Last Tuesday the Folger Shakespeare Library announced that almost 80,000 images in their Digital Image Collection can now be used under a Creative Commons license. The Library's digital collection, hosted through our LUNA software, is an amazing trove of documents that includes images relating to the Bard himself, as well as a massive amount of historic materials from the 1400s through the mid-1700s.
Shakespeare enthusiasts will find numerous illustrations, costumes, set designs, playbills, photographs of actors and theatrical productions, even Iago's shorts. Equally interesting is the broad expanse of materials that fill in the centuries around Shakespeare's life. Songbooks, diaries, letters, bibles, maps, almanacs, and zoological and botanical engravings provide a rich view into the cultural, political and daily life of early modern Europe.
Good collections tell good stories, and the Digital Image Collection of the Folger is a perfect example. Documents from the Protestant Reformation illustrate first-hand the religious turbulence in England during the reign of King Henry VIII. These include the title page of a Tyndale Bible - the first English Bible translated directly from Hebrew and Greek - as well as a printed page from Sir Thomas More's writings excoriating the "pestylent secte" of William Tyndale. Both More and Tyndale would go on to be executed, but the English vernacular of Tyndale's Bible would later influence the King James Bible and Shakespeare's writing.
This past Friday in Hyperallergic, writer Allison Meier used the Folger's Digital Image Collection to tell a timely story, that of the Astor Place Riot of 1849 - a protest fueled by class divisions that turned deadly.
All of this material conspires to present a vibrant view of Shakespeare's milieu and the broader stage against which his work played out. We're proud to host the Folger's Digital Image Collection, and excited to see these images made available to the public.