Published online by Cambridge University Press: 24 August 2022
Love’s Labour’s Lost contains a delightfully absurd vision of human obtuseness, which is rendered in some strikingly visceral terms: the character of Dull is here described as the one who ‘hath never fed of the dainties that are bred in a book. / He hath not eat paper, as it were, he hath not drunk ink. His intellect is not replenished’ (4.2.24–6). For all its exaggerated humour, Shakespeare’s playful definition of the ignorance of books of wisdom draws attention to the inherent physicality of the reading act, which is usually overshadowed by the mental experience it offers. A type of book that does justice to both modes of reading is the artists’ book, a cross-generic form which appeals not only to the mind of its viewers-turned-readers but also to their senses, necessitating the recognition of its own materiality. Its concern with the book as a thing, also as an art object, makes the artists’ book a perfect vehicle for a creative response to Shakespeare’s Othello, a play built up around one of his most memorable props, the strawberry-spotted handkerchief, and featuring a troupe of increasingly objectified characters. As book artists enter into a creative dialogue with the Shakespearian text, they arrive at a variety of forms, ranging from the abstract to the figurative, or, to move from the province of the image to that of the word, the wordless to the verbose.