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 “London

Looking Back, and Far Ahead

The Jerusalem Chamber. (c) Westminster Abbey.

The Jerusalem Chamber, (c) Westminster Abbey.

I’m writing this from Borough High St. in Southwark (London), a few blocks from Southwark Cathedral, and in the vicinity of what used to be Winchester Palace, the London residence of the Bishop of Winchester. Lancelot Andrewes, translator of the King James Bible and perhaps supervisor of the First Westminster Company, was granted the bishopric in 1618. He is buried in Southwark Cathedral and is represented in effigy lying on top of his tomb.

London is full of reminders of the translation of the English Bible. Across London Bridge, which is just up the road and on the right, is the church of St. Magnus Martyr. Miles Coverdale, who translated the first complete English Bible (apart from the Wycliffites), is buried there, since he served for a time as rector.

William Tyndale. English translation, Pentateuch. 1530. Ohio State University.

William Tyndale. English translation, Pentateuch. 1530. Ohio State University.

William Tyndale, translator of translators, is buried in Vilvoorde in the Netherlands, where he was strangled and burned, but his sculpted head is included as a decorative architectural feature at St. Dunstan-in-the-West, where he lectured. John Donne later preached at St. Dunstan’s.  A little south of St. Paul’s, where Donne was dean, stood the church of Holy Trinity the Less, destroyed in the Great Fire. John Rogers, the man responsible for Matthew’s Bible (1537), was rector there a few years earlier. He was later burned alive as a heretic at Smithfield, a 10 minute walk north, near the church of St. Bartholomew the Great. Benjamin Franklin worked briefly for a printer in the Lady Chapel of St. Bart’s.

Of course, Westminster itself, the location of two companies of the King James Bible translators, is down the Thames to the west. Thomas Bilson, Bishop of Winchester (before Andrewes), member of the Second Cambridge Company, and one of the revisers of the final King James Bible text, is buried in Westminster Abbey, as is, of course, King James I. Archbishop Matthew Parker, who supervised the translation of the Bishops’ Bible (1568), is buried at Lambeth just across the Thames.

Erasmus. Novum Testamentum. 1519. Corpus Christi College, Oxford.

Erasmus. Novum Testamentum. 1519. Corpus Christi College, Oxford.

The celebrations of the King James Bible anniversary have died down here. There are no upcoming events listed on the website of the King James Bible Trust. And in the United States, the tour of Manifold Greatness comes to end on July 12—oddly enough, my birthday. Perhaps more appropriately, it is the date of the death of Erasmus (1536), who produced the Greek text of the New Testament that became known as the Textus Receptus, an essential resource for translators from William Tyndale to the King James Bible companies.

As I reflect on the long history of Manifold Greatness, from its inception and planning, to the years of research, to the exhibition at the Folger, to the long journey of the panel exhibitions, I wonder what lies ahead for the King James Bible in 2111. Will the 500th anniversary be celebrated as were the 400th and the 300th? Will the King James Bible still be in use in some churches? Will American presidents still be sworn in on it? Will the King James Bible have an afterlife in the 21st century? Will some lecturer refer back to the 2011 anniversary celebrations at the Folger, as I referred in my opening lecture to celebrations in New York and London in 1911? Few of us will know. As Matthew writes, “of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.”

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


Happy Birthday, Handel!

Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir, Toronto, Canada. Photo by Gary Beechey.

Composer George Frideric Handel was born today in 1685. Famous for the “Hallelujah Chorus” and Messiah, Handel nevertheless had a prolific career as a opera composer and drew on a wide range of musical influences from German, French, Italian, and English traditions.

In addition to his distinguished musical career, which included 42 operas, as well as many shorter compositions and oratorios, Handel actively supported various charitable institutions. In fact, the first performance of Messiah was held to benefit individuals  imprisoned for debt and hospitals.  On April 13, 1742, concertgoers crowded into the Great Music Hall on Fishamble Street in Dublin; to accommodate the largest audience possible,  gentlemen were asked not to wear swords, and ladies were discouraged from wearing hoops in their dresses. The performance earned rave reviews, and a second concert was given in Dublin in June.

When Messiah made its London premiere on March 23 1743, responses were less than enthusiastic. Some felt that the venue, Covent Garden, did not suit the sacred nature of the music. Almost the entirety of the libretto is drawn from the text of the King James Bible; the sole exception is the Psalms, which are based on Miles Coverdale’s translation.  Messiah eventually became a standard part of London’s musical repertoire; in fact, Handel attended a performance on April 6 1759, just days before he died.

To hear excerpts from Messiah and learn more about its connections to the King James Bible, please visit the Handel’s Messiah interactive feature on the Manifold Greatness website.

More facts about George Frideric Handel:

1. George Frideric Handel was made a British citizen by an Act of Parliament.

2. He gave several benefit concerts in support of London’s Foundling Hospital, which provided care for abandoned and unwanted children. The hospital, now the Founding Museum, holds a large collection of Handel memorabilia.

3. Handel’s father discouraged his son’s interest in music and wanted Handel to be a lawyer instead; according to one biographer, Handel hid a clavichord in an upstairs room and practiced in secret.

4. Although Messiah is now associated with the Christmas season, it was originally performed during Lent.

5. George Frideric Handel has a feast day on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church in the United States.

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


Curt Wittig: In Appreciation

Messiah. London, 1749(?), Folger.

We were saddened to learn of the death of recording engineer Curt Wittig, who contributed in a very significant way to the Handel’s Messiah portion of our Manifold Greatness website. Composer James Primosch has this tribute on his blog, with additional links.

Soon after starting work on the Manifold Greatness website, we discovered that Handel’s Messiah—which, as we have previously noted, takes most of its text from the King James Bible—had been performed in 1991 by the Choir of Oxford’s Magdalen College and the Folger Consort, the resident early music ensemble of the Folger Shakespeare Library. The 1991 Folger-Oxford performance was a nice parallel to Manifold Greatness, a joint project of the Folger Shakespeare Library and the Bodleian Library of the University of Oxford, with assistance from the Harry Ransom Center of the University of Texas.

Recordings of the three 1991 performances were thus a natural source for audio clips to be included in the Handel’s Messiah portion of the website. Archival recordings of multiple concerts in a public space cannot simply be used as-is, however. Curt, the long-standing audio engineer for the Folger Consort, came to the rescue. Having made the original recordings of the 1991 concerts, he worked closely with us last year to edit clips from the multiple performances, while also suggesting the best segments of the work to use from an audio perspective. His meticulous and thoughtful edits now make it possible for website visitors to hear how Handel and his librettist Charles Jennens set the words of the King James Bible to music, producing a work that has become so widely performed that it may well be the primary way in which many people hear the language of the King James Bible today.

You can hear Curt’s audio excerpts from the Messiah here.

 


Easter 2011: KJB at the Globe

The Bible at the Globe. Courtesy Carol Kelly.

“The King James Bible was written to be read aloud. It was a performance text or it was nothing.” This stirring declaration by David Hall, head of classics at Dollar Academy, in his essay in the theater program shown here, suggests one reason behind the plethora of nationwide and worldwide recitals of the KJB in the last few months, including this one at the Globe in London that covered the entire text. The setting provided the perfect link with Shakespeare, whose plays, too, were written to be performed, not read.

I attended the Easter Sunday afternoon recitals of the Gospels according to St. Luke and St. John at the Globe. Four actors, two male, two female, took it in turns to recite the entire texts, in sections of about ten to fifteen minutes each. I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of visuals—I was hoping they wouldn’t have someone reciting from a pulpit dressed in Jacobean clothes! In fact, the four young actors were casually dressed, which added not only a comfortable informality to the proceedings but also seemed a good way to reinforce the notion that this Bible still speaks to us today, just as it did four hundred years ago. The text was piped discreetly into their ears with the help of i-players but this did not detract at all from their delivery, which was engaging and fluent. The actors moved around the empty stage, at times addressing the audience, at times delivering their lines to the whole cosmic world with clarity and thought-provoking intensity. They brought out the wonder of the words but also the humor and humanity behind the familiar stories.

Barbara Marten, Globe Bible recital, 2011. Photo: Fiona Moorhead

The recital was designed so that people could come and go freely, and folks taking the tour of the Globe that day were ushered in and out to sample a short section of the recital. I was apprehensive about being able to sit for four hours on a seat with no back, listening to a recital with minimal visuals, but it was far from being a challenge.

The Gospel according to St. John seemed particularly suited to the young actors’ talents. Although not one word was cut, the recital had been carefully structured so that each section ended on a poignant moment or on a passage that was memorable such as, “And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.” (John 12:47)

The experience made me appreciate not only the power of those words, but also the human voice as an instrument of communication. I thought of seventeenth-century churchgoers hearing the King James Bible for the first time. This recital brought the words to life, where they belong.

Carol Kelly is the Festivals Project Coordinator for the Education Department of the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC. As she notes here, she attended the April 24, 2011, afternoon performance of the Shakespeare’s Globe read-through of the entire King James Bible, which we previewed in this earlier post.


The KJV Trail in London


My trip to London (see earlier posts) wasn’t focused on the Bible but English literature—Dickens, The Beggar’s Opera, Shakespeare, Wordsworth—but we crossed paths with the KJV translators many times. Lancelot Andrewes, the prodigiously learned Dean of Westminster, was director of the first company of translators at Westminster (his ornery brother Roger was on the first Cambridge company). I and my students toured Westminster Abbey, where Andrewes and his team worked, in the “Jerusalem Chamber” where King Henry IV died, as described in Shakespeare’s play. We also went to Southwark Cathedral on the Southbank, which wasn’t a cathedral in the seventeenth century, but rather St. Saviour’s Church. The image above is of Lancelot Andrewes’s fabulous tomb in that church. Wherever you go in London, church and theater overlap. Also buried in Southwark Cathedral are playwrights John Fletcher (who collaborated with Shakespeare) and Philip Massinger, Philip Henslowe (who ran the Admiral’s Men), and Shakespeare’s younger brother Edmund. Many of the players at the Globe, the Rose, and other theaters, were members of St. Saviour’s. As Bishop of Winchester (from 1618), Andrewes’s palace was next door. He was probably often in St. Saviour’s, though after Shakespeare’s death in 1616. Long before then, however, Andrewes also preached regularly at the court of James I. Since the King’s Men often performed there too, he and Shakespeare may often have been under the same roof. James Shapiro writes about one such possible occasion at Richmond Palace during Lent in 1599. Shakespeare may not have worked on the King James Bible (more on this next week), but he certainly lived in the same city with men who did.

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


Taking the stage at Shakespeare’s Globe (and beyond!)

In the world of King James Bible celebrations in this anniversary year of 2011, one of the most widely anticipated events will begin this Sunday: reading through the entire King James Bible on the stage of Shakespeare’s Globe in London (left).

Five groups of actors at a time, many of them Globe regulars, will make their way through every word of the Old and New Testaments, from Genesis 1 to the end of Revelation, over a series of epic readthroughs (audience members, we understand, can quietly come and go). This Sunday alone will include readings from 10 am to midnight, with one half-hour break. Throughout the week, six-hour sessions ending at midnight will carry the text forward, followed by a marathon reading on Good Friday, more on Easter Sunday, and the final round on Easter Monday. For more information, consult the Globe’s own Blogging the Bible!

We’ve noted before the startling number of marathon King James Bible readthroughs this spring, both secular and religious (“Reading the (whole) KJB aloud”). As of today, for example, two churches in Fife are midway through an attempt to become the first churches in Scotland to read the entire King James Bible aloud. The Bath Lit Fest, as we reported, had its celebrity-laden King James Bible Challenge, and in late May, there’s the Hay Festival’s planned KJB reading in 96 hours, to be conducted by churches on both sides of the English-Welsh border. And there have been many more, and, no doubt, more to come.


Back from London

Well, I’m back from London. As per my previous post, I was there for a week (and two days in Stratford) with a class on “Literary London.” Fabulous as always, though I hadn’t expected a solid week of sunshine. Lots going on over there for the KJB anniversary. We toured the New Globe Theater on the Southbank and saw posters for their onstage cover-to-cover KJB reading.

The Globe is also staging some Bible-related plays in their upcoming season: Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus (nothing to do with KJB but certainly wrapped up in religious issues), and Howard Brenton’s Anne Boleyn, which features James I, William Tyndale, and John Reynolds, as well as the title character. The Royal Shakespeare Company is getting in on the act too. I had dinner with Michael Boyd, the RSC artistic director, and Jacqui O’Hanlon, the director of education, and they talked up a new play about the translation of the KJB, Written on the Heart, by David Edgar, that they’ve commissioned for their next season.

There are more KJB books out now too that I hadn’t seen yet, Derek Wilson’s The People’s Bible, for instance, and one soon to be released by Melvyn Bragg, The Book of Books. My own The King James Bible after 400 Years, co-edited with Norman Jones, sold out its first print run in a couple of months. Cambridge is scrambling to get another printing out soon. What an appetite there seems to be for KJB books, play, readings, and shows! And wait til Manifold Greatness is launched on the world — website, book, panel show, the mother exhibition in DC!! Steve Galbraith and I have already had several queries about visiting lectures from libraries hoping to host the panels. All very exciting.

At various points on our London tour, guides and docents would ask if we knew about the KJB anniversary. I felt rather proud to be able to say I was at the epicenter of KJB activities on the other side of the ocean.

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


Off to Literary London!

Claes Jansz. Visscher. London. ca. 1625 (Detail). Folger Shakespeare Library.

Visscher. View of London. ca. 1625. Folger.

Well, I’m off to Londontown, UK, taking a class of undergraduates from Ohio State for a week-long trek through “Literary London.”

We’ll be standing on ground of huge importance to the making of the King James Bible and its subsequent history. We’ll tour Westminster Abbey, for instance, where two of the six teams of translators were ensconced; they worked in the Jerusalem Chamber, a location Shakespeare also mentions in Henry IV, Part 2. We’ll also visit St. Paul’s and Southwark Cathedral, where English Christians have heard the KJB read and sung for 400 years. Some of Shakespeare’s theater colleagues worshipped at Southwark (then St. Saviour), since it was near the Globe; his brother Edmund was buried there. The playwrights John Fletcher and Philip Massinger are also buried at Southwark, as is the great preacher Lancelot Andrewes, one of the KJB translators.

Our last two days are in Stratford, and we’ll visit Holy Trinity Church, where it’s possible Shakespeare himself heard readings from the then-new King James Bible. He retired to Stratford about the time the King James Bible was published, and this was supposed to be the Bible translation used in English Churches from then on. Whether Holy Trinity actually purchased and put to use copies of the KJB before Shakespeare’s death in 1616, I don’t know.

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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