The Stationers' Company
The City of London Livery Company for the Communications and Content Industries

ARCHIVE NEWS

April 2020

Literature in Lockdown - 2

Literature in Lockdown - 2

6 APRIL 2020

As London settles into a period of restricted movement, we look at some documents from the Stationers' Company Archive, which show us how writers, printers and publishers have responded to similar crises over history.

Here we discuss the publication of Shakespeare's long poem  Venus and Adonis.

Shakespeare's first printed work, the long poem Venus and Adonis, was written under a lockdown of sorts. In an attempt to curb the spread of an outbreak of bubonic plague, the authorities closed all theatres between 1592 and 1594. Forced to explore alternative sources of income, Shakespeare, like many other playwrights in that situation, turned to poetry.

Venus and Adonis became a best seller, and was the work which made Shakespeare famous during his lifetime. The poem is a tragicomic rendition of the doomed relationship between the goddess of love and a beautiful hunter whose youthful charms are such 'that the star-gazers, having writ on death/May say, the plague is banish'd by [his] breath'. Shakespeare's version presents Venus as an obsessed predator 'plucking' Adonis from his horse to seduce him. Adonis, however, meets her infatuation with indifference, for 'hunting he loved, but love he laugh'd to scorn'. His refusal to heed her warnings leads to his death, leaving the rejected and grieving Venus to declare that 'sorrow on love hereafter shall attend.'

As well as documenting what Shakespeare's contemporaries would have seen as his major work, the entry of copy for Venus and Adonis gives us some fascinating information about the material circumstances of its printing.

Venus and Adonis was entered into the Stationers' Register by the printer Richard Field. Field, like Shakespeare, came from Stratford-upon-Avon, and scholars have speculated that this is why Shakespeare sought him out to print his first text. It's certainly less likely that Field, who specialised in scientific and geographical texts which required the fine printing techniques for which he was known, made the first approach. Field was also the business partner of John Harrison, to whom he subsequently transferred the rights to Venus and Adonis. It is Harrison's shop at the sign of the White Greyhound to which the imprint in the first edition's title page refers.

Venus and Adonis went through ten editions in Shakespeare's own lifetime. Although today its reputation has been overshadowed by Shakespeare's dramatic output, the long poem remains highly regarded by literary scholars. Its curious mixture of eroticism, farce and tragedy has captured the imagination of artists as well. Maverick American painter and print-maker Rockwell Kent created a series of 21 illustrations in the Art Deco style for a fine art publication of the poem by the Leo Hart Printing Company. And as recently as 2019, a new edition, illustrated by acclaimed painter Marlene Dumas, was released by art publisher David Zwirner Books.

 

March 2020

Literature in Lockdown - 1

Literature in Lockdown - 1

31 MARCH 2020

As London settles into a period of restricted movement, we look at some documents from the Stationers' Company Archive, which show us how writers, printers and publishers have responded to similar crises over history.

We start with the publication history of Shakespeare's King Lear.

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January 2020

Ballads in the Stationers' Registers

Ballads in the Stationers' Registers

24 JANUARY 2020

Acclaimed folk musicians Naomi Bedford and Paul Simmons visited the Stationers' Company Archive last week, and were thrilled to discover the original registration, in the seventeenth-century, of a song which they have recently recorded. Read more here.

December 2019

University of Greenwich Students visit the Stationers' Archive

University of Greenwich Students visit the Stationers' Archive

5 DECEMBER 2019

In November we were delighted to host two visits to the Archive for students at the University of Greenwich.  Our Archivist, Dr Ruth Frendo has written about the visits which it is hoped will be the first of many and you can read her full report here.

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The Stationers’ Company is presented with a copy of the beautiful publication 'Marks of Genius: Masterpieces from the Collections of the Bodleian Libraries'

The Stationers’ Company is presented with a copy of the beautiful publication 'Marks of Genius: Masterpieces from the Collections of the Bodleian Libraries'

4 DECEMBER 2019

Yesterday three members of the staff from the Bodleian Library joined a guided tour of Stationers' Hall and the Church of St Martin- within-Ludgate. They also saw some of the documents in the Stationers' Company Archive which record the long association between their Library and the Company.

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November 2019

A Wonderful Addition to the Stationers' Collection of Miniature Almanacs

A Wonderful Addition to the Stationers' Collection of Miniature Almanacs

20 NOVEMBER 2019

Christmas came early to the Archive today in the form of the donation by Mr Kent Robinson of a miniature almanac dating from 1768.

 

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