The second floor exhibition starts with examples of classical English, Spanish and French literature.
The display on Shakespeare, Martin Bodmer’s fourth pillar, is an extraordinary collection and the largest on the continent. He acquired it from the Rosenbach brothers in Philadelphia. On show are folios of complete works, including the mythical First Folio of 1623, an extremely rare edition of Sonnets of 1609 and a collection of small in-quarto booklets printed surreptitiously during Shakespeare’s lifetime and sold during the plays.
A second cabinet is devoted to Elizabethan theatre:
Next to the manuscripts is a large roll of parchment containing a long, handwritten list of New Year gifts presented to Queen Elizabeth I in 1599-1600, the 42nd year of her reign.
To represent the Spanish Golden Age, the Foundation chose an extremely rare text: the first editions of the first (1605) and second (1615) parts of Cervantes’ Don Quixote. In the same cabinet is a copy of Amadis Gaul, the chivalric romance that distorted Don Quixote’s mind.
Also on display are the two great masters of Spanish theatre: Lope de Vega and Calderon. The Foundation owns close to 70 rare editions of Lope de Vega’s works, including a 1611 autograph manuscript. The 1640 first edition in five volumes of Calderon’s Commedias contains his masterpiece, Life is a Dream. Cervantes was envious of Lope de Vega. The latter was also in conflict with Gongora, the great baroque poet who wrote Solitudes and Sonnets, printed in 1627. Etchings by Picasso illustrate one of the sonnets.
Previous exhibits included one of the two remaining copies of The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes (1554), the picaresque novel that broke with the tradition of chivalric romance, and an incunabulum dated 1500 of the famous La Celestina by Rojas (Calisto and Melibea).
Seventeenth century France, the Grand Siècle, is represented in a cabinet devoted to Molière. In the early 17th century, the young Louis XIV had set out to transform the Versailles hunting lodge into a palace. In 1664, Molière was still very much in favour with the king. He and his troupe were invited to take part in the Pleasures of the Enchanted Island – flamboyant festivities to inaugurate the new palace. The king performed in The Forced Marriage, a comedy-ballet. The year before, the School for Wives had resulted in a first cabal against Molière but the final blow took place during the Enchanted Island festivities. For the occasion he staged the first performance of his 13th play, Tartuffe. The king did not attend and the ensuing quarrel cast a dark shadow on his career.
Two other major plays by Molière are exhibited: The Misanthrope, displayed against the background of the famous Bodmer Papyrus of Meander’s Dyskolos, and in another cabinet The Feast of the Statue, published 10 years after Molière’s death.