Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Romeo and Juliet: Creative Reimaginings

May 23rd, 2017

Spencer Research Library certainly has the staples for any Shakespeare-phile: a complete Second Folio, a partial First Folio, individual books, and works from his contemporaries Thomas Heywood, Ben Jonson, Philip Sidney, and others. Printed in ages past, these works demonstrate the long history and enduring fascination scholars and bibliophiles alike maintain concerning the works of the Bard and the many social issues he addresses in them. But more importantly, KSRL also possesses works that demonstrate Shakespeare’s lasting influence and application through creative reimaginings.

The cover of Emily Martin’s interpretation of
The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet
[Iowa City] : Naughty Dog Press, 2012.
Call Number: D7385. Click image to enlarge.

One such reimagining was crafted by Emily Martin. Created for a designer bookbinding competition for the Bodleian Libraries and Designer Bookbinders in 2013, the carousel book adapts one of Shakespeare’s best-known tragedies, The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. With five main “views” to embody each of the play’s five acts, the carousel book pays homage to the play’s central ideas and its modern application. Martin creates corresponding pop-ups for each act and uses key lines from Juliet, Romeo, and the Prince (for Act V) to illustrate and remind readers of the important events from each act.

View of The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet by Emily Martin

View of The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet by Emily Martin

Views of Emily Martin’s interpretation of
The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet (2012).
Call Number: D7385. Click images to enlarge.

In between each of the main views, Martin emphasizes “the timelessness of the play through repetition of the chorus and insertion of modern equivalents for Verona,” as Martin explains in the colophon for the book. These modern equivalents include: Bosnia, Israel, Rwanda, and America. In correspondence, Martin adds that these locations, “were ‘scenes of strife’ at the time, I used countries rather than cities for name recognition and to expand out from small locations to large. I felt the need to remind readers the play is still timely by connecting to current conflicts.” Martin also includes her own commentary under each repetition of the chorus, articulating the many ways that Shakespeare’s central themes can be reimagined and updated far beyond Shakespeare’s time.

View of The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet by Emily Martin

A close-up of Emily Martin’s interpretation of
The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet (2012).
The top section is the first four lines of the play’s prologue.
Note that Martin has changed “fair Verona” to “fair America.”
The bottom text is Martin’s commentary.
Call Number: D7385. Click image to enlarge.

Even though The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet is advertised as a tale of two “star-crossed lovers,” Martin comments, “I was struck more by the universality of feuding more than the romance.” Romeo and Juliet individually must combat the trials of a forbidden love, and their families exemplify the enduring consequences of unabashed hatred of others for no deeper reason than one’s name. Despite Romeo and Juliet’s tragic deaths, the feud shows no signs of ending. Martin describes this plot point as a reason for the book’s carousel design. She states, “circular format emphasizes the repetitive aspect of the feuding, it doesn’t end, it just begins again.”

View of The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet by Emily Martin

View of Emily Martin’s interpretation of
The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet (2012).
Call Number: D7385. Click image to enlarge.

This piece, like many others in Spencer Library’s collection, demonstrates the many ways that the old and new, the past and present can come together. Martin’s reimagining masterfully blends “details specific to Verona,” (including illustrations to match the settings in each act) with new elements that make Shakespeare’s famous tragedy come alive again.  Even though it invokes new ideas to bring the star-crossed lovers into the 21st century, it is still maintains the integrity of their tragic tale and breathes new life into their multi-faceted story. As the Prince decrees, “For never was a story of more woe / Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.” Martin uses this timeless tale of woe and turns it into a well-crafted political commentary, exemplifying the ways that Shakespeare speaks to not only Shakespeare-philes, but also anyone looking to bridge disciplines and time periods in meaningful ways.

Melissa Kleinschmidt
Public Services Student Assistant and 2017 KU graduate (Master’s of Arts, English)

Researchers Wanted!

June 6th, 2014

Ask any special collections librarian or archivist about her favorite collection item, and she may hem and haw (how can you pick just one favorite?!?). However, ask that same librarian about interesting items or collections that she wishes more researchers would use, and invariably she will rattle off a frighteningly long list.

This week, in the spirit of summer discovery, we present two intriguing selections that scream “researchers wanted!”

1.  Papers of William Poel, ca. 1895-1934 (

As admirers of William Shakespeare know, this April marked the 450th anniversary of the playwright’s birth.  And while Spencer doesn’t have a manuscript by the Bard gathering dust on a shelf (no manuscripts in his hand are known to survive), the library does hold papers for William Poel (1852-1934), an actor, writer, and theater director known for his attempts to revive the conventions of the Elizabethan stage at the dawn of the twentieth century. The collection includes correspondence with figures from the theater world (actors, writers, critics, and others), a small number of scripts, prompt books, and journals, and ephemera such as playbills and review clippings.  Pictured below is Poel’s heavily annotated prompt copy for Fratricide Punished, a German version of Hamlet of ambiguous relation to Shakespeare’s play.  Also pictured are a theater program and a lecture announcement, examples of Poel ephemera.

Picture of Poel's Fratricide Punished Prompt book, open to the list of characters and a pasted in print announcement. Plan of playscene in Poel's Fratricide Punished prompt book.
Lecture announcement for a lecture series on Shakespeare. Image of exterior of program for Poel's production of Marlowe's Faustus
Top: Poel’s prompt book for Fratricide Punished , ca. 1924. MS 31:D4; Bottom: an announcement for a series of lectures by Poel on Shakespeare, 1900, and the program for a production of Marlowe’s Faustus directed by Poel, 1904. MS 31, F6.  Click images to enlarge.

2. Don Quixote, el Castellano viejo, undated (before 1860).

This mysterious bound manuscript came to Spencer from the library of the well-known nineteenth-century art historian, bibliophile, and Hispanist, Sir William Stirling Maxwell (1818-1878).   A portion of Stirling Maxwell’s vast library was sold at auction and 1958, enabling KU to acquire a significant number of early printed Spanish volumes,  including important editions that now form the basis of Spencer’s Cervantes Collection, and this manuscript.  As far as we know, the author of this manuscript has not been identified, though the text concerns Cervantes’s famed character Don Quixote.   A note pasted toward the front gives further provenance, describing it as a “curious manuscript” sold as part of the auction of the library of “the late Don Justo de Sancha” by Sotheby’s in December of 1860.  Though the hand is later than Cervantes’s time, scholars of Spanish literature might find much to pique their interest in this 205-page manuscript.  The pictures below include the table of contents, which offers readers an idea of the matter covered.

Image of the title page (in a different hand?) giving the title, Don Quixote, el Castellano viejo Image of prologue with pasted in provenance note for Don Quixote, el Castellano viejo. Image of the first page of the table of contents of Don Quixote, el Castellano viejo Image of the final page of Don Quixote, el Castellano viejo.

Bookplate of William Stirling-Maxwell Image of the beginning of Chapter 2 in Don Quixote, el Castellano viejo.

Don Quixote, el Castellano viejo, undated (before 1860). MS C73. Click images to enlarge.

For more information on these and any of our other manuscript holdings, please don’t hesitate to contact us.  After all, the summer is an ideal time to start a new research project.

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian