Bell’s Shakespeare at Senate House

Skimming bibliographical journals as they appear is one of the delightful duties of a Rare Books Librarian. The winter 2012 issue of The Book Collector is especially relevant for Senate House Library, containing an article by John Wolfson (honorary curator of rare books at Shakespeare’s Globe) entitled ‘Bell’s Edition of Shakespeare’s Plays: A Bibliographic Nightmare’. The major late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century publisher John Bell first published Shakespeare’s plays in two issues in 1774, in a version described by Wolfson as ‘the most corrupt edition ever published’ – the reason being that Bell printed the plays as they were presented on the stage, namely with textual liberties. The edition was financially successful and further editions followed, with various confusions outlined by Wolfson. Senate House Library hold both Bell’s second edition of 1774 and his 1788 duodecimo edition. These were catalogued last year in an ongoing drive to catalogue the Library’s strong pre-1801 Shakespeare holdings: most sets of his works are now online, with individual editions of plays still to come.

Bells Shakespeare


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