William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

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ShakespeareIn the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death his plays are still as relevant as when they were written. Audiences still come to the theatre to experience his classic historical plays and his comedies; his work is still on the school curriculum.

Born in Stratford-upon-Avon at some time between April and July 1564, William Shakespeare went on to write some of the best known and most beloved texts of English language literature. Primarily a playwright Shakespeare moved to London about 1592 where his career as actor, playwright and theatre manager at the Globe Theatre ensured his place in the English canon. Between about 1590 and 1613, he wrote at least 37 plays and collaborated on many more. He had an appreciative audience at court, but he was also successful in the public playhouses. Shakespeare returned to Stratford-upon-Avon in 1613, where he died three years later on 23 April 1616.

Subscribers names to Jones's edition of ShakespeareOver 140 editions of Shakespeare’s works had been printed in Dublin up to 1800, with other playwrights also adapting Shakespeare’s plays, such as Colley Cibber, Thomas Sheridan, Charles Marsh, W. Kenrick, Richard Cumberland, Thomas Shadwell and David Garrick. From 1721 editions of his tragedies were printed individually while his Works, which included his poems, were printed in eight volumes in 1726 by George Grierson at the Two Bibles in Essex Street.

Image: Subscribers list for Shakespeare's dramatic works: with explanatory notes. Printed for William Jones at 86 Dame-Street, 1791

The plays and poems of Shakespeare, with historical notes by Edmond Malone, was published in sixteen volumes, royal duodecimo, printed on a fine wove paper, by John Exshaw at 98 Grafton Street in 1794. This luxury set sold for three guineas in boards (before binding).[1] The Exshaw edition was published by subscription and the names of over 600 Irish readers are printed in the preliminary leaves of volume I. Booksellers also subscribed for multiple sets for sale to their customers. In total over 1,000 sets of this expensive edition were purchased.

Shakespeare, 1791Such was Shakespeare’s renown that many booksellers named their bookshops after him, for example Thomas Benson’s shop was at Shakespeare’s Head in Castle Street, Dublin, in 1728, and William Flyn was at the Sign of Shakespeare in Castle Street, Cork, from 1764 to 1801.

Image: Three volumes of Shakespeare's dramatic works: with explanatory notes. Printed for William Jones at 86 Dame-Street, 1791


[1] The plays and poems of William Shakespeare (Dublin, John Exshaw, 1794), ESTC T138592. Freeman’s Journal 10 Apr. 1794. Binding would have been an additional cost.


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