Editors and Actors: Hanmer

Thomas Hanmer, painted during his life.

After going through Theobald’s hundreds of footnotes, Hanmer’s relatively unannotated text came – I must admit – as a bit of a relief. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot to study here, but rather than this edition has to be studied in a slightly different way. That said, I did, as usual, start with the preface, where Hanmer really nails his colours to the mast: he is very pro Shakespeare, but very very antitheatrical. He hopes this edition will be the paper equivalent of the recently erected Shakespeare monument in Westminster Abbey, and he hopes that all those players who “foisted in” the “low stuff” after Shakespeare’s death will burn in hell. I’m paraphrasing here slightly, but Hanmer is not just following in Pope’s footsteps (including the reprinting of his preface and some of his notes about players’ errors), but even taking Pope’s methods further, relegating, for example, even more scenes than the poet to the bottom of the page.

Looking through the plays themselves, and excluding the various relegated passages (the French lesson in Henry V, the bawdy bits in Measure for Measure, large chunks of The Comedy of Errors and more), Hanmer’s other notes are mainly glosses, occasionally varied with a rare note on a textual variant. This makes most of his emendation very hard to spot, and, from what I’ve seen so far, I suspect he is using a version of Pope’s Shakespeare as his copytext.

The most striking thing about Hanmer’s edition, however, is not his recycling of Pope or stingy quantities of footnotes, but rather the inclusion of illustrations, making this the first illustrated edition since Rowe at the start of the century, some 33 years previous. As I’ve already discussed, Rowe’s annotations appear distinctly theatrical, and I would really love to say that the illustrations to Hanmer’s edition bring in all the ambiguity and invention of live performance that Hanmer’s edition works so hard to exclude and denigrate. Unfortunately, there isn’t quite enough evidence to make this claim.

The illustrations were produced by Francis Hayman and Hubert-François Bourguignon (known as ‘Gravelot’): both were part of the Saint Martin’s Lane Academy, and were in Garrick’s circle. Hayman started off as a scene painter, and did other theatrical illustrations too, including some of scenes from Shakespeare with the help of Garrick’s directions. In some respects, Hanmer could not have had a more theatrical illustrator than Hayman, yet most of the plates do not strike the viewer as particularly based on theatre practice at first glance. I only spotted four things that bring the stage to mind:

    1. Hayman’s roots as a scene painter occasionally show in the illustrations’ use of perspective, where one gets the impression that the characters are moving on a 2D plane in front of a painted backdrop.


    1. Some figures are depicted in postures clearly based on those outlined in acting manuals of the time. That said, those acting manuals often drew on instructions for painters, so such resemblance may be as accidental as intentional.


  1. Although Shakespeare’s Roman plays and History plays have characters dressed in appropriate costume (Hayman was also a history painter), other illustrations keep eighteenth-century dress, even for plays like Macbeth, which reflects contemporary theatrical practice (see above, from Macbeth).
  2. A few illustrations suggest the shape of the eighteenth-century stage: there are hints of a stage curtain incorporated more or less gracefully into the image, while some plates appear to have characters entering or exiting by the wings (see the first image, from Love’s Labour’s Lost).

And that’s it. Overall, an edition from an Oxford scholar that follows in Pope’s footsteps, and pays little attention to the theatre and its actors, except, perhaps, in the illustrations, which remain poised between the creations of the reader’s imagination and the reality of stage production.

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