Working together to purify Shakespeare’s works for children’s appreciation, Charles and Mary Lamb produced in 1831 these prose renditions of Shakespeare’s plays, Tales from Shakespeare, which collectively served to embed Shakespeare more deeply in England’s national consciousness. Among other changes in these versions of the plays, the tragic conclusions are smoothed over by the Lambs with some version of the phrase “too horrible to relate here.” Take, for instance, this version of the conclusion of King Lear:
How the judgment of Heaven overtook the bad earl of Gloucester, whose treasons were discovered, and himself slain in single combat with his brother, the lawful earl; and how Goneril’s husband, the Duke of Albany, who was innocent of the death of Cordelia, and had never encouraged his lady in her wicked proceedings against her father, ascended the throne of Britain after the death of Lear, is needless here to narrate; Lear and his Three Daughters being dead, whose adventures alone concern our story.
It is, the Lambs suggest, for later in life that such moments in Shakespeare’s tragedies should be encountered.
The Speeches and Readings in Mr. Clarence Holt’s Entertainment, entitled ‘A Night With Shakespeare and Dickens’, pictured here, offer another example of the close association that came to grow between Shakespeare and Dickens, two authors thought to be commensurate with a national English identity. The illustrations of Shakespearean characters included here place Holt’s Speeches in the long tradition of Shakespearean illustrations, imparting a Victorian life upon some of Shakespeare’s most famous monologues.
It is only fitting that Charles Dickens, who would come to share with Shakespeare the mantle of pre-eminently English author, should produce a document quoting Shakespeare as extensively as he does in this commemorative piece, November the nineteenth, 1861, ‘The Morn that I was wedded…’ The piece, commemorating Dickens’ wedding, displays a seating chart of the guests at Dickens’ wedding dinner, an extensive quotation of Shakespeare appended to each guest’s name.
The popularity of Shakespeare from the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth owed much to the performances of individual actors and the efforts of the many publishers who worked to distribute Shakespeare’s works; but it owed something, too, to the technologies of mass production that helped to distribute Shakespeare’s works to the wide extent that they enjoyed.
This edition of Shakespeare’s works–put together by William Pickering and known, thanks to his efforts, as the Pickering edition–remains with us today as the evidence of one publisher’s attempts to cater cheaper, smaller editions of Shakespeare to broader, more popular audiences.
It did not take long for Shakespeare to make his way off of the stage and into more popular documents like this cross word puzzle from 1865, where even The Life and Death of King John finds a prominent place.
David Garrick, with so many others, helped to turn performances of Shakespeare into commodities of high cultural standing; by the nineteenth century, such performances had taken on such life, popularity, on authority that there was money to be made in selling not just Shakespeare’s works, and not even, as we have seen, illustrations of Shakespeare’s works, but illustrations of the performances of Shakespeare’s plays. Take, for instance, these souvenirs from a showing of Henry VIII, performed in 1892 and featuring the celebrated Shakesperean actor Henry Irving:
Occupying the center of our attention, here, is not the fictive role the actor has taken on–Cardinal Wolsey, Henry VIII, for instance–so much as the actor taking on the role Shakespeare has written.
Today is Shakespeare’s birthday–also, as it happens, the day of his death–and among the many items to feature from Shakespeare at Yale, another set of illustrations giving vivid life to the worlds of Shakespeare’s plays seemed as worthy a choice as any. Published in 1826, these Illustrations of Shakespeare offer a set of vignettes for Shakespeare’s play, each image captioned by lines from the scene it illustrates.
Falstaff’s popularity, still strong today, owes much to the particular qualities of that character’s dialogue, actions, and zest, as first crafted by Shakespeare. But the life of that character, like so many of Shakespeare’s creations, enjoyed some considerable growth in the generations after Shakespeare’s death, so expanding in size, vitality, and charm as to prompt these twenty engravings of the character by the artist George Cruikshank, printed in 1857:
By 1773, when this anthology of satirical and serious poems was printed, David Garrick, Samuel Johnson, Pope and Theobald and so many others had done much to solidify the high cultural standing of Shakespeare’s plays; both a consequence and a catalyst of that cultural standing were the many compilations, re-iterations, and performances of Shakespeare’s plays, monologues, and most memorable lines. Those many rememberings of Shakespeare’s work were quite frequently reverent–but this was not always the case.
This page from the collection of poems, featuring a parody of Hamlet’s famous “To be or not to be” speech, takes a tongue-in-cheek approach to the Danish prince’s lines, changing that crucial infinitive–”to be”–to a word that has much to do with the ways we remember Shakespeare, as well as so much else: “to print.”
If revisions of plays like The Tempest and Macbeth testified to a shared desire of the generations after Shakespeare to make him more, in a way, of the moment–more pertinent and fashionable than his Elizabethan origins would allow–then this edition of Modern Characters of Shakespeare, printed in 1778, gives another shape to that desire.
Variously attributed to the eighteenth century Reverend Barton Cutts, to the Baroness Elizabeth Craven, to Sir Henry Bate and to Lady Dudley, the book operates as something of a printed commonplace book, excerpting and compiling some of Shakespeare’s most memorable quotations from across his plays; the first heading of this page, for instance, re-prints Jessica’s fond praise of Portia from The Merchant of Venice:
“Why, if two gods should play some heav’nly match
And on the wager lay two earthly women,
And Portia one–there must be something else
Pawn’d with the other; for the poor, rude world
Hath not her fellow.–”
Unlike traditional printed commonplace books, though, Modern Characters of Shakespeare takes such elaborate descriptions of Shakespeare’s heroes and heroines and applies them to living eighteenth-century figures whose names have been excised by the printer–but only just enough to let him off the hook. See, in this edition, where the reader of the work has filled in the blank spaces of the names based on the letters and the passages provided.