The Play of Pericles Prince of Tyre, by William Shakespeare, Barbarian Press Edition

Barbarian Press’s, The Play of Pericles Prince of Tyre, is one of the most ambitious projects undertaken by a private press in a long, long time. Published in 2010 by Crispin and Jan Elsted of Barbarian Press, this edition sets the bar on what private, fine press producers are capable of accomplishing.  Their Pericles is truly a remarkable accomplishment in the craft of book design and execution.  Every tiny detail has been thought out and meticulously cared for, resulting in a final product that is as close to perfection as one could hope to achieve. You really have to feel the book and the pages, running your fingers across the type and woodcuts, to let the artistry soak in. Simply put, this edition is a visual, tactile and intellectual treat.

From their website we learn that Barbarian Press was established in 1977, with their shop being in Mission, British Columbia.  They are an entirely letterpress operation. Their nine presses include three 19th century handpresses – a super royal Albion (1850), a foolscap folio Barrett Albion (1833), and a foolscap folio Sherwin & Cope Imperial (1854) – two Chandler & Price vertical platens, a Vandercook Universal One horizontal cylinder proof press, a Kelly B horizontal cylinder press, and two Adana 8 by 5 tabletop presses. The range of typefaces at the press includes Bembo, Joanna, Van Dijck, Poliphilus & Blado, and Cancelleresca Bastarda – along with a good variety of titling and display faces and ornaments. They also have their own small hand bindery.  The press’s publications range from new translations of poetry and prose, Victorian melodrama, and new poetry to bibliography, illustrated classics, typography, and books on wood engraving.

Readers of Books and Vines know that I often criticize what I call “art for art’s sake”. Hence the smile that came to my face when I read on the Barbarian Press website that:

…our backgrounds are in literary studies and writing rather than graphic and studio arts, and we make our books to be read, not merely looked at. We feel that nothing should come between the text and the reader, and it is our view that typography should have, in Robert Bringhurst’s phrase, ‘a statuesque transparency’: like good film music, the best typography is effective to the degree that it is unobtrusive, supporting, not supplanting, the principal experience of the reader. Private press printing is a craft, not an art. The design and making of beautiful books is only secondarily a matter of self-expression; its first excellence is to serve the author and the reader.

Pericles was not in the first folio of 1623, instead appearing in the second printing of the third folio in 1668, 52 years after Shakespeare’s death.  The only published text of Pericles, the 1609 quarto, is universally described as a mess. As Mr. Elsted states, “both as a printing job and as an edition of a text, it is an unholy mess: verse is set as prose; words, lines, and (it seems) whole sections of scenes are omitted; speeches are attributed to the wrong characters, and so on. Moreover, it is clear from the physical evidence that the book was set in type by three different compositors, probably in two different shops, and that it was set not from the foul papers (Shakespeare’s own copy) but from a “reported” copy, possibly cobbled together by a group of the actors who took parts in the performances.”  For this edition, Mr. Elsted edits with an intention to produce an edition meant for readers rather than for performers or academics.

The authorship of Pericles has always been controversial, mostly surrounding whether this was a collaboration with Shakespeare only writing part of the play.  Mr. Elsted’s addresses this mystery in some detail, all of it interesting, in a companion volume which also has an essay by the illustrator Simon Brett on the making of this edition.  The companion volume also has extensive notes and glosses on the text.

For most of the 400+ years since Pericles was written, it has been one of Shakespeare’s least critically appreciated works.  None-the-less, from its inception, it was one of the most popular with the masses.  As Mr. Elsted states, “actors and audiences love it. With attempted murder, incest, pirates, a goddess, storms at sea, miraculous resurrection, shipwreck, love, loss, reconciliation, brothels, jousts, and palaces, it can hardly be said to be without incident or interest. Finally, it contains, in the reconciliation scene with Marina, what many consider the single most moving scene in all of Shakespeare.”  With this fantastic new edition, I look forward to re-reading Pericles, this time experiencing it, losing myself in this beautiful volume.

One last note concerning Mr. Elsted.  We have had a number of email communications in which he has always been kind, helpful and willing to answer many questions.  In these conversations he has displayed a wealth of knowledge on a number of topics, making it a real treat to interact with him. Be it literature, classical music, opera, wine or single malt whisky(!), Mr. Elsted shows himself more than a Renaissance man! Now that I have subscribed to Barbarian Press, I look forward to many more great works from the Elsted’s.

{Ed Note 9/19/2011; please also see the excellent review of this edition at Whole Book Experience}.

About the Edition

  • The book containing the play itself is accompanied by a second volume comprising a substantial essay on the play’s history and a discussion of the various theories about its composition & Shakespeare’s possible collaborator, an essay by Simon Brett on illustrating the play, and notes on the text
  • Book and bindings designed by Crispin Elsted, who also set the type
  • Printed by Jan Elsted on a Vandercook Universal III proof press
  • The standard binding by Alanna Simenson and Russell Murphy at Rasmussen Bindery in North Vancouver, is full purple morocco with an inlaid vellum panel and vellum spine label stamped in gold; with the companion volume being quarter morocco with vellum spine label and paper printed sides, designed by Andrea Taylor; both volumes are enclosed in a labelled chemise of white linen in a purple silk slipcase
  • Tall quarto, printed on mouldmade Zerkall paper in several colors
  • The types are Poliphilus & Blado with Duensing Titling for display
  • The play itself and textual notes are hand-set
  • Elements of the text are printed in calligraphy specially designed and executed for this edition by Andrea Taylor
  • The play is illustrated with over one hundred wood engravings, all printed from the wood, by Simon Brett, who also signs the edition
  • Companion volume is Monotype Composition, cast by Michael and Winifred Bixler in Skaneateles, New York
  • Photograph for the frontispiece  of the companion volume by Denis Larocque
  • Limited to 100 standard editions, mine being #94 (they also made 12 deluxe versions, I-XII)

Pictures

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Pericles Prince of Tyre, Barbarian Press, Chemise in Slipcase
Pericles Prince of Tyre, Barbarian Press, Chemise containing Books
Pericles Prince of Tyre, Barbarian Press, Play & Companion Volume
Pericles Prince of Tyre, Barbarian Press, Cover and Spine
Pericles Prince of Tyre, Barbarian Press, Cover
Pericles Prince of Tyre, Barbarian Press, Half-title
Pericles Prince of Tyre, Barbarian Press, Title Page
Pericles Prince of Tyre, Barbarian Press, Character Page
Pericles Prince of Tyre, Barbarian Press, The Beginning of the Play
Pericles Prince of Tyre, Barbarian Press, Sample Pages with Text & Illustrations
Pericles Prince of Tyre, Barbarian Press, Second Sample Pages with Text & Illustrations
Pericles Prince of Tyre, Barbarian Press, Third Sample Pages with Text & Illustrations
Pericles Prince of Tyre, Barbarian Press, Fourth Sample Pages with Text & Illustration
Pericles Prince of Tyre, Barbarian Press, Fifth Sample Pages with Text & Illustrations
Pericles Prince of Tyre, Barbarian Press, Sixth Sample Pages with Text & Illustrations
Pericles Prince of Tyre, Barbarian Press, Seventh Sample Pages with Text & Illustrations
Pericles Prince of Tyre, Barbarian Press, Eighth Sample Pages with Text & Illustrations
Pericles Prince of Tyre, Barbarian Press, Ninth Sample Pages with Text & Illustrations
Pericles Prince of Tyre, Barbarian Press, Tenth Sample Pages with Text & Illustration
Pericles Prince of Tyre, Barbarian Press, Page with Text
Pericles Prince of Tyre, Barbarian Press, Companion Volume
Pericles Prince of Tyre, Barbarian Press, Companion Volume Frontispiece and Title Page
Pericles Prince of Tyre, Barbarian Press, Companion Volume Contents
Pericles Prince of Tyre, Barbarian Press, Sample Text
Pericles Prince of Tyre, Barbarian Press, Second Sample Text

Pericles Prince of Tyre, Barbarian Press, Colophon

7 thoughts on “The Play of Pericles Prince of Tyre, by William Shakespeare, Barbarian Press Edition

  1. Hi Chris,

    I did not think a modern Private Press would ever attempt anything as ambitious as this!

    Since I became aware of this book I have been desperate to see images of it beyond those on Barbarian’s own site – Thank you!

    It is magnificent. Tall quarto, letterpress, calligraphy, essay volume, Zerkall paper, full purple morocco – and over 100 wood engravings by Simon Brett!

    Your images convey an impression of a beautifully designed and produced book. The layout appears inspired and the wood engravings (I especially like the jousting scene) must be Simon Brett’s best.

    For a press the size of The Barbarian Press to produce a book as ambitious and exciting as this is admirable.

    It’s been great to have read a bit more about it and I really enjoyed looking over your (generous amount of) images.

    All the best,

    Neil

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