Bodleian event celebrates sonnets in Shakespeare's anniversary year

11 November 2016

Celebrations of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death continued last week when the Bodleian welcomed two unique sets of sonnets into the Libraries' collections at a special event on 10 November.

Close up image of a letterpress printed sonnet

One was a set of sonnets written by Oxford schoolchildren as part of a series of workshops led by the Poet of Oxford Kate Clanchy. The other was a unique collection of Shakespearian sonnets that have been hand-printed by printers around the world as part of the Bodleian's Sonnets 2016 project.

Members of the public, local school pupils and some of the participating printers came together in the Weston Library for the Sonnets Alive event. Simon Armitage, the Image of Simon Armitage in the Weston LibraryUniversity of Oxford's Professor of Poetry welcomed the school pupils' sonnets into the Bodleian's collections and Catriona Cannon, Deputy Librarian at the Bodleian Libraries welcomed the hand-printed sonnets. The event also featured young people reading their own sonnets and a display of the beautifully printed sonnets.

At the beginning of 2016, the Bodleian invited printers around the world to submit hand-printed copies of each of Shakespeare's 154 sonnets. Printers took up the challenge with great enthusiasm and the Bodleian has now received sonnets from more than a dozen countries in languages ranging from Armenian and Polish to Scots and Welsh. Many of the printers who responded to the sonnet printing challenge enlisted the help of artists to decorate their sonnets, with subjects including human figures, Shakespeare himself, birds, flowers and an unusual 'scaly anteater' called a pangolin. Some sonnets are printed on special paper, including paper that the printers made themselves. Others made typographical designs using coloured Image of student reading sonnetinks, different typefaces, ornaments and novel arrangements of the type in a spiral pattern. Submissions came from a range of printers, including individuals printing at home to school pupils, non-profit organisations and university departments.

The Bodleian has a long-standing commitment to preserving the craft of hand-press printing. The Bodleian Bibliography Room, based in the Old Schools Quadrangle is a hand-press printing workshop that offers workshops to schools, visiting groups and members of the public. Bodleian staff based at the workshop also contributed a sonnet to the project. They chose to print Sonnet 59 since in it Shakespeare says 'Show me your image in some antique book,' which alludes to the kind of historic gems that have been collected by the Bodleian over the last 400 years.

The school pupils' sonnets that have now joined the Bodleian's collections were composed during 2016 when Clanchy led sonnet-writing workshops in six schools in Oxford, with 150 students taking part. The project, titled Sonnet Parcels, was funded by a grant from Arts Council England as part of a project led by the Oxfordshire County Libraries, titled 'Shakespeare, Dead or Alive!', and in connection with the citywide Shakespeare Oxford 400 Festival. The student authors of the 14 sonnets that were selected for inclusion in a printed booklet helped set the type for their sonnet booklet at the Bodleian's historic printing press workshop.Image of Catriona Cannon, Deputy Librarian at the Bodleian Libraries with Miles Wigfield, President of the Oxford Guild of Printers

Clanchy's work to encourage sonnet-writing in the community was the inspiration for the Bodleian's Sonnet Tree. This installation in the Weston Library, open during the Shakespeare's Dead exhibition, invited visitors to write their own poem and hang them on a tree-shaped display. The Sonnet Tree was also on show as part of the special event on November 10.

'All of these projects have been inspired by Shakespeare's popularity 400 years after his death,' said Alexandra Franklin, Coordinator of the Bodleian's Centre for the Study of the Book. 'Having taken a fresh look at Shakespeare's plays and poetry in all of these projects, we feel that the Shakespearian sonnet, his special poetic form, is very much alive today in Oxford and around the world.'

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