This volume of Shakespeare’s plays was revised by George Steevens in London from the types of W. Martin in 1802. The second volume interestingly lacks a table of contents typical of multi-volume work like this. The three plays contained in the book are unabridged, perhaps suggesting it was intended for only serious readers and directors. William Bulmer worked alongside the Boydell family in conceiving and publishing this edition.
The book was rebound by the HNM Company using a polyurethane adhesive crosslinked into a urethane material for the purpose of added support on the old binding. This relatively new binding style started in the 1980’s and is generally considered superior to other bindings due to the strength of the bond between the polyurethane, urethane, and original book material; this is imperative for such a large and old book.
The second volume contains three comedies: The Comedy of Errors, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Much Ado About Nothing. These are often considered some of Shakespeare’s most ridiculous and outrageous comedies. Editor Steevens paired these three together because they emphasize the themes of love, gender roles, deception, and mistaken identities more so than Shakespeare’s other comedic works. Along with their comical takes of these themes, these plays also contain the dark and somber undertones for which Shakespeare is notorious, including lost love, wanting what we cannot have, and society’s dictation of what is appropriate to feel and how to act.
Intaglio engravings appear throughout the volume, each representing a major plot point in the plays. These engravings are copies of original paintings by various artists. None of the engravings was dramatically changed from the original work. The ones Steevens selected for this volume are highly detailed and originally painted in the Romantic style with oil paints; this technique highlights imagination and personalized experience rather than conventional order or reason. The subjects’ gestures, facial expressions, and backdrops emphasize the ludicrous scenes in ways that highlight Shakespeare’s obsession with the absurd.
For more information regarding The Dramatic Works of Shakspeare, check the book’s record at CU Boulder’s Norlin Library.
For more information regarding Shakespeare’s comedies, histories, and tragedies check out The University of British Columbia’s research on a separate but related edition.
-Tyler Olson & Lilly Putsche