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A Collection of Early English Books: Reading in the Age of Shakespeare

December 4, 2023 @ 6:00 pm - 7:30 pm

Paul Chrzanowski’s presentation explores “books that Shakespeare might have read.” He donated his collection of nearly 150 early English books to the UCLA William Andrews Clark Memorial Library. The earliest printed work is Cordyal of the four last and final things, a book printed in 1479 by William Caxton, England’s first printer. The donation includes early literary works by Geoffrey Chaucer, John Gower, John Lydgate, and William Langland; English translations of classical works; pre-Reformation Catholic treatises and English Bibles; English chronicles; Shakespeare source books; works by Shakespeare and his contemporaries; and a wide variety of books read by English men and women through the long 16 th century.

Through the period of interest—from Caxton to Shakespeare—England made the remarkable transition from a late medieval society and late-Middle English to a mercantile, sea-faring nation and the works of William Shakespeare. This transition is reflected in the books that were printed and read. Works of Catholic devotion change to the Bible in English and John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments. Chronicles remind readers of the 15 th -century War of Roses and extoll the glories of Queen Elizabeth’s reign. The modern novel begins to emerge through the works of George Gascoigne, William Painter’s translations of Italian novellas, and Robert Greene’s pastorals. English readers kept up with current events and learned new skills.

The collection includes copies of the second and fourth folio editions of Shakespeare’s collected plays (1632 and 1685); plays extracted from the first and third folios; Robert Allott’s England’s Parnassus (1600) with Shakespeare excerpts; and a quarto play, Parts 2 and 3 of Henry the Sixth (1619). The presentation is not focused on these works. Rather it introduces books on wide-ranging topics that illustrate readers’ interests at the time—highlighting from the collection books of importance, books of great rarity, books with special provenance, and oddities.

An in-person and virtual presentation by Paul Chrzanowski, book collector, with remarks from Drew Nadall

* Co-presented and co-hosted by American Trust for the British Library and the Bibliographical Society of America


December 4, 2023
6:00 pm - 7:30 pm
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The Book Club of California
312 Sutter Street Ste 500
San Francisco, CA 94108 United States
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