Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Reliquary, the Relic

A photograph of nine miniature books in an open wooden case with a glass top.It is hard to know where to start with this object. It is a set of Shakespeare's plays, in nine miniature volumes. The full text is there, printed by William Pickering in 1825. It is a case where a beloved text was produced to serve as a kind of fetish object--too small to be read comfortably, the set represents the larger whole, the whole of Shakespeare.

But there is an added twist. If we think of the edition as a fetish, we have to pay attention to the way it is housed and revered. The wooden box holding the nine volumes is a relic in and of itself: according to its nineteenth-century collector, the box is constructed from wood that was part of Shakespeare's house. A fragment of the true house, so to speak, creating a reliquary for the precious volumes. Together they create layers of culture encrusting a text.

A view of the closed case from above. The books are visible through the glass top.
Ask for Miniature 122.

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