Oxford: The Theatre, 1744
[Rare] YH 743 (fol.)
Alexander Pope had published an edition of Shakespeare’s plays in 1725, and his work, in a new edition of 1728, had already provided the basis for an extremely popular edition by Lewis Theobald before Sir Thomas Hanmer (1677-1746), Speaker of the House of Commons, published his six-volume quarto edition in 1744. Hanmer’s edition was commercially successful, running through six further editions between 1745 and 1771. Intellectually, however, it lacked editorial methodology and contextual scholarship. Hanmer based his edition on Pope’s of 1725, which had picked and chosen between variants, and had cut an estimated 1,560 lines from the main text of Shakespeare’s plays. Hanmer added to Pope’s innovations his own conjectures – in Edmond Malone’s words, “whatever caprice dictated”. Where Hanmer’s edition scored was its thirty-six illustrations by Francis Hayman and Hubert Gravelot. As surviving letters show, Hanmer was more interested in these and how they showed the setting and the class profile of the characters than in his texts, for example desiring that Olivia’s apartment in Twelfth Night should be “suitable to the condition of a great lady”.