Sign up for our free newsletter
(S)wordplay Dueling doesn’t look too complicated: One person slaps another across the face with a glove, then both square off with fencing sabres. But there is more skill involved in dueling than meets the eye, and the evolving techniques of swordsmanship have been recorded at least since the invention of printing. “The Sword and the Pen,” an exhibition of elaborately illustrated books, traces swordplay from the 15th through 17th centuries. These books by such fight masters as Achille Marozzo, Camillo Agrippa, and Girard Thibault meticulously outline footwork, guards, and thrusts step by step, and introduce the debates between various schools of sword fighting. While “The Sword and the Pen” has its esoteric elements—how many gallery-goers care to know the difference between a fencing sword, broadsword, rapier, and triangular-blade fencing sword?—the exhibit engagingly shows the close relationship of fencing to drama and dance. In the 16th and 17th centuries, it was not uncommon to find a member of Shakespeare’s company serving as both a fencing and a dancing master, and some dance manuals of the time carry notations similar to those in fencing manuals. “The Sword and the Pen” continues through Oct. 14 in the Great Hall of the Folger Shakespeare Library.