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The Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies of William Shakespeare, Limited Editions Club (1939/1940)

William Shakespeare. The mere name puts students around the world into a state of fear and grief, sends conspiracy theorists into excited revelry and draws nervous shame from the masses who have never experienced Shakespeare. Yet, for lovers of literature, especially those who have read and re-read Shakespeare after reaching a mature age, hearing his name excites one’s soul while stimulating intellect, recalling scene after scene of the greatest moments, the greatest plots and the greatest lines in the history of World Literature.

One cannot be considered well read if they have not read Shakespeare, just as a library is not complete without the works of Shakespeare. Life itself could be considered un-examined without contemplating Shakespeare! Okay, enough hyperbole, you get the point. Now that we have established that you simply must read and own Shakespeare, where to start? Actually the answer to that is well beyond the purview of this article, as there are scores of good options out there when it comes to editions to collect and read. A little research will set you well on your way. Instead what I present to you today is a biased and selfish article, answering the question of what collected works of Shakespeare I recommend. The answer is easy, since I already have such, that being the fantastic, amazing, incredible and {fill in with your favorite adjective} 37 volume edition of The Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies of William Shakespeare from George Macy’s Limited Editions Club (LEC) published in 1939/1940.

The Limited Editions Club 37 Volume Shakespeare (1939/1940), with the Introductory Volume and the 2 volume set of Shakespeare’s Poems from 1941
The Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies of William Shakespeare, Front Cover (same for all 37 volumes)

While the LEC produced many books that can be considered amongst the great editions published in the twentieth century, and while LEC’s editions of Lysistrata (illustrated and signed by Picasso) and Ulysses (illustrated and signed by Henri Matisse and by the author James Joyce) easily fetch the most money for LEC’s at auction, the Shakespeare set is clearly the LEC’s premier accomplishment under Macy. Designed by arguably the greatest book designer of the twentieth century, Bruce Rogers, and illustrated by a who’s who list of the greatest artists/illustrators of the early twentieth century (just see the list below!), the LEC’s Shakespeare set is a marvel to behold, as easy and comfortable to read as it is beautiful to look at. While it can be extremely difficult finding the entire set, especially in very good or better condition, it is well worth the hunt and the not insignificant chunk of change required to purchase it.

The Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies of William Shakespeare, Introductory Book “Shakespeare: A Review and a Preview”

The introductory volume titled Shakespeare: A Review and a Preview is well worth having, especially if you get the rest of the set. It contains a number of essays, as follows:

Part I: Review

Part II: Preview

Macy tells us that the aim of this set was to be “the most beautiful Shakespeare of modern times” with the text created so it “may approximate more closely than any other yet printed to the text Shakespeare himself would have chosen to read”. Thirty-seven of the world’s leading book artists “furnish a collection of unusual beauty, a conspectus of the art of book illustration throughout the world as this art is struck into the fire by the flint of Shakespeare’s genius”.

The text of the LEC Shakespeare is reprinted from the First Folio and the Quarto editions of Shakespeare’s plans published in his own time — including use of Old Spelling and Old Punctuation Text. As Herbert Farjeon states in his essay, this restores the essential flavor that is lost in modernization and that to appreciate this “requires neither scholarship nor learning”. Farjeon continues:

It is hard to believe anyone who has read Shakespeare in the original can ever be content again with the transliterations of later times. In the printed texts of today it is almost as though a complete dimension has been lost.

While others had created editions based on the First Folio and Quartos, for the LEC edition Farjeon sought to eliminate imperfections that plagued earlier efforts due to loose editing and careless printing. These imperfections often caused confusion and made the works more difficult to read. As Farjeon explains:

This text is an attempt to produce an Elizabethan or Jacobean text freed from these confusions — a text such as Shakespeare himself might have passed for the printer had he personally read the proofs of his plays before they went to press. To this end it has been assumed that he would have corrected the various printers’ errors. It has been assumed that he would have accepted the spelling of the printers which may have been his own, even where the same word is spelt differently in successive lines. It has been assumed he would have permitted many inconsistencies (often his own) to remain…it has further been assumed that where prose passages are printed in verse in the original editions he would have seen that they were printed as prose, and vice-versa.

The aim of Farjeon was to “preserve the original flavor while clearing away the original obstacles”. In a similar fashion, Bruce Rogers mentions that “in planning this set of Shakespeare my first thought was of the type, which should be bold and vigorous enough to convey to the reader’s eyes something of the rugged Elizabethan quality of the text”. All in all, we are left with a set of Shakespeare breathtakingly accomplished in a manner that would be right at home in Shakespeare’s own library, yet equally at home in modern times.

About the Editions

Below is an alphabetical list of all 37 volumes along with a sample illustration (usually the frontispiece) and basic volume information. Also included is the two volume set of the poems and sonnets published in 1941 to complement the 37 volume set. General photo’s of the entire set, and of the introductory volume titled Shakespeare: A Review and a Preview, follow at the end. Over the coming months, as I complete reading each volume, I will highlight each book below in detail with its own article, including numerous pictures from each. {Ed. Note: The Book Blog is also in the course of providing information and pictures on this set — as always, done splendidly.}

1) A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Water-colors by Arthur Rackham, lithographed in four colors by Fernand Mourlot and water-colored via pochoirs process by Maurice Beaufumé. Play is 74 pages, book 94 pages.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, water-colors by Arthur Rackham

2) All’s Well That Ends Well. Drawings in color by Richard Floethe (originally to be illustrated by Gunter Böhmer and reproduced by Fernand Mourlot, but WWII got in the way), printed in three colors from rubber plates by A. Colish. Play is 101 pages, the book is 120 pages.

All’s Well That Ends Well. Drawings in color by Richard Floethe.

3) Anthony and Cleopatra. Colored wood-engravings by Enric-Cristobal Ricart, printed by R. & R. Clark and hand-colored by Jean Saudé. Play is 124 pages, the book 144 pages.

Anthony and Cleopatra. Colored wood-engravings by Enric-Cristobal Ricart.

4) As You Like It. Watercolors by Sylvain Sauvage, three printings of lithography and hand-colored via stencils by Mourlot Frères. Play in 93 pages, book is 112 pages.

As You Like It. Watercolors by Sylvain Sauvage.

5) The Comedy of Errors. Cut in wood by John Austen and printed directly from the wood-engravings R. & R. Clark, color added via multiple printings by Austen, each being cut in linoleum. Play is 63 pages, book is 82 pages.

The Comedy of Errors. Colored wood-engravings by John Austen.

6) Coriolanus. Tempera paintings by C. Pál Molnár, lithographed (with up to fifteen colors) by Mourlot Frères. Play is 129 pages, book is 148 pages.

Coriolanus. Color tempera paintings by C. Pál Molnár.

7) Cymbeline. Lithographs, drawn directly upon the stones, by Yngve Berg, pulled by the Curwen Press, Play is 129 pages, book is 148 pages.

Cymbeline. Lithographs, drawn directly upon the stones, by Yngve Berg.

8) Hamlet. Dry-brush drawings on course paper by Edy Legrand, printed in black and gray via the collotype process, by Georges Duval. 138 pages for the play, 158 pages total.

Hamlet. Dry-brush drawings in black and gray (via collotype) on course paper by Edy Legrand.

9) Henry the Fourth, Part I. Color (auto) lithographs, drawn upon the stone, by Barnett Freedman, printed at the Curwen Press. Play 106 pages, book is 126 pages.

Henry the Fourth, Part I. Color (auto) lithographs, drawn upon the stone, by Barnett Freedman.

10) Henry the Fourth, Part II. Line and water-color sketches by Edward Bawden, printed in collotype by Georges Duval and coloring via pochoir by Jean Saudé. Play is 113 pages, book is 132 pages.

Henry the Fourth, Part II. Line and water-color sketches by Edward Bawden.

11) Henry the Fifth. Soft pencil drawings by Vera Willoughby, drawn on the stone and lithographed by Fernand Mourlot. Play is 11 pages, book is 130 pages.

Henry the Fifth. Soft pencil drawings by Vera Willoughby.

12) Henry the Sixth, Part I. Lithographs by Graham Sutherland, printed by the Curwen Press. The play is 99 pages, the book is 118 pages.

Henry the Sixth, Part I. Lithographs by Graham Sutherland.

13) Henry the Sixth, Part II. Lithographs by Carlotta Petrina, pulled by George C. Miller. The play is 110 pages, the book is 130 pages.

Henry the Sixth, Part II. Lithographs by Carlotta Petrina.

14) Henry the Sixth, Part III. Pen line drawings, with color washes applied to the proofs, by Jean Charlot. New plates were made of the color, and the printing done via letterpress by A. Colish. The play is 105 pages, the book is 124 pages.

Henry the Sixth, Part III. Pen line drawings, with color washes applied to the proofs, by Jean Charlot.

15) Henry the Eighth. Wood-engravings by Eric Gill, printed by R. & R. Clark. Play is 116 pages, the book is 136 pages.

Henry the Eighth. Wood-engravings by Eric Gill.

16) Julius Caesar. Wood-engravings by Frans Masereel, printed by A. Colish. The play is 91 pages, book is 110 pages.

Julius Caesar. Wood-engravings by Frans Masereel.

17) King John. Line drawings in three colors and gold by Valenti Angelo, printed by A. Colish. The play is 91 pages, the book 110 pages.

King John. Line drawings in three colors and gold by Valenti Angelo.

18) King Lear. Brush drawings by Boardman Robinson, printed in in black and two grays via collotype Georges Duval. The play is 122 pages, the book 142 pages.

King Lear. Brush drawings by Boardman Robinson.

19) Love’s Labour’s Lost. Crayon and wash drawings by Mariette Lydis, printed in in black and gray via the collotype process by Georges Duval. The play is 94 pages, the book 114 pages.

Love’s Labour’s Lost. Crayon and wash drawings by Mariette Lydis.

20) Macbeth. Drawings with colored lithographic crayons on brown paper by Gordon Craig, lithographed by Mourlot Frères. The play is 86 pages, the book 106 pages.

Macbeth. Drawings with colored lithographic crayons on brown paper by Gordon Craig.

21) Measure for Measure. Color lithographs by Hugo Steiner-Prag, printed by Mourlot Frères. The play is 99 pages, the book is 118 pages.

Measure for Measure. Color lithographs by Hugo Steiner-Prag.

22) The Merchant of Venice. Water-colors by René ben Sussan, printed with two colors via collotype by Georges Duval, and in three colors via lithography by Mourlot Frère, hand-colored by Maurice Beaufumé. The play is 91 pages, the book is 110 pages.

The Merchant of Venice. Water-colors by René ben Sussan.

23) The Merry Wives of Windsor. Color drawings by Gordon Ross, printed in black and sanguine by Georges Duval via collotype process and hand-colored. The play is 94 pages, the book is 114 pages.

The Merry Wives of Windsor. Color drawings by Gordon Ross

24) Much Ado About Nothing. Water-colors by Fritz Kredel, black outline printed by Georges Duval via collotype process and hand-colored by Jean Saudé. The play is 89 pages, the book 108 pages.

Much Ado About Nothing. Water-colors by Fritz Kredel.

25) Othello. Wood-engravings by Robert Gibbings, printed by A. Colish. The play are 121 pages, the book 140 pages.

Othello. Wood-engravings by Robert Gibbings.

26) Pericles, Prince of Tyre. Wood-engravings by Stanislas Ostoja-Chrostowski, printed by R. & R. Clark. The play is 85 pages, the book 102 pages.

Pericles, Prince of Tyre. Wood-engravings by Stanislas Ostoja-Chrostowski.

27) Richard the Second. Wood-engravings by Agnes Miller Parker, printed by A. Colish. The play is 98 pages, the book 118 pages.

Richard the Second. Wood-engravings by Agnes Miller Parker.

28) Richard the Third. Lithographs by Fritz Eichenberg (originally to be illustrated by Edward Ardizzone, but they were lost due to the war), printed by George C. Miller. The play is 131 pages, the book 150 pages.

Richard the Third. Lithographs by Fritz Eichenberg.

29) Romeo and Juliet. Line drawings in color by Ervine Metzl (originally to be illustrated by Pierre Falke but were rejected by George Macy; then was to be done by T.M. Cleland who had to back out), printed in two colors by A. Colish. The play is 106 pages, the book is 126 pages.

Romeo and Juliet. Line drawings in color by Ervine Metzl.

30) The Taming of the Shrew. Line drawings by W.A. Dwiggins (originally to be illustrated by Alexis Kravtchenko), printed in sanguine by A. Colish. The play is 91 pages, the book 110 pages.

The Taming of the Shrew. Line drawings by W.A. Dwiggins.

31) The Tempest. Water-colors by Edward A. Wilson, printed by Georges Duval via collotype (grey ink) and in lithography (two colors) by Mourlot Frères and hand-colored through stencils by Maurice Beaufumé. The play is 79 pages, the book is 98 pages.

The Tempest. Water-colors by Edward A. Wilson.

32) Timon of Athens. Wood-engravings by George Buday (originally to be illustrated by E. McKnight Kauffer, I am not sure what happened), printed by A. Colish. The play is 86 pages, the book 106 pages.

Timon of Athens. Wood-engravings by George Buday.

33) Titus Andronicus. Water-colors by Nikolai Fyodorovitch Lapshin, chromo-lithography by Mourlot Frères. The play is 91 pages, the book 110 pages.

Titus Andronicus. Water-colors by Nikolai Fyodorovitch Lapshin.

34) Troilus and Cressida. Wood-engravings by Demetrius-Emanuel Galanis, printed in black ink upon a terra-cotta background by Dehon et Cie. The play is 120 pages, the book 140 pages.

Troilus and Cressida. Wood-engravings by Demetrius-Emanuel Galanis.

35) Twelfth Night, or What You Will. Water-colors by Francesco Carnevali, lithography by Mourlot Frères. The play is 87 pages, book is 106 pages.

Twelfth Night, or What You Will. Water-colors by Francesco Carnevali.

36) The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Water-colors by Pierre Brissaud, printed in grey via collotype by Georges Duval and water-colored by hand by Maurice Beaufumé. The play is 78 pages, the book 98 pages.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Water-colors by Pierre Brissaud.

37) The Winter’s Tale. Drawings by Albert Rutherston, printed from line plates by the Curwen Press and hand-colored via stencils by Jean Saudé. The play is 113 pages, the book 132 pages.

The Winter’s Tale. Drawings by Albert Rutherston.

38 & 39) The Poems of William Shakespeare. Ornaments by Bruce Rogers, printed in color by A. Colish.

The Poems of William Shakespeare. Ornaments by Bruce Rogers. Vol. 1 Sample
The Poems of William Shakespeare. Ornaments by Bruce Rogers. Vol. 2 Sample

Pictures of the Editions

The Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies of William Shakespeare, Limited Editions Club, 37 Volumes + 2 Volumes of Poems, + the Introductory Volume
The Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies of William Shakespeare, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Spines
The Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies of William Shakespeare, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Spines 2
The Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies of William Shakespeare, Limited Editions Club, Cover (same on all 37 volumes)
The Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies of William Shakespeare, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Cover
The Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies of William Shakespeare, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Cover 2
The Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies of William Shakespeare, Limited Editions Club, Side View
The Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies of William Shakespeare, Limited Editions Club, Title Page (same for all 37 volumes)
The Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies of William Shakespeare, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Title Page (same for all 37 volumes)
The Poems of William Shakespeare, Limited Editions Club, Cover (same on the two volumes of poems)
The Poems of William Shakespeare, Limited Editions Club, Title Page (same for the 2 volumes)
The Poems of William Shakespeare, Limited Editions Club, Colophon (essentially the same on all volumes, except only the Poems have a signature, and all but the poems mention the illustrator)
The Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies of William Shakespeare, Limited Editions Club, Introductory Volume
The Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies of William Shakespeare, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Introductory Volume
The Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies of William Shakespeare, Limited Editions Club, Contents of Introductory Volume
The Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies of William Shakespeare, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Contents of Introductory Volume
The Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies of William Shakespeare, Limited Editions Club, Introductory Volume – What we Know about Shakespeare page 1
The Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies of William Shakespeare, Limited Editions Club, Introductory Volume – What has been said about Shakespeare page 1
The Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies of William Shakespeare, Limited Editions Club, Introductory Volume – Landmarks in the Publishing of Shakespeare page 1
The Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies of William Shakespeare, Limited Editions Club, Introductory Volume – A Note upon a new Shakespeare page 1
The Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies of William Shakespeare, Limited Editions Club, Introductory Volume – A List of the Volumes
The Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies of William Shakespeare, Limited Editions Club, Introductory Volume – The Text of the new Shakespeare
The Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies of William Shakespeare, Limited Editions Club, Introductory Volume – The Format of the new Shakespeare
The Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies of William Shakespeare, Limited Editions Club, Introductory Volume – Sample Text
The Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies of William Shakespeare, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Text
The Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies of William Shakespeare, Limited Editions Club, Introductory Volume – Order Form
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