“Remember Me”: Shakespeare and His Legacy

The Princeton University Art Museum is displaying 23 rare books, prints, and drawings to honor the famous English poet, William Shakespeare. The exhibit, “Remember Me”: Shakespeare and His Legacy, running from October 1 to December 31, will commemorate Shakespeare’s 400th death anniversary by presenting a selection of works, created by or about him, from 1923 to today.

This exhibit displays many 17th century publications of Shakespeare’s texts from the Graphic Arts Collection, which is part of Princeton University Library’s Rare Books Division, as well as works from the Princeton University Art Museum, all of which were chosen by Dr. Bradin Cormak, an English professor at the University.

One of the pieces featured in the gallery is a copy of the fabled First Folio—the first published edition of Shakespeare’s collected plays, printed in 1623. The title page displays a portrait of Shakespeare that is one of the only two surviving representations drawn from life.

“The First Folio is one of the most famous and sought-after books in Western culture. The book contains 36 plays in their entirety, half of which had never been published in the author’s lifetime—including The Tempest, Two Gentlemen of Verona, As You Like It, Julius Caesar, and Macbeth—plays that would have never been known if they had not been published here,” said Calvin Brown, the Associate Curator of Print and Drawings of the art museum.

Additionally, there are three rare quarto editions of plays published in Shakespeare’s lifetime. As he left no handwritten manuscripts of his work, these books represent the earliest surviving examples of Shakespeare’s legacy.

Many extraordinary drawings and prints that represent Shakespeare’s work are also presented.

“The exhibition traces the trajectory of Shakespeare’s legacy in the visual arts along the three lines: Shakespeare’s dramatic works as the literary inspiration for eighteenth-century British history painting, his comedies as commentary on social values, and his plays presented as a theatrical experience, featuring nineteenth and early twentieth-century illustrations of performances of the tragedies,” Brown said in the fall edition of the Princeton University Art Museum magazine.

“Remember Me” also honors John Boydell, who opened a gallery dedicated to Shakespeare in London in 1789. Boydell had more than a hundred canvases commissioned from famous British artists illustrating scenes from Shakespeare’s plays, and the first volume is displayed at the museum. 

This display celebrates Shakespeare’s legacy by presenting pieces created over a 393-year time period.

“The exhibition examines the growth of Shakespeare’s reputation from the first printed editions of his plays through a revival of the dramatic works in the 18th century, to eventually become the figurehead of British literary culture we live with today,” Brown said.

Shakespeare plays a major role in most English and drama classes, and this exhibit helps students understand the author’s style of writing and literature.

“This small exhibition is intended as a teaching exhibition that will be utilized by classes and seminars from multiple departments at Princeton. It also offers an opportunity to present these seldom seen works with didactic labels to a large number of museum visitors from throughout the area, so they can experience them in a scholarly setting such as Princeton students might,” Brown said.

The Princeton University Art Museum is free for all students, and is open on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Thursday, 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., and Sunday 1:00 to 5:00 p.m.

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