Battle of the Bards: UCLA and USC Argue Over Statue's Spelling of Shakespeare

Getty Images
Getty Images

The University of Southern California recently made headlines when officials unveiled USC Village, a vast complex with space for eight residential colleges, a dining hall, retail spaces, and more. However, a new campus statue depicting Hecuba, the mythical queen of Troy, momentarily dwarfed the costly new buildings. As the Los Angeles Times reports, verses from Shakespeare’s Hamlet are inscribed at the statue’s base, but with one tiny problem: The engraver seems to have misspelled the Bard’s name.

The excerpt reads:
“And all for nothing — For Hecuba!
What’s Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba,
That he should weep for her?”
Shakespear’s Hamlet”

The mistake drew ridicule from the University of California, Los Angeles, which has a famous longstanding rivalry with USC.

Instead of copping to the error (or simply squeezing an extra “e” into the inscription), USC defended the spelling: "To E, or not to E, that is the question,” USC said in a statement. “Over the centuries his surname has been spelled 20 different ways. USC chose an older spelling because of the ancient feel of the statue, even though it is not the most common form."

USC isn't entirely off-base, according to The Guardian. The newspaper spoke with Martin Butler, a professor of English Renaissance Drama at the University of Leeds, who explained that there is a “lot of variation in the way the name is spelled when it appears in contemporary legal documents and the early printed texts of Shakespeare’s works.” In addition to Shakespeare, he says, there's “Shakspeare, Shakspere, Shakespear, Shaksper, Shackspeare, even Shagspere.”

The Bard’s early printed works refer to him using today’s popular spelling, or by a hyphenated variant, "Shake-speare.” However, “Shakespear” became popular in the 18th century, and was used by important editors like Alexander Pope and Nicholas Rowe.

“Since Victorian times, most editions have used the spelling ‘Shakespeare’ and it is universally dominant in academic writing today,” Butler concluded. “Leaving the ‘e’ off is probably an attempt to make Shakespeare seem to belong to a more distant past; it feels more antique, but it doesn’t really have any special claim to be the preferred spelling.”

In short, neither USC nor UCLA is technically wrong. But as long as the Trojans and Bruins continue to duke it out on the football field, the two schools will likely still haggle off-field over the statue’s missing—or not missing—“e.”

[h/t Los Angeles Times]

Rare First Edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone Sold for More Than $56,000

UBC Library Communications and Marketing, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
UBC Library Communications and Marketing, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Publishers weren't very optimistic about the future of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone when they printed it in 1997. Only 500 first edition copies were made, 300 of which were donated to libraries. As anyone who's been to a bookstore, movie theater, or theme park in the past two decades knows, that prediction couldn't have been further off.

Book one of the Harry Potter series spawned one of the most successful literary franchises of all time and earned millions for author J.K. Rowling. That means those rare first edition prints are exceedingly valuable today, and one of the most pristine copies ever discovered just sold for $56,500 at auction, BBC reports.

The sellers, an anonymous couple from Lancashire, England, had stored their copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone—along with a first edition of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets—in a code-locked briefcase for safekeeping. The plan wasn't to wait for the books to accrue value over time; originally, they had wanted to protect them and pass them down as family heirlooms.

The couple changed their minds after learning that another first edition copy of Philosopher's Stone had sold for $35,000. That turned out to be a smart move. By locking it away, they managed to preserve one of the best first edition copies of the book experts had seen. The book also contained two errors that made it an even more appealing item for collectors. Its value was placed between $30,700 to $37,000.

At the auction, however, bidders blew past those numbers. It sold for a winning bid of approximately $56,500. The buyer will end up paying $70,000 in total to cover additional fees and taxes.

That's a significant amount to pay for a book, but it's not even the highest figure that's been bid for the title. Earlier in 2019, a first-edition print of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone with several errors sold for $90,000.

[h/t BBC]

When Bram Stoker Adapted Dracula for the Stage

Lyceum Theatre, London, 1897, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Lyceum Theatre, London, 1897, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

For one of literature’s most enduring works, Bram Stoker’s Dracula didn’t receive much of an audience turnout when it was first adapted for the stage. The classic 1897 novel was transformed into a play by Stoker the same year it was published—and only two paying customers showed up to its debut.

In Stoker's defense, it wasn't supposed to be a grand production; it was a copyright reading of the script, which was slapped together by the author in a hurry so he could submit it to the Lord Chamberlain’s Office for approval and licensing and retain the dramatic rights. The play, titled Dracula: or The Un-Dead, was held on May 18, 1897—eight days before the novel was released—and was only advertised for a half-hour before the performance began. Considering that the play had a prologue, five acts, and 40 scenes, it’s unclear whether an audience would have felt compelled to stay for the entire thing anyway.

The dramatic reading starred actress and pioneering suffragette Edith Craig as Mina Murray. Stoker had originally wanted the actor who helped inspired the character of Dracula—the dark, mysterious Henry Irving—to act alongside Murray. However, Irving reportedly refused to get involved, telling Stoker that the script for Dracula: or The Un-Dead was "dreadful."

The play faithfully adhered to the novel Dracula’s plot, although many of the epistolary work's lush details were condensed for time purposes. A series of character monologues help move the story forward; Greg Buzwell, who serves as curator for Printed Literary Sources, 1801–1914 at the British Library, points out that they might have sounded wooden because Stoker was better at scenic details than straight-up dialogue.

Following Dracula's stage debut, Stoker’s bloodthirsty Count didn’t reappear in theaters until 1924. However, the original play’s script offers a peek into Bram Stoker’s artistic process as he translated his characters from page to stage. You can check out the hodgepodge of personal handwriting and galley proofs over at the British Library’s website, which gives a great overview of the play's historic legacy.

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