Our Notes & References
One of the most impressive editions of Shakespeare in an unusual example, fresh and bound in striking full red morocco richly gilt, this binding being rather uncommon for this edition.
The Imperial edition was an ambitious project, using illustrations by a variety of artists and extensive notes, comments and essays, including a detailed biography, by Charles Knight (1791– 1873).
Knight was an English publisher, editor and author. Together with his father, he founded The Windsor and Eton Express newspaper in 1812. Later, he became well known for his Penny Magazine, published in 1832-1846. Shakespeare was one of Knight’s specialties: he wrote and published a biography of Shakespeare in 1842, and in the same year produced The Pictorial Shakspere, which appeared in 8 parts (1838–1841).
Knight’s editions of Shakespeare, particularly this lavish Imperial edition, are a pinnacle of the Victorian approach, in which pictures become more prominent in the audiences’ interaction with the texts than representations of Shakespeare on stage. Knight’s editions “played an important part in how the Victorian population thought about and constructed Shakespeare” (Goodman).
Knight’s aim was educational, and the illustrations in his editions of Shakespeare were intended to set the scenes and help readers visualise the historical world of the plays: for example, the ‘Remains of the Amphitheatre at Ephesus’ for The Comedy of Errors, and Venetian scenes, such as San Marco’s Square, for The Merchant of Venice.
Note of the spelling of Shakespeare’s name: “Shakespeare”, now the standard spelling, was also the most common published form in his lifetime – but not the one he signed with. “Shakespeare” was the printed signature to the dedications of the 1593 and 1594 first editions of Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece. It is also the spelling used in the celebrated First Folio, published in 1623 after his death. The spelling of the name was later modernised as “Shakespear”, gaining popular usage in the 18th century, then largely replaced by “Shakspeare” from the late 18th through the early 19th century. In the Romantic and Victorian eras however, the poet’s handwritten signature seemed more authentic, and the spelling “Shakspere” became more widely adopted.
Goodman, M.J. Art to Enchant: Shakespeare and Victorian Illustration (2017) (online).