By far the greatest geek pleasure afforded to me in Oxford was our field trip to the Worcester College Library. The Worcester library is not huge like the Bodleian but it has a treasures, real treasures. We we not allowed to take photos, but let me explain what we were able to see.
After the wonderful opening of the doors with those enormous skeleton keys we were led to the first room where we were able to examine the oldest extant plans for a renaissance theatre. These are the plans that they consulted when they rebuilt the Globe Theatre. I loved looking at them because when you looked at them closely you could see erasure marks and all the scoring from the straight edge that the draftsman used. They are spectacularly detailed, but I loved the fact that they were working documents – no print or decorative drawing. We hovered over the drawings, never daring to breathe on them. The others were growing impatient with me (they had a bus to catch) so it was “Well, that’s it then,” and off to our second stop in the library.
The librarian brought us to another room with a table full of treasures and a wall full of jewels. On the table were a facsimile Shakespeare first folio, a true second folio, a true third folio -and yes, a true fourth folio. There were also six or eight quarto editions of Shakespeare and Middleton and the like, dating from the late 1500s. The wall shelves were filled with sixteenth and seventeenth century plays, Jaw droppingly amazing.
But wait, there’s more.
As we hovered over the folios and quartos, the librarian said – “Go ahead, you can touch them. Read them. Turn the pages. Just don’t pick them up off the foam supports.”
So, I did! I looked at the folios. I compared them. I looked to see what plays had been added. I checked to see if Romeo says, “I deny you stars,” or “I defy you stars,” as it is in most modern versions. In all four folios it’s “deny” – for what it is worth. I looked at the quartos. Opened them. Read them. I’d still be there today except I had that plane to catch.
“Well, that’s it then.”
Oh, geek heaven.
Skeleton Keys image by stevendepolo