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UT Acquires Major Archive of Rare Books by Shakespeare's Contemporaries

UT’s English students and faculty now have access to a major new archive of rare books printed in 16th- and 17th-century England. In summer 2010, the University of Tennessee Libraries acquired more than 300 early printed books from the collection of the late Naseeb Shaheen, noted Shakespeare scholar and professor of English at the University of Memphis for forty years.

The centerpiece of the Shaheen Antiquarian Bible Collection is a group of about 100 English Bibles dating from the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, when the Christian scriptures were first translated into the vernacular languages of Europe. These early printed Bibles, along with psalters, prayer books, homilies, and major European literary works, form the core of the collection used by Dr. Naseeb Shaheen in his seminal studies of biblical references in Shakespeare’s plays.

Among the most exciting resources for literary scholars are early editions of major works by Shakespeare’s contemporaries, from Edmund Spenser’s 1596 Faerie Queene to the plays of Ben Jonson, Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, Philip Massinger, and John Dryden, as well as editions and translations of Shakespeare’s literary sources, such as Plutarch’s Lives, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and Cinthio’s Hecatommithi. The collection also houses important 16th-century historical works, from Polydore Vergil’s Anglica Historia to Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland.

Shaheen was an internationally known authority on Shakespeare’s use of the Bible. His definitive studies of biblical allusions in the plays, collected in his almost 900-page Biblical References in Shakespeare’s Plays, compares apparent biblical references against all literary sources and versions of Scripture that would have been known to the Bard. His collection of pre-King James Bibles was one of the largest in the world. The Shaheen Antiquarian Bible Collection includes more than 60 examples of the Geneva Bible, the Scripture most often referenced in Shakespeare, as well as early printings of the so-called Great Bible, Bishops’ Bible, Matthew’s Bible, the Douay-Rheims Version, and the King James Bible.

To learn more, visit UT Libraries Special Collections in the Hodges Library, Room 121.

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