Michael Caines, ‘Shakespeare as Sub-plot’
This paper refines an account of how Shakespeare in the eighteenth century, not least Shakespeare as he figured in Johnson’s work, became a significant ‘subplot’ in later scholarship. It builds on a survey of the critical and creative responses of actors and audiences, literary critics and textual editors, painters and philosophes to Shakespeare’s works, while also suggesting how the Shakespeare of the theatre influenced the Shakespeare of the study, and how other, less straightforward interactions combined to bring about a sea-change in English cultural life.
Marie-Jeanne Colombani, ‘Boswell’s biographical, literary responses to Johnson’s Shakespeare‘
Nelson Goodman (1906-98), in his monograph Ways of Worldmaking (1978) states that “even within what we do perceive and remember, we dismiss as illusory or negligible what cannot be fitted into the architecture of the world we are building.” Esse est percipere is the axiom. Samuel Johnson (1709-84) and James Boswell (1740-95) are world-makers. Johnson’s criticism of Shakespeare is a commitment to the world of feeling and “common humanity”, as he observes in his Preface (1765). Brian Vickers, in his introduction to James Boswell, Johnson on Shakespeare 1791 argues that Boswell’s literary criticism cannot be taken at face value in the Life of Johnson because Johnson’s opinions on Shakespeare are “coloured by the context of the discussion” ( The Critical Heritage; vol. 6). This is precisely what I intend on refuting in my paper which will focus on the so-called genre of critical biography that establishes links between Lives and Works. Boswell’s responses to Johnson’s Shakespeare in the Life of Johnson will be compared to extracts from the Laird of Auchinleck’s other papers. In Verses on the Bishop of Peterborough, a satire that was published in the Public Advertiser on April 10 1792, Boswell who is depicted as a “wrong quoter” was accused of being “ puff’d with Biographic praise” (P122, Boswell Papers, Yale U). But in a letter to Temple dated 24 February 1788, Boswell had defined his lofty aim: his biography was “ a History of Johnson’s visible progress through the World, and of his Publications” (Marshall Waingrow, ed.,The Correspondence and Other Papers of James Boswell, Relating to the Making of the “Life of Johnson”, 1969). My references to Johnson’s Shakespeare take into account the whole progress of the connections between Johnson – the editor and the scholiast- and Shakespeare from 1745 to 1773. Johnson’s history is also England’s competing with France’s. In the Rosciad (1761), Charles Churchill (1732-64) emphasized that “SHAKESPEAR and JOHNSON ” contributed to “make England great in Letters as in Arms”, despite Voltaire’s strictures on “the bard of all bards”, to quote from David Garrick’s Warwickshire. A song. (1785).
Thomas Curley, ‘Using History to Free Shakespeare from History: Samuel Johnson the Critic on Transcending Time’
Even early on, Johnson’s sense of history was central to his evaluation of the bard, to understanding the context for his contemporary greatness, and to establishing the utimate test for his lasting fame. Reliance on history obviously made possible an editor’s responsibility “to correct what is corrupt, and to explain what is obscure.” Comparison with contemporaries established Shakespeare as the “father of our drama,” a veritable bringer of civilization and historical progress to the English stage out of the savagery of pre-modern dramaturgy, especially in the areas of of characterization, dialogue, refinement of language, as well as invention, novelty, and variety in plotting: “He wrote at a time when our poetical language was yet unformed.” To Johnson the very greatest writers, from Spenser through Dryden to Pope, advanced English literary civilization, and perhaps nobody did more in this endeavor than did Shakespeare. He excelled fellow playwrights, in “some of his happier scenes” even “carried them to the utmost height” of perfection before or since, and passed the larger test of time beyond the legacy of his own age by surviving comparison with later practitioners to attain a reputation of peerless excellence: “Shakespeare has gained and kept the favour of his countrymen.” His fame may necessarily have an historical basis of “gradual and comparative” critical judgement because literature resists absolutist scientific assessment. But the timelessness of his achievement rests primarily on something ultimately ahistorical — a traditional essentialist notion of his ability to capture “general nature,” that is, the perennial truth of human nature in all its richness and variety. Another ahistorical and essentialist position, it seems, undercuts Shakespeare’s attainment of the highest literary excellence of apprehending and enforcing metaphysical truth: “He seems to write without any moral purpose. . . . This fault the babarity of his age cannot extenuate; for it is always a writer’s duty to make the world better, and justice is a virtue independant on time or place.” But the bard successfully transcended time by becoming the “poet of nature; the poet that holds up to his readers a faithful mirrour of manners and of life.” That enduring longevity survived the author’s life and, according to Johnson’s rueful sense of human imperfection and human mortality, will outlast the efforts of editors “from the revival of learning to our own age.”
Jenny Davidson, ‘Talking Pages: The Eighteenth-Century Variorum Page’
Jenny Davidson will consider the form and function of the variorum page in Johnson’s Shakespeare editions in the context not just of eighteenth-century scholarly editing but of Scriblerian takes on the edited page. She will look closely at the workings of several specific pages of Johnson’s Shakespeare, but her larger concern is to consider Johnson’s literary career in the light of a late-stage revisiting of the quarrel of ancients and moderns. After telling a sort of prequel story about Swift, Bentley, Theobald and Pope, she will turn to Johnson’s editorial work as an effort of reconciliation and resolution in response to still unresolved tensions between the Scriblerian critical project and the reading techniques of a triumphalist modernity. Johnson’s reclamation of a “conversational” and relatively civil variorum page for what is in some ways a conservative literary project seems to represent a critical turning point in eighteenth-century literary history, and Davidson will conclude by considering analogies between Johnson’s use of the variorum page and the theme of generosity in present-day relationships with the past elsewhere in his writing, with brief excursions to Gibbon and Burke as points of comparison.
Frans De Bruyn, ‘Performing Editorial Labour and Reflecting on Authorial Labour: Samuel Johnson’s Edition of Shakespeare‘
My research on georgically inflected writing in the eighteenth century has led me recently to examine the idea of literary labour as an aesthetic and critical ideal in the writings of Samuel Johnson. To contextualize briefly, readers of Virgil’s Georgics have long recognized that labour is a central preoccupation of the poem and a defining generic marker of georgic writing generally, manifesting itself not only as a recurrent theme, but also as a mode of authorial self-reflexivity that contemplates the task of writing in the process of performing it. This meta-critical reflection on the part of the georgic writer is characteristically framed by analogy with the rules and processes of the art under discussion in the text; thus, Virgil, in a pun on the Latin word versus, which designates both turning a “furrow” and turning a “line of verse,” compares his poetic labours with the farmer’s task of ploughing his land.
I have been struck in reading Johnson’s critical writings, especially Lives of the Poets and The Rambler, how thoroughly he conceives of the art of writing in Virgilian georgic terms and how this conception of writing as labour culminates in a characteristically eighteenth-century critical ideal: an aesthetic of laboured style and form. This view of literary creativity as a function primarily of work rather than the unbidden promptings of genius, as much a matter of perspiration as inspiration, has an important bearing on Johnson’s evaluation of Shakespeare as an author and his editorial interventions in Shakespeare’s text. On the one hand, Johnson’s assessment of Shakespeare’s achievement as a writer in the Preface to The Plays, in particular, his enumeration of the playwrights “faults,” is informed by a standard of “laboured” style that Shakespeare is perceived often to have exceeded or ignored. On the other hand, the eighteenth-century critical procedure of conjectural emendation (widely deployed on Shakespeare’s text), which Johnson himself sometimes practises but of which he is also strongly critical, is motivated by the same critical ideal and exhibits in its execution a conception of scholarly labour that was often dismissed in the period as dullness. For Johnson in The Lives, Alexander Pope’s poetry is the great exemplar of laboured writing, positively conceived; at the same time, Pope’s satirical poem ‘The Dunciad’, is the period’s most memorable excoriation of pedantic scholarly dulness, exemplified in the first instance by an earlier editor of Shakespeare, to whom, along with Pope, Johnson is indebted in his edition.
In my presentation, I propose to explore the conception of labour in Johnson’s edition of Shakespeare, as a way of defining the standards of authorship and of literary scholarship that underlie and inform the edition.
Robert DeMaria, ‘Johnson’s Historical Interest in the Plays of William Shakespeare‘
Thanks to Jack Lynch, Anne McDermott, and others, Johnson’s interest in the Elizabethan period is well known. He wrote a life of Sir Francis Drake; he edited Roger Ascham’s English works and wrote his life; his Dictionary dates the “golden age of our language . . . from the accession of Elizabeth” and quotes extensively the works of Shakespeare, Bacon, Hooker, and others of roughly that time. “The reign of Elizabeth, when liberty again began to flourish” is also celebrated in the Harleian prefaces and proposals. Johnson’s edition of Shakespeare, however, for very good reasons has often been looked at as a work independent of this special historical interest: it is a work of literary criticism and, in the broad sense, philology. But, I wish to ask what sense it makes to put those contexts aside for a moment and see Johnson’s Shakespeare as a further expression of his historical interest in the Elizabethan period.
You will certainly say at this point, “It depends what you mean by ‘history.'” So, in particular I want to explore the extent to which Johnson writes the same kind of history in his Shakespeare as he does in his lives of Drake and Ascham, in the Harleian materials, and in the Dictionary. In those works, as an historian, Johnson is often politically tendentious and uses the earlier period as a kind of analogue or sometimes as a moral lesson for the present. As part of this operation, Johnson sometimes posits the Elizabethan period as a golden age or employs it in writing another myth of origins. So, my question is, does Johnson do the kind of history in his Shakespeare that he does in his other works on the Elizabethan period? Is his Shakespeare a further expansion of the perspective he assumes in those other works? Or is it profoundly or predominantly different?
John A. Dussinger, ‘The “Profess’d Critic”: Warburton, Edwards, Johnson, and the Hazards of Emendation’
This paper examines Johnson’s unacknowledged use of Thomas Edwards’s notes in his 1765 edition of Shakespeare. Although performing a delicate balancing act — trying to protect Warburton at the expense of downgrading Edwards’s importance as critic, on the one hand, and candidly pointing out some of Warburton’s absurdities,on the other, — in at least a few instances Johnson does acknowledge the superiority of the fly to the stately horse!
After taking into account William Kenrick’s long review (133 pages) of Johnson’s edition, which charges Johnson with silently incorporating Edwards’s notes, I argue that despite this journalist’s notoriety in making libelous attacks not only on Johnson but also on such other established authors as Oliver Goldsmith and James Boswell, he does have a point. Even if Kenrick ignores the explicit references to Edwards in the 1765 Shakespeare, he does provide examples of where Johnson wholly agrees with Edwards’s readings of a passage from Shakespeare but without mentioning them.
When George Steevens collaborated with Johnson for the 1773 and 1778 “variorum” editions, however, Edwards at last comes in for frequent citations even though Kenrick’s name never appears. But Kenrick’s impact on making room for Edwards in future commentaries on Shakespeare seems to be beyond doubt. Despite Johnson’s unfortunate caricature of Edwards as a mere insect-like “wit” in his Preface to the 1765 Shakespeare, the subsequent variorum editions quietly counter this slur and give this literary scholar his due.
Elizabeth Eger, ‘Samuel Johnson, Elizabeth Montagu and Shakespeare’s women’
Johnson and Montagu both contributed to the creation of Shakespeare’s reputation as a national hero—a highly dramatic and hybrid process in itself. This paper will consider the distinctive quality of each writer’s response to Shakespeare’s dramatic art, focusing on questions of character, sympathy and moral judgement. By contrasting Montagu and Johnson’s interpretations of Shakespeare’s women, I hope to highlight important critical differences between two highly competitive critics, who helped to shape modern notions of Shakespeare as the superlative dramatist of individual and national character.
Ala Elhoudiri, ‘Shakespeare’s Othello and Samuel Johnson’s Orientalism: A colonialist and orientalist perspective’
During the Elizabethan period, the gradual conquest of the European Christendom by the Eastern invaders of the Ottoman Empire caused the British monarchy much unease. However, not only did Renaissance England and their surrounding countries hold military relations with the Turkish Empire, but also a popularized commercial trade. Thus the adjacent division between East and West formed a complex network of affairs which enforced the Renaissance attitude towards the Orient to be that of ‘fear, anxiety and awe’ (Matar, 1999).
Early Modern England’s political and social relations with the Turkish Empire shaped the making of Shakespeare’s Othello. In the play, the only person who can protect Cyprus from the Orient is an Easterner himself – Othello. Although the Moor ultimately commits a tragedy conventionally ‘expected’ of Easterners during the Renaissance, his manners and military actions depict him as superior. Thus, while the Venetian characters constantly use racist derogatory terms against him, there are subtle undertones of xenophobic fear. The reason for this, according to post-colonial theorists Said and Loomba, is because of false pre-conceived prejudices by Western Orientalists.
Ultimately, one cannot view Shakespeare’s Othello as completely antagonistic towards the East. Yet it is to some eccentricity that Samuel Johnson had a strong sense of the West’s superiority over the East. I am willing to show and explore how Shakespeare’s plays shaped Samuel Johnson’s perception of the Orient and whether it helped form his hostile opinion of Islam and Muslims.
James Harriman-Smith, ‘Delusion and Illusion: Elizabeth Montagu’s critique of Samuel Johnson’
Samuel Johnson disappointed Elizabeth Montagu. In her view, the preface for his 1765 edition of Shakespeare’s plays failed to ‘address the particular excellencies of Shakespear as a Dramatick poet’. It is the contention of this paper that when Montagu came to write her own Essay on the Writings and Genius of Shakespear […] with some Remarks Upon the Misrepresentations of Monsieur de Voltaire (1769), she intended not only to answer the French critic’s aspersions but also to improve on Johnson.
Fiona Ritchie and Elizabeth Eger have already noted that beneath Montagu’s critique of Voltaire there lies a covert dialogue with Johnson. Yet the importance of this connection for the study of Shakespeare and of drama in general has been underrated. The matter in question turns principally on the question of dramatic illusion. Johnson’s spectators are ‘always in their senses’, but Montagu’s are transported ‘to the very Capitol of Rome’ by Shakespeare. Such transport is necessary for the moral education of the audience, a process essential to Montagu’s understanding of Shakespeare’s craft but questioned by Johnson. For Montagu, the ‘Dramatick poet’ must write to create illusion in performance, forming sympathetic bonds with his audience that serve as conduits for moral education. For Johnson, ‘a play read affects the mind like a play acted’ and axioms drop ‘casually’ from the playwright’s pen.
The meeting of these two influential eighteenth-century figures entails a battle of definition, one that is still relevant today. Together, Johnson’s preface and Montagu’s Essay have two aims: to tell us what Shakespeare is, and, thus, what it means to be ‘Dramatick’ too.
Joseph Hone, ‘The Contents and Typography of Johnson’s Shakespeare’
Johnson’s edition of Shakespeare was quite closely modelled on Warbuton’s edition of 1747, though much of its text derives from Theobald’s fourth edition of 1757. It is highly likely that a marked-up copy of Warburton was sent to the printing house. The paper will consider the structural and typographical changes made to the book in order to reflect Johnson’s conception of the edition. Differences begin with the title page and the claims it wishes to make and extend to the design of the preliminaries. Although some details of typography were followed carefully, the contents of the volumes were changed. In what is perhaps the most important feature of his edition, Johnson decided to include the notes of others but to discriminate them from his own; the method he used is still reflected in modern editions.
Nancy E. Johnson, ‘Burney, Johnson & Shakespeare‘
In this paper, I will examine Frances Burney’s use of Johnson and Shakespeare to assuage her sense of displacement while in Queen Charlotte’s court from 1786 to 1791.
On her appointment as Keeper of the Robes in Queen Charlotte’s court, Burney was reluctantly compelled to put aside her identity as a writer and don a new character—that of a royal servant. This alteration in her self-identification plagued Burney for the six years she spent at court and exacerbated the sheer physical exhaustion she suffered from her duties in attendance on the queen. In critical moments, when reflecting on her losses, Burney turned to literary/philosophical touchstones for stability: in particular, Samuel Johnson and William Shakespeare.
Johnson, Burney invokes when she needs to remind herself and her reader of the celebrated intellectual circles in which she moved before coming to court; he is a vehicle through which she reminds us that despite her transformed character, she is an author. In July 1787, Burney writes of her embarrassment when Dr Beattie praises her novel Cecilia. She claims that his comments make her uncomfortable, but she records in detail what he says. Mr Beattie, Burney tells us, ‘worked himself up into a height of panegyric that finished by comparing their little Character monger, as Dr Johnson called her—with no less a person and master than Shakespeare himself!’ (FB to SBP July 1787). In one recorded comment, Burney brings into the imagination of her readers, her two touchstones, both of whom elevate her status and restore her identity. She further uses Johnson to reaffirm her moral agency when she struggles with her position of servitude.
Shakespeare, Burney describes as instrumental to her appointment at court. In December 1785, Burney had been reading A Comedy of Errors to Mrs Delany who had been ill and thus confined in her home at Windsor. ‘We had purposed going through his works,’ Burney writes in reference to Shakespeare, ‘which I had begun to her in that eventful visit I made her at Windsor, whence arose my present situation: for had I not just so met the Queen, most probably I had never been known to her’ (FB to SBP December 1786). Hence, if it hadn’t been for Shakespeare, Burney might never have been at court (and she might never be anguishing over her state of servitude). Shakespeare’s presence lends grandeur to Burney’s fate—and invokes the genre of tragic-comedy that she borrows from Shakespeare to represent her time at court.
In both instances, Burney interprets the work of her touchstones. She ‘reads’ Johnson to set a standard of moral agency that she meets, but others around her do not. Those ‘others’ are most often persons of stature whom Burney does not think deserving of their elevation—or, those who have betrayed her, such as her romantic interest, Col. Digby. The act of reading Shakespeare (as with Mrs Delany) is an opportunity for finding sympathy with her fellow reader(s). It is also a means of processing the turmoil Burney experiences while at court. The character she most identifies with is Hamlet, and she ponders his circumstances, which, while she considers them ‘wild’ and ‘improbable’, nevertheless provide food for thought as she comes to terms with her sense of displacement at court (FB to SBP December 1786). In Burney’s interpretations of Johnson and Shakespeare, she not only reveals to us her own turmoil but also offers to us an analysis of where the two authors meet and where they diverge.
Anthony W. Lee, ‘“The Caliban of Literature: Johnson’s Intertextual Scholarship’
At one point in the 1755 Preface to the Dictionary Johnson remarks: “I have sometimes, though rarely, yielded to the temptation of exhibiting a genealogy of sentiments, by shewing how one author copied the thoughts and diction of another: such quotations are, indeed, little more than repetitions, which might justly be censured, did they not gratify the mind, by affording a kind of intellectual history” (par. sixty-seven, Yale Edition of the Works of Samuel Johnson, 18: 98). I find Johnson’s sentence demure, both in his modifying phrase “though rarely,” and in his modest gesture that these, being “little more than repetitions,” “might be justly censured.” In my grappling with the Dictionary, I have noted a frequent recurrence of such genealogies, and I have found them to be richly suggestive. These elaborate extra-lexicographical and linguistic activities are in fact exercises in philological investigation, what was called last century source studies and what we would today call intertextuality. Viewed in this light, the Dictionary and Johnson’s other great scholarly achievement, the 1765 Works of Shakespeare, are far more than historical and scholarly interventions—they constitute vast, fertile tracts of submerged Johnsonian criticism that have been insufficiently explored. In the proposed paper, I attempt to promote and further this exploration by examining the relationship between Spenser and Shakespeare through Johnson’s intertextual critical lens, looking especially at a few key passages handling Spenser’s Fairie Queene and Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream from the Shakespeare edition and the Dictionary. These passages, critically collated, cohere into an intertextual constellation that invites analytic inquiry.
Ivan Lupić, ‘Ungrateful Custom: Johnson, Steevens, and the Variorum Tradition’
One of the many things for which Samuel Johnson deserves to be praised is his ability to recognize in George Steevens a gifted Shakespearean and a worthy editorial successor. Steevens’s first comments on Shakespeare are found in the Appendix to Johnson’s 1765 edition, but by the end of that same year Steevens prepared his own reprint of the Twenty of the Plays of Shakespeare (published in 1766) and by 1773, when the second edition of Johnson’s Shakespeare was published, Steevens managed to establish himself as one of the leading authorities on Shakespeare’s texts. Writing to David Garrick in 1772, while revising and expanding Johnson’s edition, Steevens complains about the excess of commentary and describes Shakespeare as being “wrapped up in too many swaddling clothes.” For this he blames Johnson, “the elder of his nurses,” who “was rather obstinate, and determined to adhere closely to certain old customs, (variorum I think they call them) introduced by the two Burmans, and other Dutch midwives of oppressive memory.” Ironically, by the end of the century Steevens himself became one of the most eloquent defenders of the variorum practice in Shakespeare editing. The focus of this paper will be Steevens’s 1793 edition of Shakespeare’s plays and the role it had both in consolidating the eighteenth-century editorial tradition and in shaping the work of Steevens’s great editorial contemporary, Edmond Malone. The rivalry between these two towering editorial figures cannot, I will argue, be properly understood without reference to the contested legacy of Johnson’s work on Shakespeare.
Tom Mason, ‘The Tragicall End of the Proud Cardinall of Winchester: “beauties that rise out of nature and of truth”?’
Johnson’s Preface to the Plays of Shakespeare ends with a quotation from Dryden which itself culminates in an image expressing the vast disparity between Shakespeare’s writing when presented with “some great occasion” and the bombast and clenches to which he was otherwise prone. Such a perception of Shakespeare as an essentially uneven writer represents, perhaps, the largest difference between eighteenth-century accounts of Shakespeare (including, pre-eminently, Pope’s) and most of those obtaining today. Many of Johnson’s general remarks of praise are difficult to locate in particular moments. There is one scene, however, on which he commented in the strongest possible terms: the agonised death of Cardinal Beaufort in the second part of Henry VI. Citations in the Dictionary show that Johnson had appreciated this scene early and give hints as to which he saw as the most beautiful lines, those expressing the Christian charity of King Henry. It might be thought that the truth out of which the “beauties” of this scene rise was for Johnson (as for some earlier and later readers) that of his religion. Johnson, however, also drew attention to the forensic description of Gloucester’s smothered corpse which was the cause of the Cardinal’s madness, remarking “this horrible description is scarcely the work of any pen but Shakespeare’s.” Johnson was offering evidence to allay the doubts of Theobald and Warburton on the Shakespearian presence in the Henry VI plays of 1623 (and their relation to earlier printings). For Johnson, the horrible appears to have been one of the unmistakable marks of Shakespeare’s hand.
Anne McDermott, ‘Johnson as Textual Critic and Lexicographer‘
In writing his Dictionary, Johnson became, in effect, a textual critic as well as a lexicographer. In many instances his definitions become glosses, explicating the meaning of the word in the text of the illustrative quotation, and the relationship between definition and quotation is reversed: instead of the illustrative quotations exemplifying Johnson’s definitions, his definitions are appended as glosses to the quotation. He was also acutely aware of the problem that textual difficulties, whether caused by misprints or misinterpretations, posed to his lexicographical project. If an erroneous word were to be accepted in a text of Shakespeare, and included in his illustrative quotations, then that word would be given spurious authority not just in the text of Shakespeare, but in this repository of the language, his Dictionary, by the possible erroneous conjecture of an editor or the carelessness of a printer.
The edition of Shakespeare which Johnson marked up for quotations to include in his Dictionary, Warburton’s 1747 edition, has survived and shows that this was his primary source for Shakespearian quotations. However, Johnson also used Hanmer, Pope and Theobald, as well as his own emendations of the text of Shakespeare, in compiling his Dictionary. The result is that Johnson is as much a textual critic in the Dictionary as he is a lexicographer and that ultimately the two activities are so intertwined in his work that they cannot easily be disentangled; increasingly as the alphabet progresses, the textual uncertainties as well as the problem of Shakespeare’s language are noted.
James McLaverty, ‘The Subscription, Printing, and Costing of Johnson’s Shakespear’e
Johnson’s Shakespeare was an untidy and perplexing subscription edition, but fortunately many of the records survive. The Lichfield Birthplace Museum has a copy of the contract, which shows what the financial arrangements were supposed to be, while the proposals inaccurately forecast the date of publication (before Christmas 1757). Some records (including receipts) of the subscription survive, as does evidence of the printing in the Strahan ledgers at the British Library and in the Bowyer ledgers. This paper will attempt to answer two sets of questions: (1) What went wrong? Why didn’t the edition run to time? What changes, if any, took place in the course of printing? And (2) What are the original expectations of the returns to Johnson and to the proprietors? How did it actually work out?
Lynda Mugglestone, ‘Reading Johnson Reading Shakespeare’
It is a striking thought that Johnson’s monumental Dictionary begins, in essence, in the spaces of texts. Underpinning the Dictionary are what Johnson referred to as his ‘authorities’ – the quotations and illustrations of lexical use that were painstakingly gathered up in a daunting enterprise of collection. Johnson’s hand, in a process of dialogue with his amanuenses and the future Dictionary, is still visible in fourteen such texts, including, importantly, his copy of Warburton’s edition of Shakespeare. While the use of Shakespeare as lexicographic resource in later works such as the Oxford English Dictionary was facilitated by a concordance (in ways which lead to a far more predictable process of inclusion and use), Johnson’s acts of reading, as the surviving text confirms, are very different. Selective, discontinuous, individual, they offer a route by which we can, in effect, track Johnson’s reading of the plays, through the patterns of marginalia and textual notation which survive. By 1755, the ‘variety of materials’ which Johnson had gathered had, as he explained, been ‘reduced to method’ as well as subordinated to the ‘track of the alphabet’ to which all lexicographers must eventually submit. Yet, as Johnson stressed, the underlying acts of reading were characterised by a far more discursive process – an ‘excursion’ in which ‘the act of deviating from the stated and settled path’ was salient, and in which both exploration and unpredictability might come to the fore. This paper examines some of the features which Johnson’s ‘excursions’ into Shakespeare reveal, in ways which illuminate both the Dictionary and his approach to Shakespeare as writer.
Dr Wendy Nakanishi, ‘Contested Shakespeare: Johnson and Garrick and the Bard of Avon‘
Johnson’s proposal to issue an edition of Shakespeare, first mooted in 1745 and realized twenty years later, was an enterprise designed to stamp the impress of his authority over text whose popularity had inspired numerous editions. This paper proposes that it also was meant to reassert intellectual superiority over David Garrick, who had made Shakespeare’s plays key to his repertoire and implemented extensive revisions to make them more comprehensible and appealing to the eighteenth-century theatre-going public.
It is a charming anecdote: two destitute young men setting out for London on horseback from Lichfield in 1737 to seek their fortune, Johnson, at twenty-seven, a failed bookseller and schoolmaster and his former pupil, David Garrick. Garrick quickly won fame and fortune as an actor while Johnson was doomed to decades of poverty and drudgery as a hack writer.
Boswell relates that Johnson was disgusted by the spectacular success of a young man whose talents he rated low compared to his own and that he attributed Johnson’s poor opinion of actors to his jealousy of Garrick.
This paper will examine Johnson’s edition of Shakespeare and particularly his Preface in light of his relationship with Garrick. Garrick was hurt that Johnson had failed to mention him in the Preface, while its discussion of Shakespeare’s flaws as well as his virtues represents an indirect rebuke to the actor for what Johnson considered his blind idolatry. The paper will also include discussion of the editorial alterations to the plays both Garrick and Johnson felt obliged to implement to conform to eighteenth-century literary standards.
Mareile Pfannebecker, ‘”Human thing”’: Critical stubbornness in Johnson and Shakespeare’
Early on in the preface to his edition of Shakespeare’s Works, Samuel Johnson makes the case that Shakepeare’s continued literary fame must be based on his writing of a common humanity, since ‘nothing can please many, and please long, but just representations of general nature’. Yet from this starting point, Johnson goes on to scrutinize how Shakespeare’s plays resist timelessness and morality as much as they resist genre, chronology, Aristotelian unities, and a number of other authorial proprieties. Despite writing on the side of Shakespeare’s universality, Johnson keeps returning to the author’s singular, contextually bounded place, which, towards the end of the preface, includes brilliant analyses of the place of 18th century editors in the entanglements of textual uncertainties, chance, academic vanities and the reading public. This paper proposes to track some of Johnson’s complex and precarious rhetorical movements between the general and the particular in the preface and in a number of his other comments on Shakespeare that never settle in ‘the stability of truth’ he promises. In this way, I hope to show a critical stubbornness at work that is characteristic of Johnson’s approach and that can usefully be put into conversation with a number of scenes of stubbornness in Shakespeare’s plays. Johnson’s reading of Shakespeare as the writer of ‘human things’ as stubbornly general and particular, anticipates responses to Shakespeare from Herder and Hegel onwards; it also continues to highlight critical difficulties for contemporary readings of Shakespeare.
Lois Potter, ‘Johnson and the Shakespeare of Eighteenth-Century Theatre’
Johnson’s note on King Lear famously argued for the happy ending performed in the theatre of his day, on the grounds that Tate’s version, unlike Shakespeare’s, satisfies the love of justice common to ‘all reasonable beings’. But Tate’s was only the best-known example of the practice of revising Shakespeare texts to make them fit for a contemporary audience, and theatre-goers who talked of the poet were often thinking of him primarily as they knew him on the stage. While Johnson frequently expresses contempt for the theatre, it seems likely that he would, to some extent, have been affected by his knowledge of the plays as audiences were used to seeing them. I propose to investigate whether such knowledge could have had any influence on his edition. Garrick’s alterations and adaptations will obviously be an important part of this discussion – unless there is to be a paper specifically on this subject, in which case I can arrange to focus mainly on the work of other authors.
Fiona Ritchie, Henry Dawkins, Giovanni Battista Cipriani and Eighteenth-Century Shakespeare
This paper will examine Giovanni Battista Cipriani’s painting ‘Shakespeare Striding through a Storm-Ridden Landscape’ (1766), commissioned by Henry Dawkins to decorate his home, as a manifestation of eighteenth-century Shakespeare. I will argue that rather than being a description of representations of Shakespeare that occurred within a certain time period, the phrase “eighteenth-century Shakespeare” refers to the distinct phenomenon of how Shakespeare was available to eighteenth-century society, what he meant to the period, and what opportunities he offered the eighteenth century for self-expression. I will explore how the eighteenth century’s relationship with the dramatist was a dialogic one in which artists and writers of the period popularised Shakespeare’s works and shaped his reputation and legacy but also used this burgeoning cultural figure to further their own artistic, social and political ends. The context of Dawkins’s commission makes clear that Shakespeare was used for self-fashioning by amateurs as well as professionals and that such amateurs played an as yet underexplored role in eighteenth-century Shakespeare
Joseph Roach, ‘Did Shakespeare Write without Moral Purpose?’
In his Preface to The Plays of William Shakespeare, Johnson begins his critique of Shakespeare’s supposed faults with this famous stricture: “His first defect is that to which may be imputed most of the evil in books and men. He sacrifices virtue to convenience and is so much more careful to please than to instruct that he seems to write without any moral purpose.” Revisiting Johnson’s remarks in light of W. K. Wimsatt’s “Introduction” to Samuel Johnson on Shakespeare (1960), this paper will take up Wimsatt’s precepts of the “Intentional Fallacy” and the “Affective Fallacy” as ways of questioning Johnson’s richly contradictory attitudes and opinions: rejecting neoclassical orthodoxies while embracing poetic justice; adulating Shakespeare’s plays while snubbing Garrick’s performances of them; fearing Hamlet from childhood while solacing himself with Macbeth on his deathbed.
Adam Rounce, ‘The Cancels in Johnson’s Shakespeare: Johnson’s Relation to Warburton’s Notes’
Johnson’s Shakespeare contains a surprisingly large number of cancels: fifteen regular cancels and five irregular ones. The Bodleian has the set of the Shakespeare that Johnson gave to Thomas Percy and in that copy parts of five of the cancelled leaves survive, though sometimes Percy has simply cut out and pinned in the section of the leaf that Johnson wanted to delete. Previous studies have suggested the chief purpose of cancelling was to remove aspects of Johnson’s criticism of Warburton. This paper will reexamine the cancelling within the context of a general discussion of Johnson’s attitude to Warburton and, in particular, to his style of annotation.
Peter Sabor, ‘”Armed with the tomahawk and scalping-knife”: William Kenrick versus Samuel Johnson’
In a letter of autumn 1768, three years after the publication of Johnson’s edition of Shakespeare, Charles Burney refers to the ‘Reviews in which Johnson is Cut up’. Although a friend and strong supporter of Johnson, Burney was compelled to admit that the most formidable of these assessments, William Kenrick’s in the Monthly Review, was undertaken ‘by an able hand’, displaying ‘penetration & Reasoning Powers’. In addition to his initial two-part essay, extending to some thirty pages, Kenrick published two subsequent monographs: A Review of Doctor Johnson’s New Edition of Shakespeare (1765) and A Defence of Mr. Kenrick’s Review (1766). The first of these was itself reviewed in the Monthly Review by the editor, Ralph Griffiths, who complained that Kenrick’s favoured weapons in critical debate were the tomahawk and the scalping knife. According to Boswell, Johnson observed of Kenrick that ‘he is one of the many who have made themselves publick, without making themselves known’. His strictures on Johnson’s Shakespeare, however, are worthy of our attention. My paper will assess the nature and significance of Kenrick’s protracted critique of Johnson, as well as the responses to this critique by Griffiths and others and Kenrick’s reply to his critics.
J. T. Scanlan, ‘“Any Single Scholiast”: Autobiography and a Scholar’s Limitations in Johnson’s Shakespeare‘
Among both scholars and casual readers, Johnson’s personal depositions in his 1765 edition of Shakespeare constitute a special and distinctive appeal of that important publication. Although the Preface is certainly impregnated with the Johnsonian aether, to use Boswell’s words, strong personal interventions are especially on display in Johnson’s notes and “general observations” on the plays, where he reacts to earlier editors, or where he simply presents his impressions of a particular passage or scene. “I am glad that I have ended my revisal of this dreadful scene,” Johnson writes of Othello’s speech when he is about to smother Desdemona. “It is not to be endured.” Johnson’s words on the death of Cordelia are equally well known to both Shakespeareans and Johnsonians. Commenting on the public’s taste during the eighteenth century, Johnson’s confesses, “if my sensations could add any thing to the general suffrage, I might relate, that I was many years ago so shocked by Cordelia’s death, that I know not whether I ever endured to read again the last scenes of the play till I undertook to revise them as an editor.” Equally meaningful, and perhaps more typical of Johnson’s comments in his notes, are his numerous straightforward confessions of his ignorance or perplexity. Of Iago’s opening words about Michael Cassio, Johnson writes, “This is one of the passages which must for the present be resigned to corruption and obscurity. I have nothing that I can, with any approach to confidence, propose.” Or of Cassio’s point that his “hopes, not surfeited to death,” Johnson says, “I do not understand these lines.” Johnson similarly declares of a passage relating to the clown in Hamlet, “This passage I have omitted, for the same reason, I suppose, as the other editors. I do not understand it.” Another example: reacting to one of Edgar’s blurtings, “Of this passage I can make nothing.” Johnson is notably tough on himself, too: in his notes on Macbeth, Johnson comments unreservedly on his earlier expansive annotations. He quotes himself at length, and then writes, with bracing honesty, “Such was once my conjecture, but I am now less confident.” These and many other similar personal touches in Johnson’s edition not only support his claim that as he practiced conjecture more, he learned to trust it less; they also constitute proof of his broad claim in the Preface that “the compleat explanation of an author not systematick and consequential, but desultory and vagrant, abounding in casual allusions and light hints, is not to be expected from any single scholiast.” Johnson’s confidence throughout the edition in presenting unashamedly what he does not know is surely one of the attractive hallmarks of his Shakespearean commentary.
But what is the significance of Johnson’s emphasis on his own scholarly limitations? In my paper, I propose to do focus on two issues. First of all, I will place Johnson’s confessed ignorance in the context of the prickly world of eighteenth-century Shakespearean scholarship. As Peter Seary has observed, “By the time of Johnson’s writing, vituperation among Shakespearian scholars was well established,” and in my view, Johnson’s example of scholarly humility helps redirect Shakespearean scholarship by providing another kind of model—one where the boldness and the invention of this or that editor is minimized—an approach that later in the century was to animate the carefully researched and annotated edition of Edmond Malone (1790). I hope, in other words, to expand greatly upon Pat Rogers’s belief that Johnson’s “main advance in narrowly editorial matters proceeds from his reluctance to enter into the competition to produce new readings to supplant allegedly corrupt lines.”
Second, I’ll compare Johnson’s personal quasi-autobiographical depositions in his edition of Shakespeare to places elsewhere in his works (from different stages of his career) where he performs similarly (e.g., his Life of Boerhaave, the ‘Preface’ to the Dictionary, and his Life of Milton). While it may be appealing to see Johnson’s reliance on personal statement as a longstanding characteristic of his writing (as well as perhaps a crutch he depends on at times when he doesn’t complete the necessary research), I think those moments where Johnson seems especially personal in his scholarly-editorial work are more complicated in nature. Johnson always had a strong sense of the particular tasks required for particular literary enterprises; and like many eighteenth-century writers, he went to work with a strong sense of genre in his mind. More broadly, then, my paper will seek to extend important interpretations of the autobiography in Johnson’s critcism (e.g. Paul Fussell’s view that Johnson’s autobiographical disclosures are “finally rhetorical”), and attend instead to the development and variety of Johnson’s handling of his own presence in his works.
Overall, in addressing these two issues, I hope to provide something for an audience comprised of both Shakespeareans and Johnsonians.
Phillip Smallwood, ‘Improbable Liaisons—Johnson’s Shakespeare, the Sum of Life and the Wisdom of Montaigne‘
This paper introduces Montaigne into the conversation about humanity that Johnson conducted (figuratively speaking) with William Shakespeare, his “poet of nature.” Johnson is pre-eminent amongst critics in bringing an idea of “the sum of life” to his major critical judgments: his criteria of dramatic success are as unlike rules as it is possible for criteria to be. The paper produces evidence for the consciousness that Johnson articulated in evaluating Shakespeare, and that identified the comprehensive human vision he discerned in the plays.
In comparing the thought of the French and the English writer, the paper isolates themes from the Essais that find expression around the time of Johnson’s editorial work on the Shakespearean texts. Key insights of the philosophy of Rasselas (1759), reflect Montaigne’s self-understandings re-invigorated from the classics, while the essentially “mingled” world of pleasures and sorrows in Rasselas creates an undivided past with Montaigne’s sixteenth century. A critical role is found for these insights in Johnson’s rejection of the “rigorous and critical” expectations of “tragedy” and “comedy” in the Preface to Shakespeare and in a form irresistible to later “romantic” critics.
Finally, the paper advances untested claims about major form common to Montaigne’s Essais and to Johnson’s Lives of the English Poets (1779-81). In Johnson’s critical biographies Shakespeare returns as a test of art. Shakespeare determines both failure (as occurs in the wooden tragedies of the eighteenth-century) and poetic success. Johnson accords to Dryden the praise that Dryden had formerly applied to Shakespeare–that of the “comprehensive mind.”
James Smith, ‘Shakespeare Ancient and Modern’
In his pamphlet of 1933, How Many Children Had Lady Macbeth, L.C. Knights argues that the reductive A.C. Bradleian privileging of ‘character’ in modern Shakespeare criticism can be dated back to the eighteenth century. In this period, Knights argued, a fundamental and unbridgeable alienation from ‘the Elizabethan idiom’ forced readers to impose on Shakespeare’s works a proto-novelistic preoccupation with the realistic representation of identity, to the cost of any grasp of their flexibility and importance as poetry. What Knights doesn’t particularly emphasize is that this idea of the difficulty the eighteenth century had in approaching ‘the Elizabethan idiom’ was actually already a big part of the self-representation of mid eighteenth-century literary criticism in itself. When Samuel Johnson announced that ‘Shakespeare may now begin to assume the dignity of an ancient’ he did so in a context in which the ‘ancientness’ of Shakespeare – in the less positive sense of his absolute historical, intellectual, and linguistic distance – had begun to be grudgingly or even nervously conceded by many of his readers. At the same time, Johnson’s ‘ancient’ Shakespeare appears with the backdrop of Samuel Richardson and Edward Young’s influential representations of a Shakespeare who – separate from aristocratic and classical culture – could for the first time be thought of as the ‘modern’ writer.
Building on my recent articles on eighteenth-century Shakespeare in Essays in Criticism and Studies in Philology, and drawing on my current book project, Shakespeare and the Rise of the Novel, my paper will situate Johnson’s work towards the Shakespeare edition during the 1750s in a critical culture encompassing Aaron Hill, Charlotte Lennox, Thomas Warton, David Hume, Richardson and Young, which represented Shakespeare as weirdly simultaneously ancient and modern.
Tiffany Stern: ‘Garrick, Johnson and Not-Shakespeare’
My paper will look at artefacts sold at the 1769 Shakespeare Jubilee in Stratford: Shakespeare and Garrick mulberry-tree trinkets; Shakespeare and Garrick pendants; Shakespeare and Garrick drinking vessels; knotted ‘Shakespeare favours’ from which depended a Shakespeare and Garrick coin; songsheets, songbooks and playbooks for The Jubilee, with words by Garrick, that contained no Shakespeare. Comparing this with Garrick’s interest in performing and selling his own adaptations of Shakespeare plays, accompanied by playbills that featured both men, it will ask, first, to what extent Garrick shaped Shakespeare in his own image, and, second, to what extent the peripheries, the ‘not-Shakespeare’ – from adaptations to tat – were at the core of Garrick’s ‘Shakespeare’ reputation. It will compare Garrick’s approach to Shakespeare with that of his friend and rival Samuel Johnson. Johnson’s preface and critical apparatus for his Shakespeare edition, it will suggest, recreated Shakespeare in the Johnsonian image, presenting another, though entirely different, eighteenth century form of ‘not-Shakespeare’. Comparing Garrick and Johnson, it will ask what the invention and promotion of ‘not-Shakespeare’ in all its forms tells us about Shakespeare in the eighteenth century, and what the legacy of ‘not-Shakespeare’ is for the present day.
John Stone, ‘Johnson on Shakespeare in Old Regime Spain’
It is easy to imagine the reception of Shakespeare in European languages other than English as something akin to the reception of Roman law: it seems nearly inevitable, and is overlaid, historiographically, with nearly as many threads. The classical and the French give way to the Romantic and the German in undergraduate syllabi, and if Johnson appears along the way he is plotted using such coordinates as one would expect, with critics in the language of reception lined up for (in Spain, Nicolás Boll von Faber) or against (José Blanco White) him. This paper will dissociate the history of Johnson’s Spanish reception as a critic of Shakespeare—subject to patterns made familiar by Howard Weinbrot’s work on Johnson in France—from that of his work as an editor. Before the 1870s, Shakespeare in Spanish went no further than two direct translations, a further two fragments translated directly (published in London), and two retranslations from the French of Ducis; yet private and institutional collections had amassed considerable Shakespearian holdings over the course of the last half of the eighteenth century, almost entirely in English. Le Tourneur’s French Clarissa and Night Thought may have circulated widely in late eighteenth-century Spain—certainly, many copies have survived—but there is no trace of his Shakespeare. This disjunction—topics brought to Spain by French criticism entailed a reading knowledge of English if one wished to gain first-hand knowledge of the works in their crux—suggests that the late Hispanic Enlightenment must have known Johnson with Shakespeare, as a constituent or the chief constituent of the paratext with which the plays were bundled. To pursue this observation, I will quantify the presence in Spain of Shakespeare’s works in English and in French from 1765 to 1812, working from both surviving copies and such period catalogues as are still extant, before turning to the few cases in which Johnson’s notes on Shakespeare were put to use by Spaniards as they translated, edited, and interpreted the plays.
Paul Tankard, ‘Johnson as a Footnoter: Necessarily Evil?’
Johnson supplied 3,680 footnotes (more or less) to the works of Shakespeare. Aside from what they tell us about Shakespeare, we should consider what his deployment of this minor genre tells us about Johnson, his habits as a scholar, the traditions of scholarship he followed, and the ways in which he worked and the ways in which he read.
David Taylor, ‘Johnson and the Topography of Macbeth’
‘We went forwards the same day to Fores, the town to which Macbeth was travelling,
when he met the weird sisters in his way.’
In Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland, Johnson records his encounter with Macbeth not as text to be read or a play to be seen but rather as a rich literary landscape to be inhabited and travelled. As he and Boswell make their way to Forres, Johnson twice notes that it was on the same stretch of road that Macbeth and Banquo met the weird sisters. In his own account of the tour, Boswell adds that such associations moved Johnson to quote from the tragedy at length and “with solemn emphasis”.
In this paper I give sustained attention to this brief but complex episode in Johnson’s Journey. Drawing upon his earlier vindication of Shakespeare’s representation of the supernatural as consistent with “the Genius of his Age”, I argue that Johnson’s mapping of Macbeth onto the travelled Scottish landscape is freighted with particular cultural values and judgments. The very site where Johnson experiences Shakespeare’s play as a lived environment and as “sacred ground” is also the point at which he feels civilization to recede from view: “We began to leave fertility and culture behind us,” he writes, “and saw for a great length of road nothing but heath”. That is, Macbeth marks for Johnson a boundary that is at once topographical, historical, and political.
Marcus Walsh, ”Mimesis and Understanding in Johnson’s Notes to Shakespeare‘
“Hume, and other sceptical innovators, are vain men, and will gratify themselves at any expense. Truth will not afford sufficient food to their vanity; so they have betaken themselves to errour. Truth,Sir, is a cow that will yield such people no more milk, and so they are gone to milk the bull”.
Boswell, Life, ed. G. B. Hill, i. 444
Johnson not only theorises, but also explains, Shakespeare as the great poet of general nature. In his notes to the plays, as well as in the ‘Preface’, Johnson expects of, and finds in, Shakespeare both a detailed and a broader reference of the plays to the world. If Johnson’s notes are less expansive than those of such contemporaries and immediate successors as Steevens, they nevertheless consistently seek to establish the relation of Shakespeare’s text to the world he lived in. Johnson celebrates in Shakespeare, and requires in his reader, an understanding of the referential relation of language to reality.
In this insistence on truth-telling in editorial practice, Johnson resembles barrister Malone’s insistence on truth both in his own annotations, and in his campaign against contemporary forgeries. Both resist what Johnson called, in another context, ‘the general degradation of human testimony’; both resist the confusion of mimesis of the physical and human world with the imitation or iteration of secondary texts; both insist on the essential value of primary evidence, selected from the world to which the text refers. Both are profoundly suspicious of the oscillation or deferral implicit in the unthinking variorum agglomeration of secondary evidence (one of the defining characteristics of Malone’s explanatory method is his insistence on providing only directly pertinent explanatory material, rather than repeating ‘preceding unsuccessful attempts at elucidation’). Both insist, to the contrary, on a rational dialectic of textual interpretation and explanation, aimed at the ascertaining of ultimately available and determinable meaning.
This paper, then, will argue that, if Johnson’s 1765 Shakespeare is a proto-variorum, it nevertheless provides for later variorum editors a foundation of essential theory and practice. It will attempt to present this argument in relation to recent discussions of truth and referentiality by Gerald Graff, Tony Nuttall and the philosopher Richard Gaskin.
Howard D. Weinbrot, ‘Samuel Johnson’s Shakespeare in France, 1765-1865: From Johnson to François-Victor Hugo‘
Johnson’s Preface of course demolished the dogmas of the three unities, the purity of genres, and the required exaltation of “nature” when portraying monarchs and noble Romans. Along the way, he said that condemning Shakespeare’s violations of these rules were the “petty cavils of petty minds ”and “suitable to the minute and slender criticism of Voltaire.” The academician was not amused: Mr. Johnson was a practical joker and drunk. Voltaire’s outrage would grow and reached apocalyptic levels when Pierre le Tourneur’s translation of Shakespeare appeared (1776-1783), enjoyed, royal and aristocratic patronage and lengthy reviews in French journals. Voltaire wrote to the Marquis d’Argens: “J’ai vu finir le regne de la raison et du goût.”
Such response portrays a major confrontation and defeat: the new triumphs over the old; British common sense and induction triumph over French orthodoxy and deduction. This partial truth, however, neglects the complex international and generational changes to which Johnson’s Shakespeare contributed. I suggest six sometimes overlapping ways in which he influenced these changes.
The first of course is dramatic theory–namely Johnson’s partially reprinted and partially censored statements regarding the unities and other putative rules. Johnson was not an absolute interloper. Both Antoine Houdar de la Motte and Antoine de la Place had made roughly comparable arguments between about 1722-1746, with la Place specifically addressing himself to Shakespeare. The Preface’s key portions themselves appeared in the Journal Helvétique, in other French periodicals and in le Tourneur’s introduction. The influential Schlegel, in German, English, and French borrows much from Johnson on the unities and the mingling of genres. Johnson also established a then reasonably good text, which le Tourneur used as his copy text. He also supplied analytic commentary that French translators from le Tourneur to F-V Hugo adopted. The fourth influence was the perhaps surprising one of supporting French romanticism. Stendhal called Johnson the father of romanticism. Johnson (fifth) thus also became a partner in conversation with major critics–whether Stendhal the admirer or Chateaubriand the denigrator. Finally, Johnson became a significant influence upon enlarging the French canon and knowledge of English. Voltaire had insisted that no one in Europe from Paris to St. Petersburg knew anything about the barbarian Shakespeare. By 1865 French commentators could argue either that Shakespeare was superior to the Greeks and to Corneille and Racine or, more generously, that he represented another and equally important mode of proceeding in tragedy. Hugo preferred the first option, for Johnson helped him to see that Shakespeare really was the great dramatist of the people and the enemy of monarchic tyranny.
Hazel Wilkinson, ‘Sidney, Spenser, and theories of literary history in Johnson’s Shakespeare’
How did Samuel Johnson’s thinking about Edmund Spenser and Philip Sidney influence his edition of Shakespeare? Sidney and Spenser share an important place in Johnson’s understanding of linguistic and literary history. In the preface to his Dictionary, Johnson reveals that Sidney and Spenser represent the “boundary, beyond which I make few excursions”. As the origins of “the dialect of poetry and fiction” in English, Spenser and Sidney underpin Johnson’s definitions of thousands of words. The conviction that Spenser and Sidney were the originators of English literary language also informed Johnson’s editing of Shakespeare. Because they marked his historical “boundary”, he frequently used the two authors to explain obscure words and customs. As I will show, Johnson drew on the work of eighteenth-century editors of Spenser in particular, most notably Thomas Birch and John Upton; his insistence on Sidney’s importance is more surprising, given that there were few editions of the latter’s works in the eighteenth century. However, Johnson’s notes, selected from various sources, are testament to the interest in Sidney that endured throughout the century. By paying attention to specific references to Sidney and Spenser in Johnson’s notes, and situating them in relation to contemporary thought, I will show how carefully Johnson marshalled the different critical voices within his edition to articulate his vision of the literary past and Shakespeare’s place in history.
Carolyn D. Williams, ‘The Curtains of the dark’: Johnson and the Control of Audiences’
Johnson’s discussion of ‘low’ words in Rambler 168, though concerned with reading rather than watching plays, provides a starting point for investigating the susceptibilities of eighteenth-century audiences, and the various adaptations of Shakespeare intended to suit their perceived tastes.
The theatre was a site of social instability where people were literally uncertain of their place: Johnson himself committed Stage Rage upon a gentleman who took his chair, by tossing both into the pit. Audiences demonstrated their superiority by objecting to anything ‘low’. The results were mysteriously unpredictable. ‘Bring in the Bishop’ inevitably sabotaged Fanny Burney’s Edwy and Elgiva: nobody told her this was an order for drinks. But even the experienced Colley Cibber fell foul of ‘a broild’d Bone’ in A Journey to London; Henry Fielding suffered similar misfortunes in Eurydice and The Wedding-Day, where a reference to the Gin Act and the carting of a bawd were the probable provocations.
Three of the four words Johnson found unfortunately risible in a speech by Lady Macbeth had been changed in D’Avenant’s 1674 version, which held the stage until Garrick’s; after the words were restored in print, the entire speech was sometimes cut in performance. In fact, Johnson was, to an extent, right: while not exactly funny, its narrow materialism should be jarring.
Finally, Johnson’s warning on the audience’s arbitrary association of ideas resonates with issues useful in my own practice, especially when playing Regan in a production of King Lear by the Pembroke College Drama Society.
Nigel Wood, ‘Johnson and Theatricality/and Shakespeare’s Endings‘
In the Preface to Johnson’s edition, the apparent pragmatism as to how Shakespeare concluded his dramas is clearly distrusted, as he seems to have “shortened the labour, to snatch the profit”. This is also evident in his flouting of the Unities where his temerity in offering implausibilities and inconsistencies in plotting is similarly regretted. This line has its more recent admirers, principally those who identify certain plots as problems for their thematic and ethical hybridity.
At its root, this concern stemmed from a noting of the contamination of a supposed textual and artistic purity by the “public voice”, as he puts it in the 1747 Prologue Spoken by Mr Garrick a the Opening of Drury Lane Theatre: “The Drama’s Laws, the Drama’s Patrons to in53-54). How to escape the “new-blown bubbles of the day” (l. 50) is a root element of his editing project, and is most concentrated in his judgements on the “hybrid” qualities of certain plots, not just where definite ethical perspectives are obscured, but also where the needs of pleasing usurped the obligation to instruct and evaluate.
More recent concerns at the Problem Plays of Shakespeare’s mid-career (most clearly voiced by Boas, Lawrence, Schanzer and Tillyard) seem to be a re-statement of Johnson’s premises, yet, by contrast, his views of several of the plays in this category show an unexpected liberality of critical perspective. This paper will look closely at his notes on Troilus and Cressida and Measure for Measure, also when contrasted with his immediate predecessors (principally Rowe, Pope and Warburton), with a view to finding a more complex appreciation of theatricality than is usual when considering Johnson’s critical views on the drama.”
Henry Woudhuysen, ‘‘A robust genius, born to grapple with whole libraries’: Johnson and his Contemporaries on Shakespeare and his Contemporaries’
Although much has been written about the place of Samuel Johnson’s edition of Shakespeare (1765) in relation to his own work and to the editing of the plays in the eighteenth century, less attention has been paid to interest in and knowledge of the dramatist’s literary contemporaries. While Johnson was working on his great edition, considerable efforts were put in to editing and publishing the writings of the playwrights and poets, as well as the prose writers, of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Johnson himself was implicated in this through his labours on the Harleian Library. In contrast to our times, in which catalogues and online resources make original research into the books of the period relatively easy, during the eighteenth century this scholarly work could only take place if researchers knew about and could find and have access to copies of the early editions of the works in which they were interested. The lecture will touch on the search for early editions in libraries, in private collections, and in public libraries, drawing attention to the role of booksellers and auctioneers in this activity. It will describe some of the projects which were undertaken around the time of Johnson’s edition and seek to locate his own work for the Shakespeare edition in relation to them.