On Thursday evening March 29th, the Rare Book Collection celebrated its new exhibition Nature and the Unnatural in Shakespeare’s Age with a reception and lecture by Prof. Mary Floyd-Wilson, “Maidens Call It Love-in-Idleness”: Potions, Passion, and Fairy Knowledge in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
The exhibition, curated by RBC research assistant and UNC Ph.D. candidate Jennifer Park, is a rich exploration of early modern understandings of nature and the unnatural in Shakespeare’s time. Its fascinating selection of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English and Continental books connects astronomy, alchemy, animal husbandry, agricultural practice, and more to the language and themes of Shakespeare’s plays. Also included in the show are the RBC’s copies of the second, third, and fourth Shakespeare folios.
In her splendid lecture Prof. Floyd-Wilson conjured up a world of customs and concerns which translated into the Bard’s perennially popular play in wondrous and inventive ways. Few present will forget her discussion of the cunning woman/man, a fixture of English village life, or, for that matter, the sale of human fat by the local apothecary.
The well-attended lecture was a fine start to the graduate student conference, Shakespeare and the Natural World, jointly sponsored by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and King’s College London.