A figure of Shakespeare

The search facility of the Old Bailey Proceedings is truly addictive. A search on the keyword “Shakespeare” resulted in 58 items. These mostly concern people called Shakespeare, people living in Shakespeare-Walk, or drinking at the Shakespeare Head. But there are some interesting insights into the Shakespeare Industry of the eighteenth century to be gleaned from the proceedings.

A number of Shakespeare volumes are stolen from shops. In one case, two volumes of Shakespeare together with two volumes of Biblical Researches disappear from a book shop. The thief sells them to another book seller, who does not think that they are worth the fourteen shillings he asks for them, since they are “odd volumes” — meaning presumably that the thief should have stolen a more complete set of plays if he wanted to make that kind of money. Other cases show glimpses of Shakespearean images circulating in eighteenth-century culture. A man whose watch has been stolen believes that it had “Shakespeare’s head” on its seal. And on 21 April 1759 John Adams stole a twelve-inch high plaster figure of Shakespeare from a shop. He does not state why he ventured to steal it out of its glass case — was it because of the playwright’s 195th birthday two days later?

See also:

  • The Twickenham Museum on Garrick and the Shakespeare Industry
  • Boswell’s letter reviewing Garrick’s Shakespeare Jubilee in Stratford, 1769
  • Michael Bristol, Big-Time Shakespeare (1996 )
  • Jonathan Bate, The Genius of Shakepeare (1997)


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