KING LEAR, By Will. Shakspere [Bell's Edition of Shakespeare; Or, The Dramatic Writings of William Shakespeare, with the Prolegomena, and the Notes of all the Various Commentators]; Printed Complete from the Text of Sam. Johnson and Geo. Steevens. [With,] ANNOTATIONS by Sam. Johnson & Geo. Steevens and the Various Commentators Upon KING LEAR, Written By WILL. SHAKESPERE.

(London: John Bell, British Library, Strand, 1788 and 1787).

FIRST OF THE EDITION. The Play volume and the Annotations volume are from Steevens' and Johnson's Scholarly Edition of Shakespeare (1773). This edition prints Observations prior to each play.
The "Literary" Shakespeare, was published serially beginning in 1785, and collected in 20 vols. What distinguishes this edition from the others by Bell is the elaborateness of the presentation. This was the culmination of a 15 year effort to publish an edition of the Bard's works which had a high cultural value due to its edition, annotation, and beauty of its typography and illustration. Indeed, this edition proved a social triumph for Bell with his assembled 1800 subscribers, including the Royal Family (except for the Sovereign) along with the Queen of France, monsieur the King's brother and a collection of 70 nobles.
The edition was printed on smooth wove paper and in this edition Bell first replaced the long s (ƒ) with the modern small rounded s, an innovation which quickly caught on*. There are many more portraits in this edition, than in the earlier "acting" editions of Shakespeare. The engraved frontispieces feature a prominent actor or actress in the role. In contrast to the engravings of the earlier edition, these portraits have oval borders and lush backgrounds. The actors themselves are rendered in a much softer, more romantic style.
The artists Bell commissioned were all under the age of 25 and relatively unknown. Most notable among them was the young Johan Heinrich Ramberg, who had come to England from Hanover under the patronage of George III. It is because of these young artists that these portraits are so different from those in the "acting" edition. Ramberg brought with him a European aesthetic, and all the artists brought the burgeoning romantic artistic trends to the drawing boards. Item #32237

2 volumes. First in the "literary edition" of Shakespeare's plays by Bell. With a frontispiece engraving in the volume containing the play. 12mo, the Play and the Annotations each bound into later blue paper wrappers, lettered caligraphically in brown on the upper wrapper. xiv, 15-152; 164 pp. Fine copies, very well preserved and with the wrappers as pristine.

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Price: $650.00