesting facts we discovered while researching the time is that gingerbread men were invented during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I!

Manifold Greatness in Tifton, Georgia

A children’s tent was dedicated to the production of quill pens, swords, shields, and crowns. It is hard to know how long the street will be glittered. We also had a volunteer that taught a steady stream of people how to play Nine Man Morris, a game that we discovered was popular during the time. Wagering on outcomes was not encouraged during our faire.

One of the highlights of the faire was the participation of the Society for Creative Anachronism. These talented individuals came and set up tents and demonstrated blacksmithing, illumination, dancing, sewing techniques, and FIGHTING! Knights fought for the honor of fair maidens picked from the audience and to advance their status in their shires. It was loud and exciting and very, very popular with our visitors. Cameras were encouraged and the fighters were probably the most photographed characters on Faire day.

RenFaire 018

Costumed volunteers added ambiance to our Manifold Greatness opening day!

Why did we open the exhibit this way? It was important for us to have a strong kickoff event for the exhibit. We were looking for something that would appeal to a large number of people, people who might not have thought to come to the exhibit, but might come to the Faire, eat a smoked turkey leg, and then decide to go and see what was happening with the exhibit. We believe that the Faire did this for us. The exhibit had a very strong opening day and we hope that, because we were able to promote the rest of the programming surrounding the exhibit more personally with the Faire-goers, we have good turnouts for what is to come.

Vickie Horst is the Manager of Tifton-Tift County Public Library in Tifton, Georgia.


“Three crowns in James’s charter”: An Irish poem for the new king

James I (as James VI of Scotland). Trevelyon Miscellany. 1608. Folger.

James I (as James VI of Scotland). Trevelyon Miscellany. 1608. Folger.

This Sunday is March 24, the date in 1603 when Queen Elizabeth I died, and James VI of Scotland became king of England. When James succeeded Elizabeth to the English monarchy, he also inherited the crown of Ireland.

Although a high king of Ireland was both a legal and historical reality, the concept of an Irish crown was innovative in this period. The bardic poet Fearghal Óg Mac an Bhaird may be the first to have articulated the notion of  ‘the crown of Ireland’ as part of a triple monarchy, which he did in his famous poem “Tri coróna i gcairt Shéamais” (Three crowns in James’s charter), an inaugural poem celebrating James’s accession to the triple monarchy of England, Scotland, and Ireland.

The current Folger exhibition, Nobility and Newcomers in Renaissance Ireland, which I curated with Thomas Herron, Associate Professor of English at East Carolina University, includes a facsimile manuscript of Mac an Bhaird’s poem, in the original Irish language. The poem is one of several Irish-language works on display. A fundamental, and immensely interesting, part of the exhibition, these works have been a way for us to show how the Irish language itself was a powerful cultural and social force in the world of Renaissance Ireland. You can hear a spoken passage from the poem, in Irish, in this online audio stop from our exhibition audio tour (the passage from the poem begins after my spoken introduction) and see an image of the poem here as well.

James I. Miniature on vellum, ca.1620?. Folger.

James I. Miniature on vellum, ca.1620?. Folger.

The poem’s fame derives in part from its seeming curiosity: why would a Gaelic Irishman welcome a “British” king? One answer is that Gaelic intellectuals were not absolutely averse to political connection to the monarchy in London, and currying favor with the new king was simply good politics.

On a more basic level, the bardic class hoped to enjoy greater protection and rights under a Scottish king than they had under an English queen: Elizabeth may have had an interest in the Irish language, but she did next to nothing to arrest the destruction of Gaelic culture. James, by contrast, had successfully ruled Scotland for decades and had managed his Gaelic and Catholic subjects with relative tolerance. Many Irish—bards, lords, and even churchmen—held out hope that his reign would usher in better days.

Mac an Bhaird’s poem details the grounds of James’s claim for all three kingdoms. In the case of Ireland, legitimacy derived from blood (Scottish kings having been descended of Irish Gaels) rather than conquest. In traditional motif, then, Ireland was portrayed in the poem as the feminized ‘spouse’ of the rightful king, a union that would bring peace and plenty to the land.

Great hopes, however, were quickly dashed. A mere six years later, in 1609, James’s government would commence the largest and most ambitious of English/British colonial schemes in Ireland, the Plantation of Ulster, and thus the repeopling of Ireland’s northern province with English and Scottish settlers.

Brendan Kane is Associate Professor of History at the University of Connecticut, Associate Director of the University of Connecticut Humanities Institute, and the curator, with Thomas Herron, of the Folger exhibition Nobility and Newcomers in Renaissance Ireland, January 19 to May 19, 2013.


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.) 


Happy Birthday King James I!!

James I. Miniature, ca. 1620. Folger.

Happy Birthday King James! James I of England, whose birthday is this Sunday, June 19, is the “King James” of the King James Bible. He became King James VI of Scotland at the age of one in 1567, after his mother, Mary (Queen of Scots) was forced to abdicate. Mary was implicated in the death of her second husband (and cousin), Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, James’s father. As retold in novels, plays, opera, and films, Mary herself was imprisoned, and eventually beheaded, by her cousin (once removed), Elizabeth I of England. When Elizabeth died in 1603, James inherited her throne. One weirdness in this succession is that James inherited the crown from the queen who executed his mother, but since Mary was likely involved in the murder of his father, he probably had mixed feelings about her death.

When James came down from Scotland, his new English subjects were naturally concerned about their new king’s religious views and the future of church organization and worship in England. To settle matters, James convened a conference in January of 1604 at the palace of Hampton Court. Though it was not on the agenda, the project for a new translation of the Bible originated in these discussions.

Despite popular misconceptions, James himself had little to do with the translation, apart from setting it in motion,and providing it with royal sanction. (The translators prominently dedicated it to him, too.) He was a learned monarch, deeply engaged with theological questions, and he wrote a number of metrical versions of Psalms. But his learning was not up to the level of the translators.

Map of Christian's journey from Pilgrim's Progress

His one area of contribution to the translation was in shaping the guiding principles for the translators (written by Archbishop Richard Bancroft), especially in the decision to avoid marginal interpretative notes. Such notes had been a popular feature of the Geneva Bible, but a number of these, written by Protestant exiles during the reign of Queen Mary, were sharply critical of monarchs. The King James Bible, as it came to be known, was to be free of such a radical taint. Little did James know that the Bible he sponsored would become the Bible of the radicals John Milton, John Bunyan (author of Pilgrim’s Progress, right), and William Blake, as well as of America, the British colonies that threw off their king to become a democratic republic.

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


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