When the News Was New (Exhibit/NYC)





The good lady Opinion sits perched in a tree, wearing the weighty towers of the town as her hat, which blinds her eyes. On one of her hands a chameleon sits, doubtless changing its spots to accommodate the surroundings. Held in her other hand is a wand used to shake the tree’s branches, from which leaves fall: leaves of books and papers, which offer not knowledge but libel and foolishness, which “in everie streete, on everie stall you find.”

Such is the cynical vision of the news business put forward by Henry Peacham in 1641 London, as journalism, in its earliest forms, was becoming a major force during some of the most tumultuous decades in England’s history: no wisdom, he finds, just much posturing and gossip.

More than 360 years later, as advance obituaries are being prepared for the very forms of printed journalism born during Peacham’s era, Lady Opinion is on display, along with far more reverential examples of news and opinion, at the Folger Shakespeare Library on Capitol Hill in the exhibition “Breaking News: Renaissance Journalism and the Birth of the Newspaper.”

The show, housed in the library’s stunning exhibition hall, will be taken down after Jan. 31, which means that to sample these offerings we are all of us on deadline. The curators — Chris R. Kyle (Syracuse University), Jason Peacey (University College, London) and the library’s own Elizabeth Walsh — have put together a chronicle of chronicles, an account of how information about the wider world in 16th- and 17th-century England, including reports of wonders and horrors, wars and troop movements, murders and merchandise, gradually made its way from private journals or letters reporting on events witnessed, to publicly sold broadsheets and pamphlets.



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