3,000 Illustrations of Shakespeare’s Complete Works from Victorian England, Presented in a Digital Archive


“We can say of Shake­speare,” wrote T.S. Eliot—in what may sound like the most back­hand­ed of com­pli­ments from one writer to another—“that nev­er has a man turned so lit­tle knowl­edge to such great account.” Eliot, it’s true, was not over­awed by the Shake­speare­an canon; he pro­nounced Ham­let “most cer­tain­ly an artis­tic fail­ure,” though he did love Cori­olanus. What­ev­er we make of his ambiva­lent, con­trar­i­an opin­ions of the most famous author in the Eng­lish lan­guage, we can cred­it Eliot for keen obser­va­tion: Shakespeare’s uni­verse, which can seem so sprawl­ing­ly vast, is actu­al­ly sur­pris­ing­ly spare giv­en the kinds of things it most­ly con­tains.

Ophelia ckham18

This is due in large part to the visu­al lim­i­ta­tions of the stage, but per­haps it also points toward an author who made great works of art from hum­ble mate­ri­als. Look, for exam­ple, at a search cloud of the Bard’s plays.

You’ll find one the front page of the Vic­to­ri­an Illus­trat­ed Shake­speare Archive, cre­at­ed by Michael John Good­man, an inde­pen­dent researcher, writer, edu­ca­tor, cura­tor and image-mak­er. The cloud on the left fea­tures a galaxy com­posed main­ly of ele­men­tal and arche­typ­al beings: “Ani­mals,” “Cas­tles and Palaces,” “Crowns,” “Flo­ra and Fau­na,” “Swords,” “Spears,” “Trees,” “Water,” “Woods,” “Death.” One thinks of the Zodi­ac or Tarot.

Roman Forum ckcor4

This par­tic­u­lar search cloud, how­ev­er, does not rep­re­sent the most promi­nent terms in the text, but rather the most promi­nent images in four col­lec­tions of illus­trat­ed Shake­speare plays from the Vic­to­ri­an peri­od. Goodman’s site hosts over 3000 of these illus­tra­tions, tak­en from four major UK edi­tions of Shake­speare’s Com­plete Works pub­lished in the mid-19th cen­tu­ry. The first, pub­lished by edi­tor Charles Knight, appeared in sev­er­al vol­umes between 1838 and 1841, illus­trat­ed with con­ser­v­a­tive engrav­ings by var­i­ous artists. Knight’s edi­tion intro­duced the trend of spelling Shakespeare’s name as “Shakspere,” as you can see in the title page to the “Come­dies, Vol­ume I,” at the top of the post. Fur­ther down, see two rep­re­sen­ta­tive illus­tra­tions from the plays, the first of Ham­let’s Ophe­lia and sec­ond Cori­olanus’ Roman Forum, above.

Tempest kmtemp41

Part of a wave of “ear­ly Vic­to­ri­an pop­ulism” in Shake­speare pub­lish­ing, Knight’s edi­tion is joined by one from Ken­ny Mead­ows, who con­tributed some very dif­fer­ent illus­tra­tions to an 1854 edi­tion. Just above, see a Goya-like illus­tra­tion from The Tem­pest. Lat­er came an edi­tion illus­trat­ed by H.C. Selous in 1864, which returned to the for­mal, faith­ful real­ism of the Knight edi­tion (see a ren­der­ing of Hen­ry V, below), and includes pho­tograu­vure plates of famed actors of the time in cos­tume and an appen­dix of “Spe­cial Wood Engraved Illus­tra­tions by Var­i­ous Artists.”

Henry V hcseloushv4

The final edi­tion whose illus­tra­tions Good­man has dig­i­tized and cat­a­logued on his site fea­tures engrav­ings by artist John Gilbert. Also pub­lished in 1864, the Gilbert may be the most expres­sive of the four, retain­ing real­ist pro­por­tions and mise-en-scène, yet also ren­der­ing the char­ac­ters with a psy­cho­log­i­cal real­ism that is at times unsettling—as in his fierce por­trait of Lear, below. Gilbert’s illus­tra­tion of The Tam­ing of the Shrew’s Kathe­ri­na and Petru­chio, fur­ther down, shows his skill for cre­at­ing believ­able indi­vid­u­als, rather than broad arche­types. The same skill for which the play­wright has so often been giv­en cred­it.


But Shake­speare worked both with rich, indi­vid­ual char­ac­ter stud­ies and broad­er, arche­typ­al, mate­r­i­al: psy­cho­log­i­cal real­ism and mytho­log­i­cal clas­si­cism. What I think these illus­trat­ed edi­tions show us is that Shake­speare, who­ev­er he (or she) may have been, did indeed have a keen sense of what Eliot called the “objec­tive cor­rel­a­tive,” able to com­mu­ni­cate com­plex emo­tions through “a skill­ful accu­mu­la­tion of imag­ined sen­so­ry impres­sions” that have impressed us as much on the can­vas, stage, and screen as they do on the page. The emo­tion­al expres­sive­ness of Shakespeare’s plays comes to us not only through elo­quent verse speech­es, but through images of both the stark­ly ele­men­tal and the unique­ly per­son­al.

Taming Of jgtos81

Spend some time with the illus­trat­ed edi­tions on Goodman’s site, and you will devel­op an appre­ci­a­tion for how the plays com­mu­ni­cate dif­fer­ent­ly to the dif­fer­ent artists. In addi­tion to the search clouds, the site has a head­er at the top for each of the four edi­tions. Click on the name and you will see front and back mat­ter and title pages. In the pull-down menus, you can access each indi­vid­ual play’s dig­i­tized illus­tra­tions by type—“Histories,” “Come­dies,” and “Tragedies.” All of the con­tent on the site, Good­man writes, “is free through a CC license: users can share on social media, remix, research, cre­ate and just do what­ev­er they want real­ly!”

Update: This post orig­i­nal­ly appeared on our site in 2016. Since then, Good­man has been reg­u­lar­ly updat­ing the Vic­to­ri­an Illus­trat­ed Shake­speare Archive with more edi­tions, giv­ing it more rich­ness and depth. These edi­tions include “one pub­lished by John Tallis, which fea­tures famous actors of the time in char­ac­ter.” This also includes “the first ever com­pre­hen­sive full-colour treat­ment of Shakespeare’s plays with the John Mur­doch edi­tion.” The archive, Good­man tells us, “now con­tains ten edi­tions of Shakespeare’s plays and is fair­ly com­pre­hen­sive in how peo­ple were expe­ri­enc­ing Shake­speare, visu­al­ly, in book form in the 19th Cen­tu­ry.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Take a Vir­tu­al Tour of Shakespeare’s Globe The­atre in Lon­don

Watch Very First Film Adap­ta­tions of Shakespeare’s Plays: King John, The Tem­pest, Richard III & More (1899–1936)

Read All of Shakespeare’s Plays Free Online, Cour­tesy of the Fol­ger Shake­speare Library

Fol­ger Shake­speare Library Puts 80,000 Images of Lit­er­ary Art Online, and They’re All Free to Use

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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How Rocky Horror Became a Cult Phenomenon

Call us old fash­ioned but invok­ing pump­kin spice and The Rocky Hor­ror Pic­ture Show in the same breath feels trans­gres­sive to the point of sac­ri­lege.

The cre­ator of the Poly­phon­ic video, above, is on much firmer foot­ing tying the film to queer lib­er­a­tion.

Pri­or to its now famous cin­e­mat­ic adap­ta­tion, The Rocky Hor­ror Show was a low bud­get the­atri­cal suc­cess, with near­ly 3,000 per­for­mances and the 1973 Evening Stan­dard The­atre Award for Best Musi­cal to its name.

Review­er Michael Billing­ton laud­ed Tim Cur­ry’s “gar­ish­ly Bowiesque per­for­mance” as Dr. Frank-N-Furter, the self-pro­claimed Sweet Trans­ves­tite from Trans­sex­u­al, Tran­syl­va­nia, but also acknowl­edged some drab­ber pea­cocks defy­ing gen­der expec­ta­tions in that pro­duc­tion:

…for me the actor of the evening was Jonathan Adams as the Nar­ra­tor: a bulky, heavy-jowled Kissinger-like fig­ure who enters into the rock num­bers with the state­ly aplomb of a dowa­ger duchess doing a strip.

Play­wright Richard O’Brien, who dou­bled as Frank-N-Furter’s sepul­chral but­ler, Riff Raff, con­ceived of the show as a spoof on campy sci fi and goth­ic hor­ror films in the Ham­mer Pro­duc­tions vein. He also owed a debt to glam rock, which “allowed me to be myself more.”

(Hats off, here, to Poly­phon­ic for one of the best nut­shell descrip­tions of glam rock we’ve ever encoun­tered:

Glam rock was a queer led move­ment that was built on the back of gen­der non-con­for­mi­ty. Visu­al­ly it was a hodge­podge of style from ear­ly Hol­ly­wood glam­our to 50s pin­ups and cabaret the­ater aug­ment­ed by touch­es of ancient civ­i­liza­tions sci-fi and and the occult.)

“The ele­ment of trans­vestism was­n’t intend­ed as a major theme,” O’Brien told inter­view­er Patri­cia Mor­ris­roe, “although it turned out to be one:”

I’ve always thought of Frank as a cross between Ivan the Ter­ri­ble and Cruel­la de Ville of Walt Dis­ney’s 101 Dal­ma­tions. It’s that sort of evil beau­ty that’s attrac­tive. I found Brad and Janet very appeal­ing too, espe­cial­ly the whole fifties image of boy-girl rela­tion­ships. In the end, you see that Janet is not the weak lit­tle thing that soci­ety demands her to be and Brad is not the pil­lar of strength.

Audi­ences and crit­ics may have loved the orig­i­nal show, but the film ver­sion did not find imme­di­ate favor. Review­er Roger Ebert reflect­ed that “it would be more fun, I sus­pect, if it weren’t a pic­ture show:

It belongs on a stage, with the per­form­ers and audi­ence join­ing in a col­lec­tive send-up…The chore­og­ra­phy, the com­po­si­tions and even the atti­tudes of the cast imply a stage ambiance. And it invites the kind of laugh­ter and audi­ence par­tic­i­pa­tion that makes sense only if the per­form­ers are there on the stage, cre­at­ing mutu­al kar­ma.

A prophet­ic state­ment, as it turns out…

Once the pro­duc­ers began mar­ket­ing the film as a mid­night movie, repeat cus­tomers start­ed com­ing up with the snarky call­backs that have become a de rigueur part of the expe­ri­ence.

“All the char­ac­ters appear to be sophis­ti­cat­ed, knowl­edge­able peo­ple but they’re real­ly not,” O’Brien observed:

That allows peo­ple of a sim­i­lar ado­les­cent nature to feel they could be part of the whole thing. And now, in fact, they are.

Shad­ow casts posi­tioned them­selves in front of the screen, mim­ic­k­ing the action in cob­bled togeth­er ver­sions of design­er Sue Blane’s cos­tumes.

Audi­ences also afford­ed them­selves the oppor­tu­ni­ty to dress out­side the norm, cre­at­ing a safe space where atten­dees could mess around with their gen­der expres­sions. The film may not end hap­pi­ly but that final scene is a great excuse for any­one who wants to take a lap in a corset and fish­nets.

Rocky Horror’s flam­boy­ance, humor, and defi­ance of the main­stream made it a nat­ur­al fit with the queer com­mu­ni­ty, with folks cos­tumed as Frank-N-Furter, Riff Raff, Magen­ta and Colum­bia reg­u­lar­ly turn­ing up at fundrais­ers and pride events.

The film also deserves some activist street cred for sav­ing a num­ber of small indie movie the­aters by fat­ten­ing mid­night box office receipts, a trend that con­tin­ues near­ly 50 years after the orig­i­nal release.

Admit­ted­ly, cer­tain aspects of the script haven’t aged well.

Vir­gins” attend­ing their first live screen­ing may be more shocked at the dearth of con­sent than the spec­ta­cle of Frank-n-Furter mur­der­ing Columbia’s rock­er boyfriend Eddy with a pick­axe, then serv­ing his remains for din­ner.

Will they also recoil from Frank as an embod­i­ment of tox­ic mas­culi­ty in the queer space?

Quoth Colum­bia:

My God! I can’t stand any more of this! First you spurn me for Eddie, and then you throw him like an old over­coat for Rocky! You chew peo­ple up and then you spit them out again… I loved you… do you hear me? I loved you! And what did it get me? Yeah, I’ll tell you: a big noth­ing. You’re like a sponge. You take, take, take, and drain oth­ers of their love and emo­tion.

We’re hop­ing Frank, prob­lem­at­ic though he may now seem, won’t ulti­mate­ly be con­signed to the dust bin of his­to­ry.

For con­text, O’Brien recent­ly told The Hol­ly­wood Reporter that the char­ac­ter was informed by his own expe­ri­ences of cross-dress­ing as he tried to get a grip on his gen­der iden­ti­ty in the ear­ly 70s:

I used to beat myself up about the hand I was dealt. I don’t know how it works. I have no idea. I’ve read many tomes about the sub­ject of the trans­ves­tic nature. It’s the cards you’re dealt. In a bina­ry world it’s a bit of curse, real­ly. Espe­cial­ly in those days when homo­sex­u­al­i­ty was a crime. It’s just one of those things that west­ern soci­ety wasn’t very keen on.

Real Con­tent

1978 News Report on the Rocky Hor­ror Craze Cap­tures a Teenage Michael Stipe in Drag

Rare Inter­view: Tim Cur­ry Dis­cuss­es The Rocky Hor­ror Pic­ture Show, Dur­ing the Week of Its Release (1975)

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

A Playlist of 45 Shakespeare Film Trailers, from 1935 — 2021

The Inter­net Movie Data­base cred­its Shake­speare as the writer on 1787 films, 42 of which have yet to be released.

The Shake­speare Net­work has com­piled a chrono­log­i­cal playlist of trail­ers for 45 of them.

First up is 1935’s A Mid­sum­mer Night’s Dream, fea­tur­ing Olivia de Hav­il­land, Jim­my Cagney, Dick Pow­ell, and, in the role of Puck, a 15-year-old Mick­ey Rooney, hailed by the New York Times as “one of the major delights” of the film, and Vari­ety as “so intent on being cute that he becomes almost annoy­ing.”

Tragedies dom­i­nate, with no few­er than six Ham­lets, Shakespeare’s most filmed work, and “one of the most fas­ci­nat­ing and most thank­less tasks in show busi­ness” accord­ing to nov­el­ist and fre­quent film crit­ic James Agee:

There can nev­er be a defin­i­tive pro­duc­tion of a play about which no two peo­ple in the world can agree. There can nev­er be a thor­ough­ly sat­is­fy­ing pro­duc­tion of a play about which so many peo­ple feel so per­son­al­ly and so pas­sion­ate­ly. Very like­ly there will nev­er be a pro­duc­tion good enough to pro­voke less argu­ment than praise.

Lawrence Olivi­er, Nicol Williamson, Mel Gib­son, Ken­neth Branagh, Ethan Hawke, David Ten­nant — take your pick:

Mac­Beth, Richard III, Romeo and Juli­et, and The Tem­pest — a com­e­dy — are oth­er crowd-pleas­ing work­hors­es, chewy assign­ments for actors and direc­tors alike.

Those with a taste for deep­er cuts will appre­ci­ate the inclu­sion of Ralph Fiennes’ Cori­olanus (2011), Branagh’s Love’s Labour’s Lost (2000) and Titus, Julie Tay­mor’s 1999 adap­ta­tion of Shakespeare’s most shock­ing blood­bath.

Moviego­ing con­nois­seurs of the Bard may feel moved to stump for films that did­n’t make the playlist. If you can find a trail­er for it, go for it!  Lob­by the Shake­speare Net­work on its behalf, or make your case in the com­ments.

We’ll throw our weight behind Michael Almereyda’s Cym­be­line, fea­tur­ing Ed Har­ris roar­ing down the porch steps of a dilap­i­dat­ed Brook­lyn Vic­to­ri­an on a motor­cy­cle, the bizarre Romeo.Juliet pair­ing A‑list British vocal tal­ent with an all-feline line-up of Capulets and Mon­tagues, and Shake­speare Behind Bars, a 2005 doc­u­men­tary fol­low­ing twen­ty incar­cer­at­ed men who spent nine months delv­ing into The Tem­pest pri­or to a pro­duc­tion for guards, fel­low inmates, and invit­ed guests.

Enjoy the complete playlist of Shake­speare film trail­ers below. They move from 1935 to 2021.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Watch Very First Film Adap­ta­tions of Shakespeare’s Plays: King John, The Tem­pest, Richard III & More (1899–1936)

Young Orson Welles Directs “Voodoo Mac­beth,” the First Shake­speare Pro­duc­tion With An All-Black Cast: Footage from 1936

Take a Vir­tu­al Tour of Shakespeare’s Globe The­atre in Lon­don

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

George Bernard Shaw’s Famous Writing Hut, Which Could Be Rotated 360 Degrees to Catch the Sun All Day

Sev­en decades after his death, George Bernard Shaw is remem­bered for his prodi­gious body of work as a play­wright, but also — and at least as much — for his per­son­al eccen­tric­i­ties: the then-unfash­ion­able tee­to­tal­ing veg­e­tar­i­an­ism, the rejec­tion of vac­cines and even the germ the­o­ry of dis­ease, the all-wool wardrobe. Thus, even those casu­al­ly famil­iar with Shaw’s life and work may not be ter­ri­bly sur­prised to learn that he not only had an out­build­ing in which to do his work, but an out­build­ing that could be rotat­ed 360 degrees. “Shaw’s writ­ing refuge was a six-square-meter wood­en sum­mer­house, orig­i­nal­ly intend­ed for his wife Char­lotte,” writes Idler’s Alex John­son. “Built on a revolv­ing base that used cas­tors on a cir­cu­lar track,” it was “essen­tial­ly a shed on a lazy Susan.”

The hut became a part of Shaw’s for­mi­da­ble pub­lic image in a peri­od of the ear­ly twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry “when there was a grow­ing appre­ci­a­tion of idyl­lic rur­al set­tings — a knock-on effect of which was that peo­ple had gar­den build­ings installed. Shaw made the most of this move­ment, pro­mot­ing him­self as a reclu­sive thinker toil­ing in his rus­tic shel­ter, away from the intru­sions of press and peo­ple alike, while at the same time invit­ing in news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines and pos­ing for pho­tos.”

In 1929, “Shaw stood in front of his hut for a pho­to for Mod­ern Mechan­ics & Inven­tions mag­a­zine to pro­mote the idea of sun­light as a heal­ing agent.” Hence the impor­tance of rotat­ing to catch its rays all day long through win­dows made of Vita­glass, “a recent inven­tion that allowed UV rays to come through, let­ting, the mak­ers said, ‘health into the build­ing.’ ”

How­ev­er odd some of Shaw’s views and prac­tices, one can’t help but imag­ine that at least some of them con­tributed to his longevi­ty. The 1946 British Pathé news­reel above pays him a vis­it just a few years before his death at the age of 94, find­ing him still writ­ing (he still had the play Buoy­ant Bil­lions ahead of him, as well as sev­er­al oth­er mis­cel­la­neous works), and what’s more, doing so in his hut: “Like G. B. S. him­self,” says the nar­ra­tor, “it pre­tends to be strict­ly prac­ti­cal, with no non­sense about it.” Yet Shaw seems to have had a sense of humor about his the­o­ret­i­cal­ly hum­ble work­space, nam­ing it after the Eng­lish cap­i­tal so that unwant­ed vis­i­tors to his home in the vil­lage of Ayot St Lawrence could be told, not untruth­ful­ly, that he was in Lon­don. But one nat­u­ral­ly won­ders: when he rang up the main house with his in-hut tele­phone (anoth­er of its high­ly advanced fea­tures), did his house­keep­er say it was Lon­don call­ing?

via Messy Nessy

Relat­ed con­tent:

Roald Dahl Gives a Tour of the Small Back­yard Hut Where He Wrote All of His Beloved Children’s Books

The Cork-Lined Bed­room & Writ­ing Room of Mar­cel Proust, the Orig­i­nal Mas­ter of Social Dis­tanc­ing

Clas­sic Mon­ty Python: Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw Engage in a Hilar­i­ous Bat­tle of Wits

Who Wrote at Stand­ing Desks? Kierkegaard, Dick­ens and Ernest Hem­ing­way Too

The Dai­ly Habits of Famous Writ­ers: Franz Kaf­ka, Haru­ki Muraka­mi, Stephen King & More

When the Indi­ana Bell Build­ing Was Rotat­ed 90° While Every­one Worked Inside in 1930 (by Kurt Vonnegut’s Archi­tect Dad)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

When David Bowie Starred in The Elephant Man on Broadway (1980)

Joseph Mer­rick, one of the most severe­ly deformed indi­vid­u­als record­ed in med­ical his­to­ry, would hard­ly seem like the role David Bowie was born to play. The lat­ter looked and act­ed as if des­tined for nine­teen-sev­en­ties rock star­dom; the for­mer so hor­ri­fied his fel­low Vic­to­ri­ans that he was exhib­it­ed under the name “The Ele­phant Man.” But what­ev­er their out­ward dif­fer­ences, these Eng­lish­men did both know fame, a con­di­tion Bowie rued along­side John Lennon in 1975. Yet in the fol­low­ing years he con­tin­ued to expand his pub­lic pro­file, not least by turn­ing to act­ing, and even came off as a viable movie star in Nico­las Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth — not that play­ing a frag­ile but mag­net­ic vis­i­tor from anoth­er world would have been much of a stretch.

In fact, it was The Man Who Fell to Earth that con­vinced the­ater direc­tor Jack Hof­siss to offer Bowie the lead in The Ele­phant Man, Bernard Pomer­ance’s play about the life of Joseph Mer­rick (referred to, in the script, as John Mer­rick). Hof­siss sus­pect­ed that Bowie “would under­stand Mer­rick­’s sense of oth­er­ness and alien­ation,” writes Loud­er’s Bill DeMain; he may or may not have known that Bowie’s expe­ri­ence study­ing mime, of which he made plen­ty of use in his con­certs, would place him well to evoke the char­ac­ter’s mis­shapen body.

The Ele­phant Man explic­it­ly calls for no pros­thet­ic make­up; begin­ning with David Schofield, who starred in its first pro­duc­tions, all the actors play­ing Joseph Mer­rick have had to embody him with their act­ing skills alone.

You can see how Bowie did it in clips above. “I got a call with­in two weeks of hav­ing to go over and start rehearsal,” his web site quotes him as say­ing. “So I went to the Lon­don Hos­pi­tal and went to the muse­um there. Found the plas­ter casts of the bits of Merrick’s body that were inter­est­ing to the med­ical pro­fes­sion and the lit­tle church that he’d made, and his cap and his cloak.” These arti­facts gave him enough suf­fi­cient sense of “the gen­er­al atmos­phere” of Mer­rick­’s life and times to make the role his own by the time of his first per­for­mances in Den­ver and Chica­go in the sum­mer of 1980. “Advance word on Bowie’s per­for­mance was encour­ag­ing, with box office records bro­ken at the the­aters in both cities,” writes DeMain; The Ele­phant Man soon made it to Broad­way, open­ing at the Booth The­atre in the fall.

It was there, in Decem­ber of 1980, that Mark David Chap­man saw Bowie play Mer­rick, just two nights before he assas­si­nat­ed Lennon — and he also had anoth­er tick­et, in the front row, for the very next night’s show. “John and Yoko were sup­posed to sit front-row for that show too,” said Bowie, “so the night after John was killed there were three emp­ty seats in the front row. I can’t tell you how dif­fi­cult it was to go on. I almost did­n’t make it through the per­for­mance.” Hav­ing been num­ber two on Chap­man’s hit list sure­ly did its part to inspire Bowie’s deci­sion to recuse him­self from live per­for­mance — to stop dis­play­ing him­self for a liv­ing, as the char­ac­ter of Joseph Mer­rick would have put it — for the next few years. But it was only the ear­ly eight­ies, and Bowie could hard­ly have known that his real heights of fame, for bet­ter or worse, were yet to come.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Watch David Bowie Star in His First Film Role, a Short Hor­ror Flick Called The Image (1967)

David Bowie’s Mys­ti­cal Appear­ances in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks

The Thin White Duke: A Close Study of David Bowie’s Dark­est Char­ac­ter

How Nico­las Roeg (RIP) Used David Bowie, Mick Jag­ger & Art Gar­funkel in His Mind-Bend­ing Films

David Bowie Per­forms “Life on Mars?” and “Ash­es to Ash­es” on John­ny Carson’s “Tonight Show” (1980)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Watch a Japanese Artisan Make a Noh Mask, Creating an Astonishing Character From a Single Block of Wood

Noh actors under­go years of rig­or­ous train­ing to per­fect their per­for­mance tech­nique.

The ancient clas­si­cal art requires actors’ faces to be obscured by rigid masks carved from sin­gle blocks of hino­ki wood. A thor­ough com­mand of pos­ture, phys­i­cal ges­ture, and voice is essen­tial for con­vey­ing the char­ac­ters’ emo­tions.

The qual­i­ty of the mask is of utmost impor­tance, too.

Naka­mu­ra Mit­sue, a mak­er of tra­di­tion­al Noh masks, whose inter­est in human faces and por­trai­ture orig­i­nal­ly led her to study west­ern art, notes that the cre­ator must pos­sess a high degree of skill if the mask is to func­tion prop­er­ly. The best masks will sug­gest dif­fer­ent atti­tudes from dif­fer­ent angles.

Tera­su, or an upwards tilt con­veys hap­py emo­tions, while the down­ward tilt of kumora­su express­es dark­er feel­ings and tears.

The most expert­ly carved masks’ eyes will appear to shift as the actor changes posi­tion.

The full range of human expres­sion is the most dif­fi­cult to achieve with del­i­cate-fea­tured female Noh masks.

“I used to change its direc­tion and stare at it in the mir­ror all night,” Ms. Naka­mu­ra writes on her web­site, recall­ing how her men­tor, the cel­e­brat­ed crafts­man Yasue­mon Hori, taught her how to carve Ko-Omote, a mask rep­re­sent­ing the youngest woman in the Noh canon.

When cre­at­ing a mask of a beau­ti­ful girl or child I feel very hap­py but when cre­at­ing an onryo (ghost spir­it) I can feel sor­row or anger.

Ms. Nakamura’s ded­i­ca­tion, exper­tise and patience are on abun­dant dis­play in the word­less Process X video, above.

She is, as the New York Times notes, one of a grow­ing num­ber of female prac­ti­tion­ers:

When she began, she knew of only one oth­er woman in the field, but this year, all four of her cur­rent appren­tices, some of whom study for as long as 10 years, are female. Some adhere to the tra­di­tion­al arche­types and tech­niques, while oth­ers rad­i­cal­ly rein­ter­pret them.

Like many oth­er Japan­ese women of her gen­er­a­tion, she did as expect­ed, mar­ry­ing and hav­ing chil­dren short­ly after com­plet­ing her edu­ca­tion. She began study­ing mask mak­ing when her chil­dren began school, wait­ing until they were 18 to leave her mar­riage. By then, she was well posi­tioned to sup­port her­self as a pro­fes­sion­al nō-men-shi (Noh mask mak­er.)

A sin­gle mask by a respect­ed nō-men-shi can take a month to com­plete, but can fetch a price in the neigh­bor­hood of ¥500,000.

Ms. Naka­mu­ra labors in a work­shop in her tra­di­tion­al-style home in Kyoto.

Her tools and sup­plies are equal­ly old-fash­ioned — a mix­ture of seashell pow­der and rice glue, a mor­tar and pes­tle, a chis­el that she wields per­ilous­ly close to her knees and slip­per-clad feet…

As Jason Haidar writes in Kan­sai Scene:

It may be no coin­ci­dence that Ms. Naka­mu­ra wields a chis­el so nat­u­ral­ly and with such skill, One of the main chis­els used for carv­ing Noh masks is called a tou, which is anoth­er word mean­ing samu­rai sword. Ms. Naka­mu­ra always cred­it­ed her par­ents for encour­ag­ing her to learn a skill that could allow her to sup­port her­self with­out a hus­band, and this mod­ern think­ing could be attrib­uted to her fam­i­ly being of samu­rai lin­eage. After the reforms of the Mei­ji Restora­tion (1868–1912) that saw the ush­er­ing in of mod­ern Japan, her ances­tors learned the impor­tance of being self-suf­fi­cient, inde­pen­dent, and hav­ing a diverse range of skills – val­ues which were passed down to her.

Explore a gallery of Mit­sue Nakamura’s Noh masks here. Click on spe­cif­ic images to learn about each mask’s pur­pose in Noh, rec­og­nized by UNESCO as hav­ing “Intan­gi­ble Cul­tur­al Her­itage”.

via Aeon

Relat­ed Con­tent 

A Hyp­not­ic Look at How Japan­ese Samu­rai Swords Are Made

Watch a Tra­di­tion­al Japan­ese Car­pen­ter Make 190+ Dif­fer­ent Joints, All With­out Nails, Screws, or Glue

Japan­ese Restau­rants Show You How to Make Tra­di­tion­al Dish­es in Med­i­ta­tive Videos: Soba, Tem­pu­ra, Udon & More

20 Mes­mer­iz­ing Videos of Japan­ese Arti­sans Cre­at­ing Tra­di­tion­al Hand­i­crafts

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Behold Shakespeare’s First Folio, the First Published Collection of Shakespeare’s Plays, Published 400 Year Ago (1623)

Sum­mer’s lease may have all too short a date, but every year, it’s time enough for dozens, nay, hun­dreds of free Shake­speare pro­duc­tions to pop up in the parks and park­ing lots.

We owe these plea­sures in part to the First Folio, a fat col­lec­tion of Shakespeare’s plays, com­piled in 1623, sev­en years after his death.

As Eliz­a­beth James, senior librar­i­an at the Nation­al Art Library in Lon­don, and Har­ri­et Reed, con­tem­po­rary per­for­mance cura­tor at the Vic­to­ria and Albert Muse­um point out in the show-and-tell above, 18 pre­vi­ous­ly-unpub­lished plays would have sunk into obliv­ion had they not been truf­fled up and pre­served here by John Heminge and Hen­ry Con­dell, list­ed in the Folio as among the ‘Prin­ci­pall Actors’ of his work.

You may be able to imag­ine a world with­out Cym­be­line or Tim­on of Athens, but what about Mac­beth or The Tem­pest?

Hem­ings and Con­del­l’s desire to cre­ate an accu­rate com­pendi­um of Shakespeare’s work for pos­ter­i­ty led them to scour prompt books, autho­r­i­al fair copy, and work­ing drafts referred to as “foul papers” —  a term rife for revival, in our opin­ion — for the texts of the unpub­lished works.

Their labors yield­ed some 750 copies of a lux­u­ri­ous, high-priced vol­ume, which posi­tioned Shake­speare as some­one of such con­se­quence, his words were to be accord­ed the same rev­er­ence as that of clas­si­cal authors’.

They cat­e­go­rized the plays as come­dies, tragedies, or his­to­ries, for­ev­er cement­ing our con­cep­tions of the indi­vid­ual works.

The now famil­iar por­trait of the author also con­tributed to the per­ceived weight­i­ness of the tome.

Of the 230-some First Folios that sur­vive, the bulk are in library or uni­ver­si­ty col­lec­tions — with the Fol­ger Shake­speare Library, Toky­o’s Mei­sei Uni­ver­si­ty, the New York Pub­lic Library, the British Library the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cam­bridge, the Uni­ver­si­ty of Oxford, the Uni­ver­si­ty of Texas at Austin and Prince­ton among those hold­ing mul­ti­ple copies.

Some retain the hand­writ­ten anno­ta­tions of their orig­i­nal own­ers, a metic­u­lous record of plays seen or read. How many would you be able to check off as some­thing read or seen?

All’s Well That Ends Well, 

Antony and Cleopa­tra

As You Like It

The Com­e­dy of Errors



Hen­ry VI, Part 1

Hen­ry VII

Julius Cae­sar

King John,


Mea­sure for Mea­sure

The Tam­ing of the Shrew

 The Tem­pest

Tim­on of Athens

Twelfth Night

The Two Gen­tle­men of Verona

The Winter’s Tale.

An online ver­sion of the First Folio can be viewed here.

via Aeon

Relat­ed Con­tent 

3,000 Illus­tra­tions of Shakespeare’s Com­plete Works from Vic­to­ri­an Eng­land, Neat­ly Pre­sent­ed in a New Dig­i­tal Archive

The Only Sur­viv­ing Script Writ­ten by Shake­speare Is Now Online

Ian McK­ellen Reads a Pas­sion­ate Speech by William Shake­speare, Writ­ten in Defense of Immi­grants

Take a Vir­tu­al Tour of Shakespeare’s Globe The­atre in Lon­don

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Nathan Lane Breaks Down His Broadway Career

Play­bill writes: “Nathan Lane is cur­rent­ly star­ring on Broad­way in ‘Pic­tures From Home,’ oppo­site Zoë Wana­mak­er (who plays his wife) and Dan­ny Burstein (who plays his son). In the inau­gur­al entry to Play­bil­l’s new video series, ‘My Life in the The­atre,’ Lane sits down with a Play­bill binder con­tain­ing every Play­bill from every show he’s ever done on Broad­way. Lane walks us through his career, includ­ing the time he asked Sond­heim to write new songs for ‘The Frogs,’ how he almost changed his name to Nor­man Lane, and the pro­duc­tion where he played a ‘thug ver­sion of Don­ald Trump.’ ”

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

via Metafil­ter

Relat­ed Con­tent 

100,000+ Won­der­ful Pieces of The­ater Ephemera Dig­i­tized by The New York Pub­lic Library

Watch Lin-Manuel Miran­da Per­form the Ear­li­est Ver­sion of Hamil­ton at the White House, Six Years Before the Play Hit the Broad­way Stage (2009)

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.