London: J. Stockdale, 1790
[Rare] YH 790
Samuel Ayscough’s edition of Shakespeare is better known as that of its publisher, John Stockdale. Stockdale was, in 1784, the first person to publish a one-volume edition of Shakespeare’s plays since the appearance of the Fourth Folio almost one hundred years earlier, in 1685. However, as that octavo edition was almost 1,300 pages long and consequently bulky, it was divided between two volumes in 1790. Samuel Ayscough (1745-1804) was not primarily an editor, but a librarian and antiquary. Ayscough’s aim was to bring Shakespeare to the middle and lower classes, and his notes were deliberately minimal and functional. He furthermore saw his edition as one for convenience for those higher on the social scale, useful for reading for amusement while travelling, or easy to fetch to verify a point, should a dispute about a particular passage occur in conversation. This edition of 1790 is marked by a third volume described as “An index to the remarkable passages and words made use of by Shakspeare”: this is, in fact, the first relatively complete concordance of Shakespeare’s plays.