Emma Smith’s research combines aspects of the history of the book, histories of reading, and the interpretation of Shakespeare on the page. During her Knowledge Exchange Fellowship, she worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) on their new permanent exhibition at Stratford’s Swan Theatre, The Play’s the Thing, which includes the RSC’s copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio (1623).
Emma comments: ‘Aspects of the First Folio’s stage directions, its record of actors’ names at places where we might expect the name of the dramatic character, and its encoding of aspects of its performed past have all helped to animate the story of stage reinventions in Stratford over the last century.
The RSC copy of the Folio also has a number of unique features and marks of use that tell stories of Shakespeare’s reception. In particular we wanted to use the energetic seventeenth-century approval of aspects of the plays indicated by a hand-drawn manicule (pointing hand) as a way to connect with contemporary ways of indicating enthusiasm (the Facebook ‘like’ icon has some striking similarities).’
The second, related strand of Emma’s project involved reconceiving the theatrical archive for the digital age, to preserve, curate, and animate the records of performance. Emma’s time as Knowledge Exchange Fellow was spent in liaison with the RSC’s digital development and creative teams to scope out the technical, creative, and academic contours of a digital ‘casebook’ for a single play – Henry IV Part 1. The aim of the digital casebooks was to open up a curated experience of the theatre archive online, to benefit students of literature and of drama in schools and universities as well as academics and the wider theatre-going public.
Emma continues to work on ideas towards a digital Folio. Her KE Fellowship resulted in ongoing contacts at the RSC, with whom she is planning events for 2023 – which will be the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s First Folio.
Knowledge Exchange Fellowships Brochure