Today (Friday) we have opened a small exhibition at Nash’s House titled Dear Shakespeare. It looks at letters and letter writing, starting in Shakespeare’s time when letters were used as an important narrative device in his plays and when a man by the name of Richard Quiney wrote to Shakespeare asking to borrow some money. (The Quiney letter is the only surviving letter to William Shakespeare and is within the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Collections.)
As a result I have spent quite a bit of time over the last few weeks exploring our different archive collections for letters (preferably from or to noted people) to display in Dear Shakespeare... and there are plenty to choose from! For example, there are letters from Victorian romantic novelist and Stratford resident Marie Corelli writing to advise the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre (now the RSC) who to cast as Hamlet. We have Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (author of Sherlock Holmes and who celebrated his 153rd birthday this week) writing a number of letters to Bram Stoker discussing ideas for new plays. And there is Oscar Wilde writing to Bram Stoker to say that his wife is ill but he would still be happy to come to dinner.
I guess what struck me most was how much detail we still have about the daily lives of people living so long ago in a pre-digital world, when letter writing was one of the main forms of communication. Nowadays, snippets of conversation such as ‘I can come to dinner next Wednesday’ are communicated by text message, email and through social media channels, and then they are instantly lost or forgotten. Our digital world is a very throw-away one, and it made me wonder how much of that day-to-day but personal detail will be left of our lives for the archivists and curators of the future. Which reminds me; my other half and I received a lovely letter from his grandmother earlier this week telling us about her recent trip to tea in Chester. I really must store that away somewhere safe...
Dear Shakespeare is on at Nash's House for the rest of 2012 and will display these letters and more... (well except the one from my other half's grandmother.)