Ninety-Two Engraved PlatesWilliam Shakespeare. The Dramatic Works of William Shakspeare. Revised by George Steevens. London: Printed by W. Bulmer and Co., for John and Joshua Boydell, 1802. First Boydell edition. Thirty-six plays, each paginated separately. Includes "The Prefaces of Pope and Johnson to the Dramatic Works of Shakespeare." Nine folio volumes (approximately 16.25 x 12.25 inches) with ninety-two full-page engravings (including two portraits) after Reynolds, Porter, Tresham, Westall, Wheatley, Smirke, Hamilton, and others. Each volume with duplicate half-title and title pages; duplicate dedications and advertisements in Volume I. Volume II with 1791 general title page between "Comedy of Errors" and "Much Ado About Nothing." Each volume with the bookplate of "Robert F. Watson" on front pastedown, Volumes V, VI, VII, and VIII with the additional armorial bookplate of "Will. Rattray Esq." Mottled calf with decorative gilt borders, rebacked, modern tan leather spines with gilt lettered title labels and designs, marbled endpapers, all edges gilt. Boards rubbed, scuffed, and scratched, chipped at extremities. Corners bumped and partially repaired. Some endpapers with small paper lifts. Pages with light edge wear and few small tears. Small hole in last leaf of "Coriolanus" in Volume VII and small margin paper loss in pages 67/68 of "Titus Andronicus" in Volume VIII, neither affecting text. Image off-set from plates. Varying degrees of foxing and browning, generally light but heavier at times. Occasional minor smudging, dampstaining and soiling. Overall a very good set.
Among the most celebrated editions of Shakespeare, this huge undertaking put its publisher, Boydell, into bankruptcy due to the excessive cost of the production. At the Lord Mayor of London's suggestion, Parliament passed a special act allowing for a lottery which made it possible to finish the work.
A truly monumental labor of devotion, all aspects of this edition are impressive. "According to the prospectus, issued in 1786, a type foundry, an ink factory, and a printing house were all specially erected for the production of this edition" (Jaggard). While Jaggard calls for 100 plates for this set, complete copies can have anywhere between 95 and 100 plates due to Boydell's inconsistent methods of assembling the volumes.
Jaggard, p. 508. Shaksperiana, III, 34.
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