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  • Monday, February 6, 2023 - 5:15pm to 6:30pm

Class of 1978 Orrery Pavilion, sixth floor of the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library

We will be welcoming Zachary Lesser (Penn) and Whitney Trettien (Penn) for a talk entitled “‘Preserved as a Relic’: What Happened to Edwin Forrest’s Burned First Folio?” Zack and Whitney write:
In the Kislak Center at the University of Pennsylvania, there is an unusual item: a glass case containing the charred remains of a Shakespeare folio that once belonged to Edwin Forrest, the great Shakespearean actor and Philadelphia native. Forrest’s extensive collection of early modern English drama was heavily damaged by a fire that broke out in his townhome in January, 1873, shortly after Forrest’s death. In the days after the fire, the Variorum Shakespeare editor Horace Howard Furness identified this burned book as Forrest’s First Folio, and it has been displayed as such ever since. But it is not. In this essay, we unravel the mystery of which book is really in the glass case and why. Tracking this story from Furness and Forrest’s papers to university archives and oral histories shows the enduring power of the Shakespearean relic to change what even the sharpest scholars and curators see when they look at a book labeled as a First Folio. It has also revealed another mystery: a missing 1637 quarto of
Hamlet. We use this case study to illuminate the larger debate among researchers, librarians, and archivists over narratives of “discovery” in the archive and to suggest a way forward in this debate.

Zachary Lesser is the Edward W. Kane Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania. A general editor of the Arden Shakespeare, 4th series, for which he is editing Macbeth, Lesser is the author of Ghosts, Holes, Rips and Scrapes: Shakespeare in 1619, Bibliography in the Longue Durée (Penn Press, 2021), Hamlet After Q1: An Uncanny History of the Shakespearean Text (Penn Press, 2015), and Renaissance Drama and the Politics of Publication: Readings in the English Book Trade (Cambridge University Press, 2004). He is the co-creator of two online resources for the study of early printed drama: DEEP: Database of Early English Playbooks (with Alan B. Farmer, and the Shakespeare Census (with Adam Hooks,

Whitney Trettien is assistant professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania, where she works in the fields of book history and digital humanities. She is the author of Cut/Copy/Paste: Fragments from the History of Bookwork (University of Minnesota Press, 2021), a hybrid print/digital monograph on seventeenth-century books assembled from fragments. She is also the co-editor and designer of thresholds, an occasional digital zine, and editor of Printing in Prisons, a digital project on newspapers written and printed by incarcerated individuals. She is currently working on nineteenth-century histories of computation.