Anna Jameson’s moral rendition of Shakespeare for young women, and Charles Lamb’s 1830 Tales from Shakspeare for children, were only two examples of the improving, instructive Shakespeare of the nineteenth century. So inspirational was Shakespeare that even the shape of his head could be used to inform, as in these physiognomical rolls, used in an American traveling lecture, c. 1855. Here Shakespeare joins Jonathan Edwards and other illustrious figures as an example of a fine head.
A recent addition to the Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Library, Yale University. Call number: Gen MSS 858
The expectation that Shakespeare would edify as well as entertain arose only much later. Even (or perhaps especially) in mid-eighteenth century America, Shakespeare was cobbled in the “many Valuable Books” in the 1742 Yale College Library catalog, but only at the very end, alongside Cervantes, Ben Jonson, and others of colorful repute. The student was encouraged to intermix these “other less principal Studies” only with the most regular course of study.
And yet, intermix readers clearly did, as the copy of Rowe’s 1714 Shakespeare listed here does not survive in the Yale University Library collections. The copy of Ben Jonson’s works does, however: much signed and annotated, much foxed, in library buckram, and bearing all the marks of a well-loved and diverting academical interlude.
Like Stratford upon Avon, Shakespeare’s texts were themselves also adopted, with varying degrees of success and anxiety, as morally instructive works for young readers. In her “Essays on Shakespeare’s Female Characters,” Anna Jameson sought to improve young women through vignettes of Shakespearean female characters, as here with Juliet, Lady Macbeth, and a scene of instruction in the library.
Anna Jameson, Characteristics of women, moral, poetical and historical: with fifty vignette etchings (London, 1832). From the collections of the Beinecke Library, Yale University
Shakespeare’s Stratford acquired its own moral force by the late eighteenth century, as we have seen in William Henry Ireland’s scouting expeditions to Shakespeare’s native and archival fount. This aura was only to build over the course of the nineteenth century, as Stratford emerged as site of pilgrimage for visitors from Britain, America, and beyond. A visit to Shakespeare’s childhood haunts was viewed as edifying, shaping youthful character, as seen in this 1893 edition of the Boys’ Own Paper, touting Stratford as a formative force for Britain’s emergent leaders.
As the Hamlet! advertisement reveals, the actor or musical interlude or “crowded and brilliant” audience could be themselves the true selling points for a production, far over and above the entertainment value of a Shakespearean play-text itself. And this was true as well in print, as can be seen in this specimen plate for Cassell’s Illustrated Shakespeare, given away with the first number and first part of the edition: price one penny for the first number, available on January 19; price sixpence for the first part, ready on February 27.
But the Shakespeare illustrated here is not that seen in Garrick’s Jubilee or Boydell’s Shakespeare Gallery. Instead of processions of characters, or illustrations of well-remembered scenes, we find instead the imagined spaces inhabited by Shakespeare, author, in his lifetime or after: Stratford upon Avon, alongside the house in which he was born and the memorial, which we have seen already from William Dugdale’s Antiquities of Warwickshire (1667). Shakespeare, wistful, wispily bearded in the center, peers out at his viewer above a signature almost as convincing as that forged by William Henry Ireland.
The endless variability of Shakespeare’s texts, and of the constantly changing expectations of Shakepeare as author, can be seen in this theatre advertisement for Charles Kean’s performance of Hamlet–or, Hamlet!–at London’s Theatre Royal in 1838.
Hamlet! is slated here to conclude (first time at half price) with the musical opera of Joan of Arc, and was performed for “crowded and brilliant audiences” by Kean, alternating with his performances of Richard III.
And performed. Here, the actor Paul Robeson, photographed in his role as Othello, in the 1943-44 Theater Guild production in New York City, directed by Margaret Webster. As Miles Jefferson wrote in a Phylon review, “His emergence from the Shubert Theater, where ‘Othello’ was housed in New York, into the fabulous Shubert Alley was the cue for the onslaughts of the autograph hounds and the curious star-worshippers.”
Portrait by Carl Van Vechten of Paul Robeson as Othello. From the Carl Van Vechten Papers, Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Published with permission of the Van Vechten Trust.
And assigned, in courses. Here, the 1949-50 syllabus of Maynard Mack, Sterling Professor of English at Yale, for his English 34 Shakespeare survey course:
From the Maynard Mack Papers, Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Library, Yale University. Call number: YCAL MSS 111, Box 8.
And then, of course, Shakespeare was simply bought. Here, another item not included in the exhibition: an inventory of books, dated Dec 3 1768, bought by David Garrick from London bookseller William Griffin.
Part of the David Garrick Papers from the Thomas Rackett Collection, from the James Marshall and Marie-Louise Osborn Collection, Beinecke Library, Yale University. Call number: OSM MSS 125, Folder 41.
In 1727, Lewis Theobald, himself a Shakespearean editor, published The Double Falsehood, a play he claimed was “Written Originally by W. Shakespeare” and that he merely “Revised.” Scholars still debate whether this is a revision or a forgery. The play is based on the “Cardenio” episode in Cervantes’s Don Quixote; a lost play, Cardenio, was in fact performed by Shakespeare’s acting company in 1613, and attributed to Shakespeare and John Fletcher by a publisher in 1653, two factsTheobald seems unlikely to have known.
Double falshood; or, The distrest lovers (London, 1728). From the collections of the Beinecke Library, Yale University. Call number: Ik D744 728
And modern playwrights and authors continue to wrestle in various ways with the specter of Shakespeare, often producing works original and consequential in their own right. In A Room of One’s Own (1929), Virginia Woolf imagines the fortunes of Shakespeare’s hypothetical sister, Judith, possessed of equal talent and imagination but encountering an entirely different set of social circumstances and expectations. For Woolf, as for many, Shakespeare could also and perhaps primarily be understood as the measure of what was not possible, what could not be had.
Virginia Woolf, A room of one’s own (London: at the Hogarth Press, 1929). From the collections of the Beinecke Library, Yale University. Call number: 1975 2236