Tuesday, May 19, 2015

University Libraries Acquires Rare Quarto of Shakespeare's Othello as Globe and Cosmos Celebration Year Concludes

Wrapping up a year of focus on Shakespeare and Galileo at UNCG, the University Libraries’ Jackson Society made a purchase of a rare quarto edition of Shakespeare’s Othello for the Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives.  As a result, UNCG will now be the only university in the UNC system owning one of the 30 known copies in existence of Shakespeare’s Othello in the seventh and final Quarto edition, published in 1705.


Here is a description of the new acquisition:
Othello. William Shakespeare.  London: Printed for R. Wellington, 1705.
Seventh and final quarto edition. Lightly browned with some spotting and marginal dampstaining, small stain to title affecting advertisement at foot. Modern speckled tan three-quarter calf and marbled boards, gold-stamped red morocco spine label. Housed in a brown cloth folding box.

Othello was first published in quarto format in 1622 and was then included in the First Folio edition of collected plays. It is one of Shakespeare’s most popular tragedies, conveying important lessons about love, war, and racism. The ambiguity of Othello’s race is one of the most intriguing and enduring aspects of the play. Although generally described to be dark-skinned, it is unknown whether he is African, Arab, or a dark-skinned European.Othello  experiences discrimination while serving as a soldier in Europe, but his devoted wife Desdemona sees him only for his merits. Othello is timeless, warning us of the perils of self-isolation and the necessity of unconditional love.

As Sunday Steinkirchner of B&B Rare Books in New York explained to the Jackson Society:
"Othello is the 5th most referenced play in primary documents from Shakespeare's time, and it is equally popular and still staged today. Quartos represent the earliest and scarcest printed material by William Shakespeare. They were the first format the individual plays were printed in; all his plays would later be collected in the Folio editions, after Shakespeare's death. Seldom surviving the 17th century, Quartos were sold unbound and usually used for the stage by actors. For a person living at that time, their first experience of Shakespeare would not have been reading a play, but hearing and seeing the words acted out on the stage. Quartos are also important from a research point of view because the text of quartos differ from the text of the plays when they were collected in the Folios. Quarto texts were often Shakespeare's first drafts, with his specific directions for the stage. Folio editions contained Shakespeare's final revisions, so it would be valuable from a research point of view to be able to compare these differing versions. Again, because they were sold unbound and usually discarded after the play had been acted, Quartos are unusually rare in the rare book market. There are 22 known and recoded copies of this 1705 Othello, and a handful of earlier editions. This brings the total known copies of Othello quartos to around 30 worldwide, and none are in any UNC holdings. Earlier editions sell for in the six figures, so the opportunity to purchase this copy is exceptional."

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