April 19th

As its prefatory pages attest, Double Falsehood–this version of it printed in 1728–was one of many plays formerly thought to be penned by Shakespeare; and like The Enchanted Island and Davenant’s Macbeth, this edition of the play received some editorial touch-ups to cater it to the tastes of its moment–in this case, by none other than Shakespeare’s famed editor, Lewis Theobald.

April 18th

William Winstanley’s Lives of The English Poets, or the Honour of Parnassus, published in 1687, attempted to bring together a compendium of sorts of England’s greatest poets, from William the Conqueror almost directly up to Winstanley’s moment.

It is hardly surprising that Shakespeare should receive the mention that he does, but the way Winstanley chooses to differentiate them points the way forward to the broader cultural imagination, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, of Shakespeare as the writer of spontaneous genius, as opposed to Ben Jonson’s less agile learning:

“Many were the Wit combats betwixt him and Ben Jonson,” Winstanley writes, “which two we may compare to a Spanish Galleon, and an English Man of War; Mr. Jonson (like the former), was built far higher in Learning, solid, but slow in his performances; Shakespeare, with the English Man of War, lesser in bulk, but lighter in sailing, could turn with all Tides, tack about, and take advantage of all winds by the quickness of his Wit and Invention.”

April 17th

Artistic renditions of Shakespeare and his works have made their way into earlier entries, but the illustrations for this 1803 collection of prints taken from paintings by various English artists–including Josiah Boydell, Henry Fussell, Robert Smirke, and James Northcote–exceed earlier engravings by far, charged as they are with a Romantic energy that far surpasses anything that could be depicted on the stage.

Here, for instance, is an illustration for The Tempest, a diffident Miranda clinging to her father as he chastens the enchanted island’s famous unloved native, Caliban:

And here is one of the more festive scenes from A Midsummer Nights Dream:

While this illustration, aspiring to the status of parable, offers a visual illustration of Jacques’ famous “seven ages of man” speech from As You Like It:

But most the rich and strange of them all, perhaps, is this illustration of the infant Shakespeare’s birth, attended–fittingly enough for a Romantic audience–by Nature and the Passions:

April 16th

Alexander Pope’s edition of Shakespeare’s works preceded Theobald’s by some years, and it, too, was propped up by studious research on the part of its editor. Fresh off his translation efforts of The Odyssey and The Iliad, Pope gladly accepted the commission to put out a new edition of Shakespeare’s works, pouring over close to every edition of the plays that had been printed before the 1623 First Folio.

The thoroughness of those efforts, though, induced even in Pope its fair share of anxiety, prompting him to lament at one point that, “It is impossible to repair the Injuries already done him, too much time has elaps’d and the materials are too few.”

April 15th

As editions of Shakespeare’s works began to proliferate across the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, editorial practices–ranging from matters of punctuation and orthography to larger questions of attribution–became a matter of increasing scholarly concern. Nicholas Rowe was the first of many eighteenth century editors of Shakespeare, and his complete edition of the works, appearing in 1709 as a replacement of the fourth folio, set a standard for editions to come, arriving as it did in a smaller, more portable format–six octavo volumes rather than the bulkier single folio–and acknowledging up front the material constraints limiting any attempt to produce a complete and true Shakespeare:

“I must not pretend… to have restor’d this Work to the Exactness of the Author’s Original Manuscripts. Those are lost, or, at least are gone beyond any Inquiry I could make; so that there was nothing left, but to compare the several editions, and give the true Reading as well as I could from thence.”

Not soon after Rowe’s edition came, in 1721, a version edited by the celebrated poet Alexander Pope and then another overseen by Lewis Theobald, published in 1733 and pictured here. Theobald’s edition was a thorough one, scrupulously collated, issued with an elaborate apparatus of notes and annotations, and offering one of the most famous emendations of Shakespeare’s work to date. In Henry V, when Mistress Quickly is recounting the death of Falstaff, she perplexingly mentions, in earlier Folio editions, “A table of green fields.” But armed with a deep understanding Shakespeare’s idiom and of early modern writing practices–in which “a” often means “he” and “b” often resembles “t”–Theobald was able to make enough sense of Quickly’s line to alter it to read, movingly, “a babbled of green fields.”

April 14th

The increasing canonization of Shakespeare’s works brought with it an appetite and imagination for all things Shakespearean; we can think of the phenomenon of bardolatry, of worshiping Shakespeare in the manner David Garrick so loudly proclaimed himself to do, as one consequence of such an augmented popular desire for all things pertaining to Shakespeare. And we can think of the illustrated editions of Shakespeare’s works as another consequence of that desire–and an attempt, too, to satisfy it by giving those plays a readily accessible image of the plays’ fantastic expanses.

Pictured here are some engraved images from a 1709 edition of Shakespeare’s plays. Worth noting are the ways each of these engravings–operating, in effect, as an eighteenth century versions of the modern book cover–depict great expanses of space, of forests and cities and oceans, that exceeded by far the locales that theater of the time could have hoped to represent. From the breadth of these engravings, we can surmise that Shakespeare, like Milton and Dante for Gustave Doré, excited the imagination of readers to ambitious degrees–and in ways that made them crave for some kind of visual representation.

There is a crucial way, then, that these images offer a satisfaction to that desire, anchoring the plays to a vivid and visible domain; but even more crucial, perhaps, is that the visual excitement that these images work to generate and to satisfy at once is the consequence of a thoroughly non-visual experience–the experience of sitting down to read. The illustration of Shakespeare, in other words, depends on the printing and reading of Shakespeare first.

April 13th

Johnson, of course, was not alone in seeing Shakespeare as the wellspring of the English language worthy of being anthologized even in the first modern dictionary. This collected edition of four Roman Shakespearean plays–Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, and Cymbeline–has been carefully marked up and annotated by its eighteenth century reader, most likely a man by the name of Richard Warner, an English botanist.

The edition even contains proofreading notes and comments by the reader, but in light of Johnson’s dictionary, it is most intriguing, perhaps, simply to note the deep underlines that punctuate each page, signaling words of particular difficulty, strangeness, or eloquence: “muniments,” “agued,” “potch,” “bewitchment,” and a characteristically Shakespearean hyphenation, “over-peer.”

April 12th

Many years later, Dr. Samuel Johnson remains one of the preeminent critics of Shakespeare; his occasional censure of the plays and their language–puns received particular castigation–have the merit of being as memorable as his unfettered endorsements of them.

But Johnson’s influence on Shakespeare–and, as a consequence, Shakespeare’s influence on us–extends beyond the realm of criticism, censure, and praise. His meticulous work on an authoritative dictionary of the English language–the first modern version of its kind, replete with both definitions of words and prominent examples of their use–worked in a crucial way to make Shakespeare one of its central objects, even as the origins, meanings, and vagaries of the language took center stage.

For beneath so many of the definitions in Johnson’s dictionary, it is Shakespeare who is taken to be the most vivid example of the word’s definition and use–so that Shakespeare becomes a wellspring not just of English literature, but of the whole English language Johnson sought, in his way, to canonize.

April 11th

In 1877, the same year as Irving’s tour of Stratford-upon-Avon was published, another piece of bardolatry came out to offer readers one more look into the life Shakespeare would have lived in Elizabethan England. A re-issue of a description of England composed in the sixteenth century by William Harrison, William Harrison’s Description of England in Shakespeare’s Youth offers maps of London and its environs, and even a bird’s eye view of the route Shakespeare would have taken to get from Stratford-upon-Avon to London, to go with the written descriptions Harrison originally supplied.

April 10th

Released in 1656, Dugdale’s Antiquities of Warwickshire offered one early expression of Stratford fandom, an appreciation of Stratford-upon-Avon as the site of Shakespeare’s hazy beginnings; decades later, David Garrick’s Shakespeare Jubilee, conducted in Stratford, provided another. And yet one more comes together in this illustrated tour of the famed midlands town, Shakespeare’s Home, composed by Washington Irving and published in 1877.