London: J. Bell, 1774
[Rare] YH 774
The edition of Shakespeare’s plays published by the prominent London printer and bookseller John Bell, is neither scholarly nor authentic and has, indeed, been described alongside Sir Thomas Hanmer’s edition as “the worst of the century”. It was, however, commercially very successful, owing to good production, attractive illustration (the illustrations were also sold separately) and moderate price. The text was an acting edition, intended to allow theatre-goers to read the words they would hear at the theatre. It was edited by the actor Francis Gentleman, who in an early exercise in bowdlerisation tried to make the text, with some scenes and characters perceived as “highly derogatory” to Shakespeare’s general merit, more morally acceptable to readers. Gentleman attempted to omit “glaring indecencies” and to identify minor ones typographically, by placing them in italics, parentheses, or quotation marks, as a sign to ladies and youths to skip them. He did not provide textual notes, but did supply opinions about the desired qualities and appearance of the actors of various roles, and comments on the effect or merit of some speeches.