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School of Arts and Sciences

The Stratford Edition: The Old 'Young America' and an Anachronistic Democratic Shakespeare

Tuesday, February 23, 2021 - 12:00pm

Speaker: Hesam Sharifian (CHAT Fellow, 2019-2020; PhD Candidate in the Dept. of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies)

Henry J. Johnson, a publisher of pirated literary works in the early 1850s and a household name in the 1880s, released the “Stratford Edition” of the collected works of Shakespeare in 1888. The edition was first published in twenty-five parts for the subscribers, later to be lavishly bound in leather and gold glitter in three volumes. The frontispiece reads “containing one hundred photogravure illustrations from original designs by Felix O. C. Darley and Alonzo Chappel with an explanatory page to each.” Both illustrators had collaborated with the publisher before – Chappel provided some illustrations to J. A. Spencer’s History of the United States that Johnson published in 1858, and Darley’s outline illustrations appeared in Benson Lossing’s Our Country: A Household History of the United States in 1873. The two historical works, published by the same publisher with a civil war occurring in the interim, exemplify a shift in the American historiography of the nineteenth century – whereas Spencer’s work celebrates heroic actions of the larger-than-life national figures, Lossing’s work emphasizes the collective significance of middle class populations of the republic. In this paper, I shall argue that the same attitude towards history is manifested in the two artists’ illustrations of Shakespearean subjects. I will demonstrate that Darley sought inspiration in close-reading of the plays and included signs of domestic life, congruent with his genre works. Chappel, in contrast, depicted his Shakespearean subjects in the grand style, with an unlikely source for historical accuracy: the commercial stage of New York City.

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