Hamlet and the Wolverine Press

Three students setting the type to replicate  the G gathering of Q2 (Hamlet: 1604). Nearest is Amanda Rybin-Koob, poet, MFA; center,  Rebecca Fortes, fiction, MFA;  and furthest, Elijah Sparkman, English major, LSA undergraduate

Three students setting the type to replicate  the G gathering of Q2 (Hamlet: 1604).   Nearest is Amanda Rybin-Koob, poet, MFA; center, Rebecca Fortes, fiction, MFA;  and furthest, Elijah Sparkman, English major, LSA undergraduate

An extraordinary project is currently taking shape at the Wolverine Press, the letterpress studio at the University of Michigan. Led by Rebecca Chung (UMSI) and Fritz Swanson (Wolverine Press), a team of U of M students is working on a handset edition based on the G gathering from the second quarto of Hamlet, published in 1604 and conventionally known as Q2.  In this gathering, consisting of four leaves or eight pages, you can read what is probably the most famous soliloquy Shakespeare ever wrote: “To be, or not to be".  In brief, the students are recreating the old printing technique of setting the type as a compositor would have done it in the seventeenth century.

After the first proof correction, the page G4r, based on Q2, has been imposed, or arranged,  on a flat surface, surrounded with wooden and metal pieces of less than type height. For a quarto, the forme would consist of four pages like this, comprissing half of the gathering
After the first proof correction, the page G4r, based on Q2, has been imposed, or arranged,  on a flat surface, surrounded with wooden and metal pieces of less than type height. For a quarto, the forme would consist of four pages like this, comprissing half of the gathering
Close-up of Q2, G4r, after first proof correction
Close-up of Q2, G4r, after first proof correction

Can you make out what the text says? The first line, in italics, is as follows:

Enter Polonius, Guyldensterne, & Rosencraus.

Remember that each individual metal type representing a letter, a diacritic, or a punctuation sign, has to be set in reverse so that we eventually obtain the right reading when the forme is printed. Here, the "u" in "Rosencraus" may be a typesetting error in Q2, where the "n" was set upside down. In an act of bold experimentation, the Wolverine Press's edition also includes 3D printed versions of seventeenth-century printer's woodblocks.

If you want to learn more about how the Wolverine Press completed the edition of the G gathering of Q2,  and about the tools and material employed in the project, please attend a workshop conducted by Rebecca Chung (UMSI), Fritz Swanson (Wolverine Press), and Justin Schell (Shapiro Design Lab).  Date and Time: April 7, 1:300-3:00 pm; Location: Hatcher Graduate Library, Gallery (Room 100). Copies of this edition will be distributed among the attendees of this workshop.

This workshop is part of a series of U of M Library events commemorating  the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare. If you haven't done it yet, please visit our exhibit Shakespeare on Text and Stage: A Celebration.

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