Gallery of Grotesques: Sadistic monkeys

Manuscript B.11.22 is a book of hours from the 13th/14th century.  Described as ‘exquisitely written and ornamented, imperfect. Almost certainly of Flemish execution’, each image is accompanied by M.R. James’ description.

It all starts out innocently enough …

Monkeys playing bowls. f. 5v
Monkey turning a somersault. f. 7r

… but things takes a sinister turn

Monkey and dog attack hare. f. 19r
Fox dragged by the feet by monkey mounted on dog. f. 22r
Monkey hangs hare by the ears. f. 42v
Two monkeys with axes, whetting them? on square table. f. 63r
Rabbits in a hill. Monkey approaches with axe. f. 137v


Find out more here about the depiction of monkeys or apes in medieval art.

Chess Games

Trinity Manuscript O.2.66 is Thomas Middleton’s A Game at Chesse, a 17th century satirical drama reflecting anti-Spanish and anti-Jesuit feeling arising from the breakdown of the proposed marriage between the heir apparent, Prince Charles and the Infanta of Spain.  Six manuscripts of the play survive but only O.2.66 and one other (the Bridgewater-Huntington Manuscript) are in the hand of Middleton himself.  The Trinity manuscript measures 187 x 146 cm and contains 52 leaves.  It is believed to be the author’s copy of his own foul papers (working or draft copies).

It appears to have been compiled hastily: towards the end of the manuscript some of the detail is carelessly recorded.  In spite of this, the Trinity manuscript is the most important surviving textual source for the play.  It also reveals that Middleton was actively involved in the dissemination of his own work.

O.2.66, title page
O.2.66, title page

The image on the left shows the title page, signed ‘by T.M.’.  Note that “iddleton” was added in a darker ink by a later hand.




The most recent transcript of the text was published by the Malone society, see Howard-Hill, T. H., et al., A Game at Chess (Oxford, 1990).

A Miscellania from Cerne Abbey (O.2.45) in Trinity’s collection also includes a page devoted to the game of chess.  It contains two diagrams of chess boards followed by a Latin verse about the game.

O.2.45, p. 3
O.2.45, p. 3


Special opening of the Wren Library for Remembrance Sunday

Flyers and a poppy
See our exhibition commemorating the centenary of the start of the Great War.

On Sunday, 9 November, there will be a special opening of the Wren Library to view Trinity and the Great War, an exhibition showcasing letters, photographs and other items from the First World War. The Wren will be open from 10:45 until 4 to members of the College and anyone attending the Chapel service and Remembrance Day events in College.

The exhibition will be ending the following week. However, for those who were not able to attend, the exhibition material is available online. You can view all the posts under our WWI tag or have a look at our interactive timeline of the Great War.

EDIT on 10/11/14: The exhibition will be up slightly longer than previously mentioned,  until Monday 17/11/14 while we plan what will replace it in the display cases.

Emprynted in thys manere: a book launch in the Wren Library

Statue of Lord Byron and projector screen
Book launch in the Wren Library.

Trinity College Library was honoured to host the launch of the exciting new book Emprynted in thys manere: Early printed treasures from Cambridge University Library on 23rd October in the Wren Library. The book was edited by Ed Potten and Emily Dourish, with contributions from various authors who, according to the Special Collections blog, “Each wrote on an item that fascinated them, with art historians alongside scientists, library curators alongside typographers, and notable celebrity authors,” including Sir David Attenborough, Professor Mary Beard, Sir Quentin Blake, Bamber Gascoigne and Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy. Trinity’s own Librarian, Professor David McKitterick, contributed a chapter on a Dutch Book of Hours (Inc.5.E.3.10 [2890]) entitled, “The Start of a Project”. The event in the Wren included brief talks by the editors and a number of the contributors followed by a reception.

"Emprynted in thys manere", the book that ties in with the Private Lives of Print exhibition now on at the UL.
Emprynted in thys manere ties in with the Private Lives of Print exhibition now on at the University Library.


The reception for the book launch, hosted in the Wren Library.
The reception for the book launch, hosted in the Wren Library.

The book ties in with an exhibition now at Cambridge University Library (UL) in the Milstein Exhibition Centre, entitled Private lives of print: the use and abuse of books 1450-1550. A virtual version of the exhibition, including a number of interesting films, is available online.

Items on display include a unique copy of the Gutenberg Bible – Europe’s first printed book using moveable type – and over fifty other items. These range from beautifully bound, designed or illuminated texts to those that bear the marginal illustrations, accidental ink-spills and other signs of how they were handled by their owners. Ed Potten says:

“We tend to assume that books of this age and importance have always been treasured items treated with the utmost respect and care – but we forget that books were constantly being read, handed down, sold and scribbled upon. Many of the early printed books owned by the Library have every spare space covered with notes and scribbles.

“There is a temptation to view these marginalia and doodles as diminishing and devaluing the books, but it’s precisely these features that make them a joy to study. They offer rare and fascinating insights into the private lives of books – glimpses of the many ways in which books were received and subsequently used by the first generations of printed book owners.”

An early printed book bearing an ink blot and the marginal inscription, "I stupidly made this blot on the first of December 1482" (Inc.1.B.3.1b[1330] )
An early printed book bearing an ink blot and the marginal inscription, “I stupidly made this blot on the first of December 1482” (Inc.1.B.3.1b[1330] )
The exhibition marks the conclusion of a cataloguing project involving the UL’s collection of over 4,600 incunabula. They are now searchable through an online catalogue, including all known details of provenance, annotations and condition. According to the Special Collections blog,

“Instead of a straightforward exhibition showing the most beautiful books, this display is intended to give an insight into the ways in which users interacted with their books over the first hundred years of the printing press.”

The exhibition will run through 11 April, 2015.

Readers may also be interested to look at The Guardian‘s coverage of the exhibition. For information about the early printed books in Trinity’s collection, visit our webpages. Images of the book launch are copyright the Master and Fellows of Trinity College, Cambridge, while the images from the books belong to the University Library.

Gutenberg bible page
The opening of St Luke’s Gospel in the Gutenberg Bible (Inc.1.A.1.1[3761] )
The most beautifully designed book of the Renaissance, the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (Inc.3.B.3.134[1830] )
The most beautifully designed book of the Renaissance, the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (Inc.3.B.3.134[1830] ).

New acquisitions: Kabuki and Nō

This gorgeous set of two books on traditional Japanese theatre was kindly bequeathed to the library by Richard Marlow, Fellow of Trinity from 1968 until his death in 2013, and has recently been added to our collection. Both contain numerous photographs, both in colour and black and white, and useful reference information, such as illustrations of the various costumes of standard Nō characters and a timeline of famous Kabuki actors. To find out more about these beautiful theatrical forms and to see these exquisite books, request them in the Library.


231.a.96.1 – Kabuki. Text by Masakatsu Gunji, photographs by Chiaki Yoshida, introduction by Donald Keene, translation by John Bester. Tokyo : Kodansha International Ltd., 1969.

Kabuki is a form of popular theatre dating from 17th century Japan involving singing, dancing and lavish staging.

“In kabuki, tragedy and comedy, realism and romanticism go hand in hand. Elements of the musical and of the realistic drama exist side by side within one and the same play, creating a rich and varied beauty.” – Gunji, page 16

“Kabuki” can mean either the art of singing and dancing or it can refer to a swaggering or outlandish manner. Early kabuki performances were often located in red light districts, with a merchant class audience. Gunji euphemistically says of the origin of the word kabuki,

“It requires little effort today … to imagine the ways in which the word was used, and the kind of people and behavior to which it referred.” – page 18

Indeed, many of the actors were available to hire as prostitutes and, as was the case in Western theatre, the profession of acting was for much of its early history considered a lowly one until kabuki became more widely accepted after the Meiji Restoration.

The staging of kabuki was often elaborate, with platforms that extend into the audience, flying rigs, scenery changing before the audience’s eyes and revolving sections of the stage. Performances would be day-long programmes of popular entertainment, with the subject matter of the plays often being directly related to the season.

Inside front cover
Inside front cover
Title page
Title page
Plate – a Kabuki performance

231.a.96.2 – Nō : the classical theatre of Japan. Text by Donald Keene, photographs by Kaneko Hiroshi, with an introduction by Ishikawa Jun. Tokyo : Kodansha International Ltd., 1966.

Nō theatre, characterised by its use of delicately carved wooden masks, high poetry set to music and stately, stylised gestures, dates from as early as the 14th century. In contrast with Kabuki, it is restrained, understated and elegant.

“The purpose of Nō is not to divert on the surface but to move profoundly and ultimately, to transcend the particular and touch the very springs of human emotions.” – Keene, page 21

The forms and staging of the plays are highly codified and deeply symbolic. Subject matter varied from every day experience to legendary or supernatural themes, but the characters adhere strictly to a few main categories, demarcated by their masks, the style of their clothing and their movements. Since the masks are unchanging, emotion is expressed by the actors in other ways.

The masks themselves have elaborate rituals associated with them. They are invariably carved from cyprus and are treated with reverence by the actors.

“Before a performance … the mask to be worn is displayed in the dressing room and honored with ritual salutations.”- page 19

Nō is a complex art form that makes high demands of the audience. The language is archaic and poetic and the audience is expected to invest belief in the idea of, for example, a young child actor playing a fierce demon, or an old man playing a young woman. However,

“The appeal of Nō is by no means entirely intellectual or aesthetic; it moves many in in the audience to tears, and leaves haunting and poignant remembrances.” – page 21

Inside front cover
Title page
Plates – traditional masks