The University of Liverpool Folio Pages.


Books   This morning, I fulfilled a life long dream and was finally to touch and breath the same air as pages from an original First Folio.  For a few years now, I've been travelling the country to see some of the complete books in various exhibitions and institutions, partly as a reason to travel but also because of the fascinating history each of them has.  But I'm under no illusion.  This isn't an academic endeavour.  It's a fannish pilgrimage and up until now, the closest I thought I'd ever get to seeing these pages was through a glass display case, not having an educational reason for consulting the texts.

But a couple of weeks ago, whilst idly looking through local library catalogues for something else, I noticed that although the University of Liverpool's special collections department doesn't have a complete First Folio, it does have a portion, two plays, Taming of the Shrew and All's Well That Ends Well along with a second, third and fourth editions.  After contacting them, it turned out they'd be very happy to let me visit and have a look and for the past couple of weeks have been filled with a nervous energy as I waited for my appointment to view the texts.  Between this and Sunday night's Doctor Who its been quite a nice couple of days.

As you can see, the two plays are bound in a single leather cover which is tightly stretched at the spine which necessitated a large number of sponge book cushions and very careful opening.  After the endpaper is the final page of As You Like It, followed by the other two plays as they would appear in a complete volume.  The catalogue entry doesn't offer a provenance, so I'm intrigued to know what happened to the rest of the book.  The corner of the page facing The Taming of the Shrew has been turned over.  Here's the reverse side:

Which would suggest that these were once part of a complete volume because why else would someone want to save their page?  The library has asked me to include class numbers for each of the volumes.  This is SPEC Y62.5.14.

The census by Eric Rasmussen and Anthony James West suggests that some of the folios are mash-ups, brought together from various sources.  The edition which burnt in the fire at Birmingham was example of this type of volume.  The Folger Shakespeare Library has loose pages in its collection and they're still valuable on their own, presumably because of their age.  Might some them once have been part of this copy?  It's estimated that about 750 copies of the First Folio were originally printed so its a miracle that on top of the extant 233 anything else still exists.

None of which captures how it felt to open the book and turning to the back page of As You Like It and then on into the other two plays.  Running my fingers across the surface, I'm struck by how rough the pages are and despite the thickness of the paper, how fragile.  Did I smell them?  I did.  Musty.  Old.  Seeing these sides through glass is one thing.  Turning them as so many others will have since they came out of the printers at Jaggard's shop is something else entirely.  On the other it's the book.  

The aforementioned page turning isn't the only human intervention.  Although these pages lack marginalia, someone has made an attempt to correct the famous printing error on page 250 of All's Well That Ends Well with a small pencil circle over the incorrect number 2:

The pages are also spackled with the tell-tale brown stains of someone having read this close to either an open fire with floating soot trails or else smoking.  For twenty minutes, I found out what it must have been like for the compilers of various Folio surveys over the years to greet one of these books and have to minutely detail these variations.

Although the third Folio is temporarily unavailable, I was also able to have a look at the second and fourth printings.  The Second Folio (SPEC Morton 334) is rarely treated with the same reverence as the First, perhaps simply because it was second.  But it's no less grander a book with even more dedications at the front and despite the apparent change in print shop ("Printed in London by Thomas Cote, for John Smethwick, Willam Alpley, Richard Hawkins, Richard Meighen, and Robert Allot, 1632") seems have used the many of the same plates used to prepare the earlier volume.  Rather than being corrected, the printing error is back with a slightly different correction:

The Fourth Folio (SPEC H88.01/oversize) is much less distinguished.  The cover on the University of Liverpool copy is falling off, it feels cheaply bound and has less of an aura, despite it still being over three hundred and thirty years old.  Re-typeset and coming fifty years after the first edition, the dedications are crammed in at the front of the book printed in boxes often on the same page, with Shakespeare's portrait relegated to the frontispiece with one of Ben Jonson's odes.  Despite being re-typeset with in a smaller font, it's also an even larger volume because of Pericles and the six plays Shakespeare didn't write crammed in at the back.

Honestly, it was such a privilege to spend time with this and the other two volumes, especially the two plays.  Now, whenever I see one of the full volumes exhibited or even on television, or reading about its preparation in an Arden edition introduction, I'll now have a sensory memory of at least one small portion of the book.

Images of the books are courtesy of the University of Liverpool Library.

The Power of the Doctor.

TV  Let's be honest in the middle of everything which happened in the thirteenth Doctor's final episode (for now!) the last thing I expected to see a (squint if you like) reference to Big Finish's equally bonkers 40th anniversary celebration Zagreus.   If you remember in that story, Eighth had been possessed by an anti-time creature and as part of a dreamscape (or some such) three of his earlier incarnations rocked up to warn that (and I'm quoting from the TARDIS wiki) "Rassilon is manipulating him as a weapon against the creatures of the Divergent universe, as the creatures of the Divergent Universe would have evolved to surpass the Time Lords before Rassilon locked them away."  The Wilderness Years were a weird time.

Similarly in The Power of the Doctor, we find another council of the Doctors cropping up at a moment when the Time Lord's future is in doubt and amongst them is the Eighth Doctor, and reader, I did gasp, I did squee.  You see, despite everything, all the books, comics and audios, he's still the chronological version with the shortest televisual screen time so when he does turn up, when McGann dons the costume - his Time War threads in this case - it feels like a confirmation for all of the creatives who filled those so-called Wilderness Years that what they did matters beyond the freelance payment.  That even though none of those adventures were on a BBC One during a weekend evening, they still matter too.

Chibbers manages to bring over some of the Big Finish bantz too.  Of course, eighth "doesn't do robes" because he's a manifestation of his consciousness and he can wear what he likes.  He also still looks incredible for all his 62 years, which judging by my own father who's 80 but looks at least fifteen years younger, must have something to do with the fresh breeze off the Mersey.  You can bet if David Tennant hadn't been available, McGann could have quite easily sustained the three episodes coming next November (thirteen months away because of course it is) possibly with Nicola Walker sharing the TARDIS.  But let's be honest, we don't know what shenanigans are coming for the 60th.  That might still happen.

Perhaps the most interesting philosophical question about this is where this appearance fits in this blog's checklist.  Is this the true Eighth, swimming about in the Doctor's consciousness, like all of the past incarnations, offering help on a subconscious basis, unlike the previous incarnations of the numerically challenging renegade Time Lord usually heard as The Eleven?  Or did we just see some of the faces of what I've always thought of as the core Doctor, the internal being that like the Trill in Star Trek contain the centuries of memories and experiences which are then hosted by the faces who wander about liking bowties and custard creams and so is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike the Eighth Doctor?

Placement:  I'm going with the latter.  If for some mad reason you decided to watch/read/read again and listen to the checklist in that order, Time of the Doctor feels like the proper end point.  It'd be a bit weird to then sit through The Power of the Doctor just in case.