Professor Rebecca Olson’s scholarship weaves a distinctive literary and historical presence for a largely overlooked subject—the arras, a Renaissance tapestry in which narratives of myth, legend, scripture, as well as hunting, falconry, winemaking, and birthing were inscribed. Such adornments brought color and life to courtly halls, but Professor Olson describes the hanging arras as much more—a vehicle of immense political, social, educational, and aesthetic importance for Renaissance literature and society. In her forthcoming book, Arras Hanging: The Textile that Determined Modern Literature and Drama (University of Delaware Press, in press), Professor Olson voyages to archives throughout the Renaissance world, from Hampton Court Palace to the Tower of London, to explore notable examples of this fabled textured weavings.
The arras was famously dramatized in Shakespeare’s Hamlet: In Act III when Lord Polonius plots with Hamlet’s mother and stepfather to hide behind a tapestry to eavesdrop (“Behind the arras I’ll convey myself”), Hamlet thrusts his sword through the arras (translated as a “curtain” in some editions), killing Polonius.
Follow this link for the feature-length article on Professor Olson’s decade-long investigations of the arras and her tours of European sites. Spring term 2014, Professor Olson will be teaching a graduate-only seminar on the History of the Book, a topic that is also illuminated by the history of the Renaissance arras.