Monday, July 4, 2022

Day 23 – The British Library and King Lear

The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and is one of the largest libraries in the world, with more than 170 million objects, including books.  It is a legal deposit library like the Library of Congress. This means it receives copies of all books published in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Before 1973, the Library was part of the British Museum but now has its own impressive building near St. Pancras Station as well as storage facilities in Yorkshire. The Library is open to everyone who needs to use its collections. Anyone with a permanent address who wishes to carry out research can apply for a Reader Pass; they are required to provide proof of signature and address. I myself obtained one during our first week in London. The Library’s website is available here; the special collections are also set forth.
Hello, George III!
In the morning, we were able to visit a special exhibit on rare Gold manuscripts, which included 50 items ranging from illuminated manuscripts, scrolls, and books – all exquisite, plus background on the techniques of how the gold was applied. The exhibit showcases material in 17 different languages, from 20 countries, ranging in date from around the 5th century to the 1920s.
Letter from James II to the Ottoman Empire (1685)
Not surprisingly, the National Library’s gift shop was full of lovely things. I was very tempted by the 3-for-2 deal on the mysteries but instead found an intriguing book on Dido Elizabeth Belle. I keep running into her (figuratively speaking), first at Kenwood House, then at the Docklands Museum, and now in a middle-grade fiction book. I wasn’t sure Tess would read it but I bought it anyway. Then it was lunchtime! Our group is always hungry and for once most of us were able to agree on a restaurant, Albertino’s, which was nearby and we snagged a large table. The food and service were great.
This is a Haggadah showing pictures from the Book of Genesis
In the afternoon, we enjoyed a tour of the special collection by the textile conservator, Elizabeth Rose.  We were pleased to find a sign welcoming us!  The British Library’s rare books collection began with donations from the 18th century, which include the books and manuscripts of Sir Hans Sloane (whose name we have heard several times this month, most recently at Oxford), of Kings George II and III, and more. Liz explained to us that her interest is in the covers of the books, particularly those that are embroidered or covered with silk. We also met her intern Lois, a textile student at the University of Glasgow.
Dr. Steele
Liz brought us to the special conservator facility where we met three women who work on restoration and described their current projects to us. One was restoring an oversized book of 18th-century sea charts. She had removed the binding and spine, and was checking to see if there were missing pages before she cleaned the pages and rebound the book. She showed us the unique tools she uses. I was puzzled by her project because she was clear that the item did not have unusual significance or value, so I wondered how it got prioritized over projects that have both! She could not answer that question but Liz had made it clear this group is shorthanded. I wasn’t sure if some members of the team work part-time due to funding or preference, so the prioritization of all these different restoration projects seems relevant. Another conservator was preparing items for digitization by strengthening tears in the pages.
The final conservator we met, a young Polish woman, was working on the Dunhuang Project, an international collaborative effort to digitize manuscripts, printed texts, paintings, textiles, and artifacts from the Silk Road. The project was established by the British Library in the 90s and now includes twenty-two institutions in 12 countries, including four from the United States. Less than 5% of the project has been completed despite all these partners but the goal is to make them available online and to facilitate use and research.
While interesting, this was not my favorite library visit. I also had a run-in with the Keeper of the Reading Room, which put me in a bad mood. After all the planning I had done to get a Reader's Pass, the Library had bizarre electrical trouble which prevented them from fulfilling book requests. Then I got scolded when I tried to see the Reading Room. Boo!  However, we did also visit items from the Treasures of the British Library Exhibition, which rotates so I had not seen it all.
Vivien Leigh as Lady Macbeth
That night, Amanda had bought standing room tickets to see King Lear at the Globe Theatre. Four of us attended and saw an impressive gender-bending performance with actress Kathryn Hunter playing Lear and the Globe’s artistic director playing both Cordelia and the Fool (I had forgotten how small Cordelia’s part is – it is more fun to be Goneril or Regan). We enjoyed the play although got extremely tired of standing, although it was great to be a “groundling” and pretend we were a 16th-century audience (someone spilled beer on us to heighten the sensation). Two of the cast were out with Covid (another member of our group had tested positive the previous day and was quarantined) and the Globe has a policy of not having understudies (why? expense?) so two backstage people were given scripts to substitute; fortunately not key parts. We were lucky not to miss Kathryn Hunter who had been out earlier in the month. I especially liked the actors who played the loyal Duke of Kent and two-faced Edmund.
I recommend a trip to Shakespeare's Globe!
Miles walked: 2.85


LyzzyBee said...

How lovely! I've been to a university alumni event at the Globe (decades ago) but have never seen a play there.

Jeanne said...

Another book blogger (Jenny at Reading the End) had told me it was fun to be a groundling, so we tried it for the second of two shows last time we got to go to the Globe. At the first show, Dr. Faustus, there was a lot of action in the standing crowd (at one point Faustus threw a "tongue" so one of the groundlings could catch it). At the second, the one we stood for, there were only entrances and exits. So you never know.

Lory said...

Will I ever visit England again? Seeing Twelfth Night at the Globe was a highlight of my travels in my journeyman years ... I'd love to see something else. For Lear, though, I would definitely want a seat, not standing room. Sorry about the problems at the British Library but the exhibits you got to see sound amazing.

CLM said...

Of course, you will, Lory! And the least expensive times to go are in the winter so it is not impossible, just might not happen right away.

I have done standing room at the Met in New York and at the ART in Cambridge, MA and it is more civilized there (at the Met, you get an assigned standing place with room to lean). Someone told us the next day that the clever thing to do is buy one seat and one standing room ticket and switch at the interval. I guess that would work because some people simply left at the interval so it might not be too hard to wiggle into a place where one can see. But we got there in time to stand quite near the front. I had to tell a Greek woman that she could not block our view by filming the whole time (ironic that an usher came and scolded us for sitting for a few minutes but ignored all the people taking unauthorized photos and filming).

Jeanne, apparently the crowd participation really depends on the mood and personality of the audience.