May 13 – July 26, 2008. English in Print: From Caxton to Shakespeare to Milton. Curated by Valerie Hotchkiss and Fred C. Robinson.
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May 13 – July 26, 2008
English in Print: From Caxton
to Shakespeare to Milton
Curated by Valerie Hotchkiss and Fred C. Robinson

This summer the Grolier Club will present an exhibition that examines the history of early English books, exploring how the English language came into print, with a close study of the texts, the formats, the audiences, and the functions of English books. English in Print: from Caxton to Shakespeare to Milton has been curated by Fred C. Robinson, Douglas Tracy Smith Professor Emeritus of English at Yale University, and Valerie Hotchkiss, Head of The Rare Book & Manuscript Library at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Over one hundred early English books drawn from the remarkable English Renaissance holdings of these two institutions investigate a full range of issues regarding the dissemination of English language and culture through printed works, including the standardization of typography, grammar, and spelling; the appearance of popular literature; and the development of school grammars and dictionaries. 

Yale's Elizabethan Club, founded in 1911, contains over three hundred outstanding volumes of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century literature, including the first four folios of Shakespeare, the Huth Shakespeare quartos, and first or early quartos of all the major dramatists. Early English holdings at the University of Illinois include tens of thousands of fifteenth- through seventeenth-century English works of literature, history, philosophy, religion, science, politics, and culture in general. Together these two collections provide an unprecedented opportunity to explore important issues in the history of early English. 

Among the highlights of the exhibition are: English incunabula printed by Caxton and his contemporaries; the earliest recorded schoolbook in English;  first editions of several English Bibles; first editions of Jonson, Chapman, Milton and others; early English newsbooks;  the first four folios of Shakespeare; numerous quartos of Elizabethan and Stuart plays, including the only surviving perfect copy of the 1604 quarto of Hamlet; examples of early printed music and maps; and several examples of English bookbinding.  The selections include many monuments of English culture alongside lesser-known, but interesting works that elaborate upon the story of English printing, while giving the reader and visitor a sense of the extraordinary collections at Illinois and Yale. 

The "Englishing" of books begins very early. Already in the late ninth century, King Alfred supported the distribution of books in English and even undertook important translations himself. Once printing got underway in England in the early 1470s, English language, history, and literature could be disseminated more widely through books. This exhibition looks at themes of early English printing, the role of printing in the development of modern English as language, regulation and censorship in English printing, the place of translation in early English printing, play publishing, and, as a kind of coda, the technical aspects involved in the making of English books. 

The selection closely mirrors the chronological coverage of Pollard and Redgrave's famous Short-Title Catalogue (1475-1640), beginning with William Caxton, England's first printer, and ending with John Milton, the English language's most eloquent defender of the freedom of the press in his Areopagitica of 1644. William Shakespeare, neither a printer, nor a writer much concerned with publishing his own plays, nonetheless deserves his central place in this study because Shakespeare imprints, and Renaissance drama in general, provide a fascinating window on the world of English printing in the period between Caxton and Milton.

Themes addressed by the exhibition include: "The English Imprint and Early English Printing,"  "English Grammars and Dictionaries," "'For the Regulating of Printing'," "The Place of Translation in Early English Printing," "From the Stage to the Page" and the "Making of English Books."

English in Print is accompanied by a fully-illustrated catalogue authored by Valerie Hotchkiss and Fred C. Robinson, and published in 2008 by the University of Illinois Press. Cloth (ISBN: 978-0-252-03346-9) is priced at $65.00 and paper (ISBN: 978-0-252-07553-7) is priced at $35.00.  Copies are available at the Grolier Club or online at the University of Illinois Press (
Location and times: English in Print will be on view at the Grolier Club from May 12 - July 26, 2008, with the exception of May 26 and July 4, when the Club is closed for the Memorial and Independence Day holidays. Hours:  Monday-Saturday, 10 AM ? 5 PM. Open to the public free of charge. For more information call the Grolier Club at (212) 838-6690.

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