DC at Night

DC at Night

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Very Like a Whale

In Hamlet, William Shakespeare's classic play about illusion and reality, there is a great scene where the mentally-tormented Hamlet is talking to that old windbag Polonuis about clouds, trying to convince him about shapes. It ends with Polonius agreeing that one of the clouds is, indeed, "very like a whale." Well creators and curators Rosamond Purcell and Michael Witmore have chosen that name for their exhibition of related books, objects, natural artifacts, and surrealistic photographs now on display in the Great Hall at the Folger Shakespeare Library. 

The intriguing Very Like a Whale exhibition is an outgrowth of the book Purcell and Witmore previously collaborated on entitled Landscapes of the Passing Strange: Reflections from Shakespeare.  In that work, Purcell features her pioneering technique of capturing reflections in antique mercury glass apothecary jars, resulting in haunting images that seem to move with the liquid quickness of ideas. These images she says are an attempt to capture Shakespeare's expansive imagination in action. Witmore then paired each photograph with a short passage from Shakespeare's plays with an uncanny sense of the playwright's intent.

Much of the same method is used for the expanded Folger display. Here's how the pair describe their project in a promotional brochure. "We searched out rare books and borrowed treasures from friends. On the walls are natural marvels: a narwhal tusk, a crocodile, and a shield made of hippo hide. In the cases, books commingled with objects become small thematic collections. In 'All the Whale's a Stage,' for example, the animal becomes a rock on which a sea-borne bishop says Easter Mass or a site to explore by Dutch monks or men in kilts.

Each of the showcases use a quotation from a famous Shakespeare work. While some of the showcases have broad themes, others refer to specific Shakespeare characters like Caliban or Prospero from The Tempest.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
You still have some time to see the special exhibition.  "Very Like a Whale" runs until Jan. 6.

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