- Shakespeare in the Eighteenth Century ed. by Fiona Ritchie and Peter Sabor, and: Shakespeare in the Nineteenth Century ed. by Gail Marshall, and: Shakespeare, Time and the Victorians: A Pictorial Exploration by Stuart Sillars
Readers of Shakespeare Quarterly will doubtless be familiar with the proliferating number of essay collections devoted to the Bard’s afterlife onstage and off. Cambridge University Press, already well known for its contributions to scholarship on the history of “appropriated” Shakespeare, has now released two new titles, one on Shakespeare in the eighteenth century and the other on the nineteenth century.1 The format, structuring principles, subject matter, and rhetorical justification for these sorts of volumes have become, along with their increasing visibility, increasingly predictable; and the two volumes under review are no exception.
Each volume comprises a large number of single-authored essays, each about twenty pages long. Shakespeare in the Eighteenth Century, edited by Fiona Ritchie and Peter Sabor, includes sixteen essays, apart from an introduction and reference guide, while Gail Marshall’s Shakespeare in the Nineteenth Century takes the prize with seventeen essays, along with an introduction and two reference [End Page 74] guides. Appropriately, the many contributors span the full range of scholarly experts, so that we are treated to senior scholars like Marcus Walsh and John Stokes writing from a position of deep authority on topics that they have long investigated—Walsh on eighteenth-century editions and Stokes on Shakespeare and continental European theaters. At the same time, both volumes benefit from including a few more junior scholars, who bring fresh energy and approaches to the enterprise.
Ritchie and Sabor try to give their volume a coherent structure by dividing its chapters among five sections: “The Dissemination and Reception of Shakespeare in Print,” “Shakespeare in Literature,” “Shakespeare on the Stage,” “Memorializing Shakespeare” (an agreeable grab bag, encompassing the visual arts, the Stratford Jubilee, and nationalism), and, in a gesture toward Europe, “Shakespeare in the Wider World,” the last being a category so conveniently all-encompassing that it shelters chapters on the French Revolution and eighteenth-century philosophy. Perhaps recognizing that any such structure is arbitrary and that the volume’s chapters will overlap and intersect in ways that cannot (and should not) be controlled, Marshall is content not to impose any overall division. And yet her volume’s chapters are ordered in roughly the same sequence, beginning with criticism and literary allusion, moving on to performance, and then sliding into a less governable amalgam of topics defined by form (“Shakespeare and Music”), gender (“Women and Shakespeare”), economics (“Shakespeare and Commercialism”), and geography (“Shakespeare and Germany”).
Despite each volume’s insistence that there is something singular about Shakespeare’s reception in the nineteenth or eighteenth century, they are both pretty much tilling the same soil, just at different moments in time. In her introduction, Marshall claims that “Shakespeare is a living presence in the nineteenth century, ever available and resonating through English-language speech and writing” (1). Ritchie and Sabor declare that “Shakespeare offered the eighteenth century myriad ways to understand and display itself” (7). Everyone is right. But swap the words “eighteenth” and “nineteenth,” and everyone will still be right.
Of course, this is entirely to be expected. People who lived in 1750 encountered Shakespeare’s works in largely the same ways as people in 1850: they read the plays, they read about them, they watched and listened to them on the stage, they looked at images inspired by them, and they did all of this in places other than Great Britain. Yet the deep similarity in topics and themes covered in both volumes raises the question of whether our habit of studying Shakespeare’s afterlife through the...