Fairies gather in their tree home in Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream." This ink and watercolor by Arthur Rackham is one of many illustrations from UC Archives and Rare Books Library to be featured in the Cincinnati Museum Center's "Shakespeare and the Queen City" exhibition.


Shakespeare comes to town


UC’s archives come to life as part of the ‘Shakespeare in the Queen City’ First Folio Exhibit at the Cincinnati Museum Center, Aug. 25-Oct. 29







By Melanie Schefft
Photos provided and by Jay Yocis/UC Creative Services

Aug. 24, 2017



Friends, students, countrymen, lend me your ears!



As part of the upcoming “Shakespeare and the Queen City” exhibition at the Cincinnati Museum Center (CMC), the extensive Shakespeare collection in the University of Cincinnati Libraries will play a major role in offering visitors a glimpse into the history of the city’s love of the Bard.

“Shakespeare and the Queen City” is FREE and runs from Aug. 25 through Oct. 29 as a multicollaborative effort to commemorate Cincinnati’s connection to Shakespeare and celebrate the vibrant and complex history of bringing Shakespeare’s works into print.

The focal point of the exhibit includes a rare peek at one of 82 First Folios belonging to the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., each containing 36 of the playwright’s published works.

UC student Sydney Vollmer sits at her computer/scanner surrounded by books in UC's archives library.

Recent UC alumna Sydney Vollmer devoted a large portion of her summer internship to scanning and documenting specially selected pieces from UC's archives library for the exhibition.

Early in the planning process, Sarah Lima, business development manager for the Cincinnati Museum Center and curator for the exhibit was inspired by a UC Libraries Shakespeare blog written by UC alumna Sydney Vollmer, a student intern for UC’s Archives and Rare Books Library.

As part of her internship assignment, she was asked to help select and organize the most engaging pieces for the exhibit to shine a light on Cincinnati’s celebrations of Shakespeare’s work throughout the centuries.

“The multicollaborative efforts of the Cincinnati Museum Center, UC Libraries, the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County and the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company helps shed light on how Shakespeare is a part of our everyday culture and how Cincinnati has loved and interpreted him in different ways over the decades,” says Kevin Grace, UC graduate and head of the university’s Archives and Rare Books Library. “Phrases highlighted throughout the exhibit such as, ‘In my mind’s eye,’ ‘To thine own self be true’ and ‘Neither a borrower nor a lender be,’ shows how powerfully Shakespeare is a part of our lives every day whether we realize it or not.”


Group of UC English faculty dancing in Burnett Woods in 1916 for the 300th anniversary of William Shakespeare's death.

Scene from Cincinnati's 1916 commemoration of the tercentenary (300th anniversary) of Shakespeare's death - English faculty from UC perform dances in Burnet Woods.


Shakespeare by the book

As a result of blog-writer Vollmer’s inspiration, visitors will enter the exhibit through a forest of trees. Little fairy doors that can be opened on the trees will reveal enlarged copies of illustrations from UC’s collection, such as watercolor paintings of the fairy Puck from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and other ink and watercolor illustrations by Arthur Rackham from the early 1900s.

“The blog I created as part of my internship in the library describes everything from UC’s holdings to events that may be going on and comparisons between Shakespeare then and now and how they’re used in popular culture,” says Vollmer. “Along with UC’s books and illustrations in the exhibit, photos will be on display showing exuberant UC campus celebrations during the 1916 tercentenary of the 300th anniversary of the Bard’s death.”


UC faculty stand costumed in Burnet Woods during the 1916 Market Parade for the 300th anniversary of Shakespeare's death.

UC English faculty perform in the Burnet Woods market parade as part of the 1916 commemoration of the tercentenary. Many tercentenary events on UC's campus were filmed for theater news reels at that time.

Grace noted that UC’s campus in 1916 was consumed by celebrations of Shakespeare’s work 300 years after his death.

“It took an entire week at that time to mount the plays, put on Elizabethan markets and dances performed by UC’s English faculty in Burnet Woods –– the photos for which are all part of the exhibit,” Grace adds.

In addition, UC’s library will feature two pages from the unpublished autobiography of Theda Bara, a UC student in the early 1900s before she went on to become a silent film star.

Shortly after the anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, Bara appeared in the silent film “Cleopatra,” based on the playwright’s “Antony and Cleopatra.” Visitors can get an up close view of some of the pages in her autobiography where she candidly describes the costuming and direction during the filming.


Silent film star and former UC student Theda Bara stands as Cleopatra on an early film set from 1925.
A typewritten page from the diary of silent film star, Theda Bara describing the direction and costuming during Cleopatra.

As part of the exhibition from UC's archives, silent film vamp and former UC student Theda Bara, stands on a film set as Cleopatra from Shakespeare's "Antony and Cleopatra." On the right, a page from Theda Bara's 1925 diary describing the costuming and film direction.


All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players

Along with the fantastical illustrations and 400-year-old Folio, onlookers will have the opportunity to get “caught up in the act.”

Winding their way through the exhibit, visitors will discover a stage and set where budding actors can don authentic costumes provided by the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company.

“The whole idea is for you to become a part of Shakespeare in an interactive mode,” says Grace. “You can act out a scene from a play such as ‘Richard III’ and people from the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company will be there to direct you.”

The exhibit –– free and open to the public –– is on the lower level of the CMC across from the Children's Museum and next to the "Star Wars and the Power of Costume" exhibit where both will go on simultaneously.

Ironically, there have actually been parodies of Shakespeare as Star Wars figures –– six issued so far –– and Vollmer writes about one of them in her Shakespeare blog.


Watercolor painting of elves and fairies from Shakespeare's Tempest.

A watercolor of elves and fairies from Shakespeare's "Tempest" by Edmund Dulac in early 1900s.

An ink and watercolor painting of a man with a horse's head from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.

An ink and watercolor of Titania sees Bottom from Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" by Arthur Rackham.


Spinning tangled tales through the web

Before and beyond the exhibit’s two-month stint, UC‘s Shakespeare website has intended to feature galleries, news and blogs, which includes a comprehensive section on Enoch Carson, the man behind the UC collection of Shakespeare works, purchased and donated to the university by UC Board of Trustees member, William A. Procter, in 1895.

“It’s been fun trying to document the Shakespeare productions.  It’s a never-ending task because there have been hundreds of productions. We created a gallery of playbills from over the years that we can add to as time goes by,” says Vollmer, who graduated this past April with a B.A. in Marketing. “For example, ‘Hamlet’ is being performed by CCM this fall as part of their anniversary. Xavier performed it twice last year as part of the 400th anniversary and Cincinnati Shakespeare Company is doing two Shakespeare plays this coming season.

“So it’s a constant revolving door with Shakespeare events here.”

Grace hopes the website will grow as a resource for not only UC students and faculty, but for high school, middle school and the general public.

“When you go to that site you get this incredible encapsulation of, not only Shakespeare in Cincinnati, but Shakespeare as a whole with all the interesting nuance we have in our collection and the variety of links to the Shakespeare companies around the world.”

In late October, Grace will travel to the Folger Shakespeare Library as one of 30 individuals invited to take part in a new education program, the first Teaching Shakespeare Institute: Weekend Intensive, where he will study fresh approaches in providing access to the Archives & Rare Books Library’s holdings for learning and research.


A round, red sign tag that reads, Have you a part in the Shakespeare Tercentenary? I have!

A sign tag from UC's 1916 commemoration of the tercentenary –– celebration of the 300th anniversary of Shakespeare's death.


The Cincinnati Museum Center’s exhibition, “Shakespeare in the Queen City,” featuring UC’s Carson Shakespearean Collection and an original first folio of 36 plays opens on Friday, Aug. 25 and runs through Oct. 29.

For more information:

Interested in Shakespeare stage production or comparative literature? Check out UC's Department of English and Comparative Literature or UC’s College-Conservatory of Music. Apply to become a Bearcat bard in UC’s undergrad or graduate program and “be not afraid of greatness.”