I wasn’t sure what I was going to think of the field trip to the rare books archives at BPL—especially since the books are viewable online. I didn’t think that it would make that much of an impact, honestly. After the trip, though, I can happily say that I was pleasantly surprised. Caroline and I were looking at Nashe’s A Pleasant Comedie: Summer’s Last Will and Testament, which was published in 1600 (!!!). When we started noticing really faint marginalia and trying to decode the publishing/binding date discrepancies, it made the research of the book so much more intimate than just looking at it on the screen of a computer. It wasn’t until I looked at Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, though, that I got really excited.
Last semester, when I was abroad in Scotland, I got the opportunity to take a trip down to London. I went to Stratford-upon-Avon and I got to walk through the town Shakespeare and his family lived and the house in which he grew up. While there, I got this huge surge of English-major-excitement, where I felt a direct connection to a poet whose work I admire to the utmost degree. Looking at the Much Ado in the BPL gave me a similar feeling—it was one of the original pamphlets circulating of the play. That just blows my mind. Not only that, but it belonged to George Steevens, an editor during Alexander Pope’s time, who edited the play using that copy.
I definitely was not expecting so much history to be wrapped up in just the physicalities of the books there. Not only that, but I was not expecting to be so excited about it! I wish we could have stayed a little longer and had the chance to take out other books from the vault. My favorite Shakespeare play is Twelfth Night and I would have loved to see what kind of history we could dig up behind a copy of that play kept there. All in all it was a very worthwhile experience and I think it’s really valuable to delve into a book’s pages physically, and then use internet sources as supplementary devices.