Four hundred years ago tomorrow, William Shakespeare’s life was over and the story of his cultural legacy began. At what a legacy it has been!
There are countless adaptations of his work, in every artistic medium we’ve come up with over the years. His stories have also inspired new works, often from something as simple as a turn of phrase. Whether you look to the page, the canvas, the stage, or the screen, Shakespeare is bound to be there.
In this post, we share some of the many published versions of Shakespeare’s works — particularly his nearly 40 plays — which we have at Hoole, dating from the late 16th century to the late 20th century. Click on any image below to see a larger version, or come by to see the item in person.
While we don’t have any Renaissance-era copies of Shakespeare’s plays, we do have facsimile reproductions of a few of his plays, including this copy of the 1597 edition of Romeo and Juliet.
We also have this 1720 edition of history play Richard II, demonstrating that his plays were being performed — and adapted — 100 years after his death.
By the 1800s, Shakespeare was firmly planted in our cultural landscape. For example, here is a whole book of quotations from Shakespeare, from 1851.
Some Victorians preferred a cleaned-up version of the bard, such as found in the Family Shakespeare series, “in which nothing is added to the original text, but those words and expressions are omitted which cannot with propriety be read in a family.” It was first published in 1807, but this version is from 1863.
The editor is Thomas Bowdler, from whom we take the word “bowdlerize.” Another popular family-friendly version of Shakespeare came from brother-sister team Charles and Mary Lamb, who turned the plays into prose in Tales from Shakespeare, also first published in 1807.
We also have a set of pocket-sized versions of the plays, published in 1885, with two to three titles in each volume. Pictured below are volumes 2-4, which contain comedies and romances like Measure for Measure, Much Ado About Nothing, and Winter’s Tale.Shakespeare was also part of the decorated publisher’s bindings craze at the turn of the 20th century. This 1900 version of As You Like It has an embossed cover in blue, white, and gold, as well as beautiful illustrated pages inside.
The 1900s found Shakespeare still thriving, especially in colleges and universities. This 1909 copy of Antony and Cleopatra comes from the personal collection of the late English professor Hudson Strode. Not only does it contain lovely etchings to illustrate the story, it also features handwritten notes, presumably Strode’s.
The twentieth century also found Shakespeare making appearances in comic books that adapted classic literature. The editions below are from 1950 (Macbeth), 1964 (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), and 1990 (Hamlet). (All items are from the Sneed Collection, Box 14.)