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A Gift from the Queen

This Basque language translation of Hamlet was donated to the library of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre by Queen Elizabeth II on permanent loan.

Mareike Doleschal

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust library acquires books though purchases and donations. This series of blogs looks at historic as well as recent book donations that have enriched our library collection. Some date as far back as the nineteenth century such as a First Folio, the first collected edition of Shakespeare’s works published in 1623 donated by Anne Wheler, while other books have only just been donated recently. Book donors are from a wide range of backgrounds, some are famous, some are artists or writers, some are complete unknowns but they all share a love of books, libraries, Shakespeare, and a generous spirit.

hamlet gift queen
"Hamlet" in Basque

In the second blog of this series, I would like to introduce a book which the Queen gave to the Shakespeare Memorial Library as a permanent loan. It’s a translation of Hamlet in the Basque language which the Republic of Uruguay presented to the Queen on the occasion of her coronation in 1953. A beautifully handwritten note inside the front of the book reminds of this occasion: "To her Most Gracious Britannic Majestic Queen Elizabeth II, on the occasion of Her Coronation with all best wishes from 'Euzkalzaleak,' the lovers of the Basque tongue, of Montevideo, Oriental Republic of Uruguay." Also inside the front of the book is a deposit letter, dated 29th August 1953: “Dear Sir, The Queen has recently been given the accompanying copy of Hamlet in the Basque language, which Her Majesty thinks you might care to lodge in your Library. If so, The Queen will very gladly let it stay there on permanent loan.” The book resided in the Memorial Theatre Library until 1964, when the theatre’s library collection was merged with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust library. Bound in burgundy velveteen and embossed in gilded letters, this precious book combines a special provenance as well as an historical occasion and has become something of a favourite with stack tour visitors and lovers of foreign language editions.

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