April 20th

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.

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