“You Must Have Shakespeare”

Advertisement from the Perrsyburg Journal for the Booklovers' Edition of Shakespeare, the "best...in existence."
Advertisement from the Perrsyburg Journal for the Booklovers’ Edition of Shakespeare, billed as the “best…in existence.” Via Chronicling America.

Saturday, April 23 is the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, the English playwright and poet who authored nearly 40 plays and over 150 sonnets during the late 16th and early 17th centuries. While Shakespeare never stepped foot inside Ohio – or North America, for that matter – his literary legacy has impacted every generation since his lifetime. Perhaps you’ve used one of the words (“assassination”) or phrases (“one fell swoop”) he coined, read one of his plays, or seen a performance or movie based on one of his works. Ohio Memory and Chronicling America have several examples of how Shakespeare has factored into Ohio’s culture and history, and in honor of the “Bard of Avon,” we’ll explore some of those items today.

Postcard of Cleveland's Shakespeare Garden. Courtesy of the Cleveland Public Library via Ohio Memory.
Postcard of Cleveland’s Shakespeare Garden, courtesy of the Cleveland Public Library via Ohio Memory.

To memorialize the 300th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 1916, Cleveland created the Shakespeare Garden, one of the Cleveland Cultural Gardens in Rockefeller Park. It was dedicated in October of that year, with many famous Shakespearean actors of the time in attendance, including Julia Marlowe. In New York’s Central Park, a sculpture of Shakespeare created by Urbana native John Quincy Adams Ward commemorated this anniversary, and a smaller version of that sculpture, believed to be a working model, is now on display at the Champaign County Library.

The Mount Vernon Democratic Banner's front page feature on Shakespeare in honor of his 300th death anniversary. Via Chronicling America.
The Democratic Banner’s April 18, 1916, front page feature on Shakespeare. Via Chronicling America.

Historic newspapers also documented the tricentennial of Shakespeare’s death. Mount Vernon’s Democratic Banner noted that “Throughout the world, save where war has interdicted normal activities, the memory of William Shakespeare is especially honored this year on April 23…. To honor fitly his memory, public pageants, festivals, musical recitals, representations of his works, meetings, readings, assemblages of school children, etc. have been arranged” (April 18, 1916, p. 1). One such celebration occurred in Wauseon, and no doubt similar activities will be happening all around Ohio this year as well. (In fact, Shakespeare’s First Folio, published in 1623 and containing 36 of his plays, is on tour from the Folger Library, and will be at the Cleveland Public Library this summer from June 20 through July 30.)

Shakespeare has been remembered and honored throughout history in other ways as well. Thomas Worthington, Ohio’s sixth governor, purchased and displayed prints inspired by scenes in Shakespeare’s plays for his home at Adena. Ohio Memory also contains images of early 20th century set designs for Shakespeare plays from The Ohio State University’s Theatre Research Institute. Newspapers included information about upcoming local performances, the controversy surrounding whether or not Shakespeare really did write all (or any!) of his own works, and Shakespeare’s life and works in general.

Late 18th/early 19th century set design for Romeo & Juliet, sketched by Mathias Armbruster. Courtesy of The Ohio State University Theatre Research Institute via Ohio Memory.
Set design for Romeo & Juliet, ca. 1880-1900. Courtesy of The Ohio State University Theatre Research Institute via Ohio Memory.

Whether you love or loathe Shakespeare, it’s hard to deny that he has permeated our culture since the moment he began performing and publishing. On this quadricentennial of his death, explore Ohio Memory and Chronicling America to learn more about how Ohioans throughout history remembered Shakespeare and his contributions to literature and culture, and maybe take a moment to reflect on where his work has intersected with your life. And even if you have not read or seen one of his plays, odds are that you’ve used one of the hundreds of words Shakespeare invented over 400 years ago.


Thanks to Jenni Salamon, Coordinator for the Ohio Digital Newspaper Program, for this week’s post!

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