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Shakespeare plays in Tauchnitz – the 1868 edition

I looked in an earlier post at the first 1843 edition of Shakespeare plays in the Tauchnitz Edition.   Although sold in large quantities over a period of 25 years, the publication was rather discredited by being based on the text of John Payne Collier, a noted Shakespeare scholar, but one who was later shown to be a forger.  Collier’s name was dropped from the title page in later printings, and the decision was eventually taken to re-issue all the plays in an alternative text edited by the Rev. Alexander Dyce.

Tauchnitz Shakespeare 1868 frontispiece vol. 40

Frontispiece to the first volume of the 1868 Edition

In correspondence with Tauchnitz, Dyce was insistent that ‘no alterations are to be introduced, which are not authorised by, Dear Sir, your very truly, Alexander Dyce’.  Perhaps not surprising in the circumstances.  He also noted that ‘I should prefer my name to appear on the title-page of the proposed Shakespeare’.

Dyce had been a friend of Collier’s, but had turned against him, notably with his publication of ‘Strictures on Collier’s new Edition of Shakespeare’ in 1859.  His own edition of the plays had first been published in 1857, with a Second Edition in 1866 and this was to be the basis of the new Tauchnitz Edition of 1868.   In his preface to the Tauchnitz Edition Dyce refers to his First Edition having ‘too timidly adhered to sundry more than questionable readings of the early copies’, which may well be a reference to Collier’s influence.

Tauchnitz Shakespeare 1868 preface vol. 40

The Tauchnitz volumes with the new text appeared in 1868 as volume 40 to 46 of the Collection of British Authors, using the same series numbers as the original issues, but with the 1868 date on the title page of each volume.  Although this seems entirely sensible, it was actually very unusual for Tauchnitz ever to change the date on the title page.  Usually the original first edition date remained on the title page of all later printings, even many decades later.   Here the 1868 date distinguishes the new edition, but in line with the usual practice, later reprints of this edition then retained 1868 on the title page, even well into the 1930s.

In the original paperback, the volumes initially said ‘Second Edition’ clearly on the front wrapper, which presumably meant the Second Tauchnitz Edition.  On the title page though they refer only to ‘the Rev. Alexander Dyce’s Second Edition’, which is a rather different thing.  Dyce also wanted to make clear that the dedication to John Forster was  the dedication of his second edition rather than just the Tauchnitz Edition, so had it dated 1866 rather than 1868, and inserted a note at the top saying ‘Dedication to the Second Edition’.  This serves only to confuse, as it could equally well refer to the second Tauchnitz Edition.

  Tauchnitz Shakespeare 1868 front wrapper vol. 40  Tauchnitz Shakespeare 1868 title page vol. 40

As with the 1843 edition, the books appeared not only as seven volumes in the main Tauchnitz series, at half a Thaler per volume, but also as individual plays, numbered from 1 to 37, selling for 1/10th of a Thaler each.  Unlike the 1843 edition though, there is no dual numbering of pages.   The individual plays all have their own page numbering, suggesting that they may have had their own stereotype plates.  It would presumably have been a relatively small task to change the page numbering after taking a first mould from the original page of type, and then take a second mould.  Each mould would be used to create a stereotype plate that would then be stored for use on reprints.

And there were many, many reprints.  Shakespeare plays were a steady seller for Tauchnitz for almost a century in total, and distinguishing the date of reprints is a puzzle of enormous complexity.  With bound copies it can be almost impossible, although a first clue is that earlier printings have the series number on the half-title in roman numerals, later printings in standard arabic numerals.

With paperbacks it’s a bit easier, and for the individual plays it is often the paperbacks that survive, as few of them were individually bound. They’re distinguished most easily by the price shown on the wrapper – 1/10 Thlr. for the first printing, then M. 0,30 from around 1871, modified to M 0,30 from 1892, increased to M 0,40 from 1916 and so on.  Full details in the Todd & Bowden bibliography.  In my experience the earliest paperbacks, showing the price as 1/10 of a Thaler are difficult to find now, but copies from the 1870s / 1880s are much more common.

Wrapper price example

  Shakespeare F6 Merchant of Venice 1868 first printing  Shakespeare F6 Merchant of Venice 1868 reprint wb

Around the time of the First World War, a new format for the individual plays was adopted, slightly smaller and more like the volumes of the Tauchnitz Pocket Library sold in wartime.   Variants of this format (still with Dyce’s name on the title page) continued to be sold right through until the Second World War put an effective end to Tauchnitz.

Shakespeare F10 Twefth Night 1930s reprint

A reprint of one of the individual plays, from the 1930s

Rather sadly, Alexander Dyce never saw the longevity achieved by the edition that he gave his name to.  He died in May 1869, shortly after the first publication.  His displaced rival, John Payne Collier, surviving to 1883, could only watch and grit his teeth.

Tauchnitz ‘Cabinet Editions’

Tauchnitz Editions sold for around the equivalent of 1s 6d, certainly much cheaper than the typical 7s 6d price for a hardback in the UK in the 19th century, but they were not exactly cheap paperbacks.   In the UK paperbacks rarely sold for more than 6d, even for much of the first half of the twentieth century, and were often more like 3d or 4d.

Although the Tauchnitz Editions were mostly sold as paperbacks, the expectation was that many of them would be privately bound and so the quality of the paper, the printing  and the binding had to be consistent with this.  They had a delicate balance to strike between quality and price – not such high quality that they were too expensive to be bought as paperbacks, but sufficiently high to be privately bound and last for hundreds of years.


A typical 19th century Tauchnitz paperback, selling for ½ Thaler

But doesn’t every publisher dream of being able to escape from the constraints of price and produce higher quality editions?   Tauchnitz certainly did, and the result was a very short series of gift books, known as the ‘Cabinet Edition of English Classics’, starting in 1862.

Two of the volumes, ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage’ by Byron, and ‘The lady of the lake’ by Walter Scott, were lengthy narrative poems that had already been published by Tauchnitz as part of larger volumes of poetry.  The other two were Shakespeare plays, ‘Hamlet’ and ‘Romeo and Juliet’, available both as individual plays and as part of longer volumes.  So all four were already sold by Tauchnitz, and at much cheaper prices. Here each is extracted to form a small gift-book on its own and is given a cloth binding with both gilt and blind-stamped decoration,  an engraved frontispiece, higher quality paper and all edges gilded.  Everything needed for them to appear like an attractive gift or keepsake.

 cabinet-classics-1  cabinet-classics-4

There is little information on the series in the Tauchnitz bibliography by Todd & Bowden, partly because the authors were able to find just a single copy of two of the books and no copy at all of the other two.  This no doubt partly reflects the low numbers produced and the even lower numbers now surviving, but also probably that being unlike most other Tauchnitz editions, they are rarely found in the standard Tauchnitz collections.  They are undoubtedly rare, but perhaps not as rare as the evidence of the bibliography would suggest.  There are now copies of all four in my own collection, and I have seen evidence of several other copies.


The evidence of the copies I have, contradicts the numbering and the dates assigned to them by Todd & Bowden.  The books themselves are not numbered, but the bibliography gives ‘The lady of the lake’ precedence over ‘Hamlet’ on the incorrect assumption that they were published in 1862 and 1863 respectively.  In practice the dates were the other way round, so that ‘Hamlet’ was one of the first two volumes, together with ‘Childe Harold’.   The final volume was ‘Romeo and Juliet’, published in 1864.


The frontispiece to Hamlet

Incidentally the photo above shows each in a different colour cover, but it may not be as simple as this.  I have seen ‘Childe Harold’ in bindings of two different colours and with other differences as well, so it’s not clear exactly what else may exist.

The price they were sold at, according to Todd & Bowden (referencing the 1880 German Book Catalogue) was 3 Marks (or 1 Thaler) for each of the poems, and 2 Marks (around 0.70 Thaler) for the Shakespeare plays.  As far as I can tell, this price sounds reasonable for what they are, but the individual Shakespeare plays sold in paperback for 0.1 Thaler, so they may have looked expensive in comparison.

Anyway as the series extended to only these four volumes, it seems safe to assume that they were not a success.  At least one of the books though seems to have enjoyed a second life as a tourist souvenir in Rome.  A range of Tauchnitz books with Italian themes or settings were produced by or for the Italian tourist trade in the 1870s and 1880s, bound in vellum and mostly extra-illustrated.  ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage’ was too small to be extra-illustrated with postcards, but it is now found in a variety of vellum bindings that seem to come from Italy.  They’re likely to be quite a bit later than the original issue of the book.  Did Tauchnitz have left over copies that they were happy to recycle in this way?  Or did Italian bookbinders order new sets of printed pages for binding?


An Italian vellum bound edition


Four versions in custom bindings, each one slightly different

Shakespeare plays in Tauchnitz – the 1843 edition

When Bernhard Tauchnitz first launched himself into the business of selling English literature in Germany in 1841, it would have been difficult to avoid the issue of Shakespeare.  Tauchnitz started by selling the novels of contemporary authors, and that became the basis of the business empire that he built up over the rest of his life.  But even in the time of Dickens, few living authors could command sales as high as those of the long-dead Shakespeare.   And the tricky issue of copyright that Tauchnitz was wrestling with, could be avoided by going back to the bard.

Tauchnitz Shakespeare 1843 frontispiece
The frontispiece to the first Tauchnitz volume of Shakespeare plays

So it’s hardly a surprise that the Tauchnitz ‘Collection of British Authors’ had reached only 40 volumes, before welcoming Shakespeare into its ranks.  The Complete Works of Shakespeare, including all 37 plays, his poems and a brief biography, appeared in 7 volumes as volumes 40 to 46 of the series in 1843 / 1844, and at the same time each of the plays was published individually as well.   Publication of the seven volume edition was spread out over a period of more than a year, with the first volume appearing in February 1843 and the final volume announced in June 1844.  So volumes 6 and 7 are dated 1844 rather than 1843, as are the final five individual plays, numbered 33 to 37.  In both formats, the plays are double paginated, with page numbers for the individual plays in a top corner and numbers for the combined volume in a bottom corner.  In this way, both types of publication could be printed from the same stereotype plates.

Tauchnitz Shakespeare 1843 Title page with Collier reference
First printing title page crediting John Payne Collier and with ‘Bernh. Tauchnitz Jun’.

The text of the plays was provided by John Payne Collier, a noted Shakespearean scholar of the time, and his name appeared prominently on the title page of the collected edition.  Unfortunately he was later exposed as a forger, and the use of his name became a source of embarrassment rather than pride.   Later reprints from about 1860 onwards, don’t show Collier’s name, and in 1868 a new edition was issued using a text provided by Rev. Alexander Dyce.   This new edition still used the same volume numbers, 40 to 46, but the title page date was changed to 1868.   So copies of the books now found split into three categories – firstly those dated 1843/4 with Collier’s name on, then those dated 1843/4 but without Collier’s name, and then all later issues dated 1868.  The 1868 issues continued to be reprinted for the next 70 years or so, and are of course the most commonly found. (Update – see separate post on the 1868 edition on this link.)

Tauchnitz Shakespeare 1843 Title page with no Collier reference
Later title page, still 1843, but now ‘Bernhard Tauchnitz’ and no reference to Collier

The 1843 edition is rarer, but bound copies are still not too difficult to find.  As usual with Tauchnitz editions, it’s much more of a challenge to find copies in the original wrappers.   Although the books were issued as paperbacks, the standard practice for many purchasers was to have them privately bound, and it’s these copies that survive best.   There are also a few surviving copies in a publisher’s binding, sold more or less at the time of the first printing.  So far as I know though, there are no surviving paperback first printings of the collected volumes.   The earliest paperback copies that Todd & Bowden, the Tauchnitz bibliographers, could track down were a set in the British Library from around 1866, over 20 years after first publication.

Tauchnitz Shakespeare 1843 spines
All seven volumes of the collected edition in first printing, six in the earliest form of publisher’s binding

You might expect that copies of individual plays in the original wrappers would be even more difficult to find.  They’re such thin volumes that the chance of any surviving looks pretty small.  But surprisingly, two library collections in the US hold significant numbers of them.    The Royal Hanover collection at the University of Rochester includes copies of all 37 plays from the 1843/4 edition, the first seven of them bound and the other 30 in the original wrappers.   The paperback copies cover a range of different dates, although unfortunately none are in the first printing state, showing the publisher as ‘Bernh. Tauchnitz Jun.’, rather than ‘Bernhard Tauchnitz’.  The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC also has 4 individual plays from the 1843/4 edition in their original wrappers, again none of them in first printing state.

But at least two of the very earliest paperbacks have survived, even if in a pretty dreadful state, as shown below.  They not only show the publisher as ‘Bernh. Tauchnitz Jun.’, but the lists of other Tauchnitz Editions on the back wrapper show no titles later than mid-1843.  With Tauchnitz Editions, this is really the best evidence you can get that they are first printings, or at least very early printings.

Volpone at the Swan Theatre, Stratford

The RSC use the Swan Theatre primarily to show the works of Shakespeare’s contemporaries, presumably to help us see Shakespeare’s work in context.  That’s a laudable aim, and one which the director of this play, Trevor Nunn, was instrumental in establishing.  But from what I’ve seen there recently, what it does above all is to show that Shakespeare was completely out of context – a one-off genius whose work had as little in common with his contemporaries as Ronaldo and Messi have in common with most England footballers.   Highlights of Jonjo Shelvey’s career might look impressive enough shown on their own, but would be less so back to back with those of Ronaldo.

Volpone 2

Volpone is a cleverly enough worked play and it’s been given the full RSC treatment here, with all the verve and style that the company brings to almost all its productions.  But is the underlying play really good enough to justify the treatment?   It seems to have none of Shakespeare’s subtlety, none of his beautiful language, none of the complexities of character.   The characters seem mostly one-dimensional caricatures acting out a story that is really just an overblown fable.  As an example, I enjoyed the scenes with Peregrine and Sir Politic Would-Be, but in Shakespeare these would be the incidental characters, not advancing the plot much, but providing a comic interlude and offsetting the more deeply characterised leading roles.  Here they’re the caricatures offsetting the caricatures.

Henry Goodman’s portrayal of Volpone is certainly a bravura performance, evoking memories of Bernie Madoff (is there even a physical resemblance?), with his share price running on an electronic ticker tape across the top of the stage, and an odd taste for personal freak show cabaret.  The setting of the play is uncompromisingly modern, with camera entry-phones, personal assistants and selfies.  It sounded as if some of the text had been updated too, since Jonson presumably knew little of the Euro and seems unlikely to have written about crop circles or how to shorten quarantine periods for Ebola, even in a roundabout way.

Volpone 1

Volpone starts the play by worshipping his gold, and immediately casts himself in an unfavourable light.  But as the play goes on, his position becomes a bit more nuanced.   Are we even supposed to admire Volpone in an odd sort of way?   We’re clearly not meant to feel any sympathy for his dupes (as it was difficult to feel too much sympathy for some of the major investors fooled by Madoff), and Goodman’s performance certainly draws admiration as he displays an astonishing versatility.

His transformation in a matter of seconds from a suave Madoff into a dribbling bed-ridden patient on the verge of death is phenomenal, as is the later change from dribbling patient to serenading lover, whose wooing turns suddenly menacing.    His grandstanding as an Italian snake-oil salesman is a joy to behold, and his final turn as a disguised court guard is another triumph, seemingly based on Ronnie Barker’s performance as Fletcher in ‘Porridge’.  Then after justice has been meted out to him and to others at the end of the play, Volpone is allowed to come back and explicitly ask for our applause – well merited by the performance, but still an odd role to give to a character who surely should deserve little sympathy.   It feels as if a forger who has just duped clients into over-paying for fake Rembrandts, has come back and asked for his own artistic talent to be recognised and rewarded.

Volpone 4

Amongst the other roles, Miles Richardson was convincing as the lawyer Voltore, and Annette McLaughlin strutted her stuff impressively as Lady Politic Would-Be, on towering heels almost as high as those worn by Ankur Bahl in his role as a hermaphrodite lackey, nurse and cabaret artist.   But this was really the Henry Goodman show, with a performance that may live longer in the mind than the play itself.

Volpone 3