Folger Research Report: Dr. Ken Gouwens

Today’s blog post describes Dr. Ken Gouwens’ research trip to the Folger Shakespeare Library


Thanks to the generous support of our Folger Committee, I was able to return to the library for a whirlwind trip just a few weeks before it closed for renovation. While a short-term fellow there years ago, I’d discovered its wealth of emblem books, a genre that now occupies a central chapter of my book manuscript on simian-human comparisons. I’d accumulated hundreds of photographs of emblems and transcribed quite a lot of the material, not knowing, of course, what would end up being useful. Now that the chapter’s taking shape, it was absolutely essential to get back to the Folger to be sure of my documentation and to choose the most useful images from multiple editions.

The staff was, as always, extremely helpful, paging dozens of books for me each day. and allowing me to juxtapose three editions at a time. My mission was a success: I cleared up ambiguities and mistakes in my transcriptions, decided upon the images I’ll use, and found a few related items while I was at it! I should close by mentioning that it was at the Folger that I found the emblem that will be my book’s frontispiece: a ruff-clad simian propping up a mirror in which one sees—you guessed it—a monkey. It’s accompanied by a bar of music that “the monkey sings” and by brief poems in five languages. What, I ask, could be more Shakespearean than the pithy representation of a multiplicity of meanings and the strategy of holding the mirror up to (human) nature?


Simia Rugata