Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.412  Friday, 9 December 2016


From:        Michael Goodman <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         December 6, 2016 at 6:37:47 PM EST

Subject:    Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive


Dear SHAKSPER Subscribers,


I hope you are all well and that this may be of interest to you. Back in late August I launched my PhD project in English Literature at Cardiff University, The Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive ( It contains over 3000 illustrations from four of the most significant illustrated editions of Shakespeare’s works in the Victorian period. All images have been tagged bibliographically and iconographically and there are numerous pathways through the archive. 


The archive has a Creative Commons license – all images are free for the user to do whatever they like with. I’m very passionate that knowledge should be available to all. The archive has already had a tremendously positive reaction with Hyperallergic writing about it here: And Open Culture writing about it here:


All the very best,



Michael Goodman

RA on Cardiff University's Digital Humanities Network 

School of English, Communication and Philosophy

Cardiff University



MV Dialog

hatThe Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.411  Tuesday, 6 December 2016


From:        William Blanton <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         December 2, 2016 at 4:43:53 PM EST

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: MV Dialog



To Peter Holland


Re Jacob’s staff. You may well be right. I thought “Jacob’s staff” sounded odd when I first read it, so I googled it and found the reference I cited. Its cruciform shape fit in with my notion that Shylock was not really a Jew, so I included it as one of several possible textual indications of that fact. I will let my reference stand, but you and others are welcome to ignore it. I have never heard of anyone swearing by Jacob’s staff; have you?



To Michael Luskin


When I first started this thread, I provided an Overview in two parts so that readers could tell where I was generally going. Readers can check the SHAKSPER archive for the dates around 6/29/15 and 10/3/15. I am sending you pdfs of these two submissions. Anyone else desiring copies can email me.


I began this dialog because I needed feedback from knowledgeable people about my interpretation of the play. I had not wanted to tackle such a large project, but no one had taken me up on my invitation to do so in my article at >< I am attempting to provide a broad, multi-dimensional analysis of the play.


My article concerned mainly the trial scene, particularly my analysis concluding that Shakespeare purposefully made it ridiculous. Why would he do that? I wondered. Please read that article.



To Julia Griffin


I am fully aware that almost everyone will have a hard time seeing Shylock as the actual Devil disguised as a Jew. I am presently engaged in an effort to list the many textual indications that Shakespeare provided to that point. These are far more than a single offhand reference or two. I hope you will stick with me, keeping an open mind. I know that’s hard to do. I had a difficult time myself when I first started out. Please read my article at >< so that you can understand what prompted this ambitious attempt.


You raise an excellent point: so, why did Shakespeare make his supposed Jew actually be the Devil? 


I believe the answer lies in the multi-dimensional story Shakespeare wanted to tell. I am also sending you pdfs on the two Overviews.


Quick answer. On the Political/Religious/Current Events dimension, Shylock as a Jew represented Catholics in England, who had been persecuted for a number of decades under Elizabeth’s administration. Including torture and being compelled to convert to the Church of England.


There is also at least one theological dimension. I suspect that Shakespeare was addressing the question of how, exactly, the Church of England came to supplant Catholicism. The Devil is a metaphor for this evil (from the Catholic point of view). Antonio represents the Catholics of England, and he is the one who insists that the Devil (Protestantism) become Christian (Catholic). The Duke (Henry VIII) changes his mind (as he changed from being a Catholic) and likewise insists that this Devil become Christian.


I am a retired attorney and am more than a little out of my depth here. But I am sure t I am onto something.


Thank all of you for your attention and for your observations.







Romeo and Juliet: Two Questions

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.410  Tuesday, 6 December 2016


[1] From:        Arnie Perlstein <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         December 2, 2016 at 4:40:00 PM EST

     Subj:         Romeo & Juliet by the BOOK (re Brian’s two questions)


[2] From:        Brian Bixley <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         December 3, 2016 at 3:26:11 PM EST

     Subj:         R & J again




From:        Arnie Perlstein <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         December 2, 2016 at 4:40:00 PM EST

Subject:    Romeo & Juliet by the BOOK (re Brian’s two questions)


This is a great thread, thanks for starting it, Brian! I have a couple of quick reactions regarding the two usage of “by the book” in Romeo & Juliet, and then I will get to the larger pattern in the play which I hint at in my Subject Line.

First, here is an online essay that gives extraordinary detail on the nuances of Mercutio’s complex wordplay about the “book” that he mockingly claims Tybalt was fighting by:  “Fighting by the BOOK of Arithmetic”


This is most to the point: “In the late 1500s the English fighting style taught by the English Masters of Defence was holding fast to an old-school tradition of cutting with the side of the weapon (blows). The new-fangled foreign style— particularly the Italian—claimed the “thrust” (the use of the point) to be superior and began developing attacks, parries and footwork based on mathematical principles (complementary moves).”


I believe, based on the above, that Mercutio does mean to derogate Tybalt’s mechanical, scripted style of fighting – and yet, ironically, as has been observed (I can’t find the cite now), Tybalt does diverge from that script when he unexpectedly stabs Mercutio.


Second, I agree with Hannibal Hamlin (and the consensus of comments readable on the Net) that Juliet is very likely being sarcastic, hinting that Romeo is an inept, inexperienced, wooden kisser, who speaks flowery words of love, but who doesn’t kiss the kiss, so to speak – and that is a major “Ouch!” moment, considering that Juliet the kiss critic is a mere 12-year-old girl who, we may presume, has never been kissed before! I do, however, also detect that, beneath that sarcasm, Juliet may be a little ambivalent, in that she also seems to be complimenting Romeo’s cleverness in playing the “let’s improvise a Petrarchan sonnet together” game very well indeed. I.e., she seems to be saying that she enjoys his creative, romantic mind, but she wishes his lips were equally romantic!


I also found brilliant Mr. Hamlin’s connecting the dots between Shakespeare’s two “by the book” usages in R&J, on the one hand, and North’s usage of same in his introduction to his Plutarch translation (a text which we all know was crucial to Shakespeare in writing his Roman plays), on the other. By the way, when you read North’s introduction all the way through, the sneaking suspicion was born in my mind that North may have been one source in Shakespeare’s wicked mind when he wrote Polonius’s speech to Laertes, in which he equivocates endlessly – really, you have to read North’s intro to believe it—he is like Tevye the Milkman with all his predilection to “on the other hands”! 


The above is prelude to my main point, which is that those two “by the books” usages in R&J are part of a larger pattern in the play, in which we find nine usages of “book”. When I examined each one, it became immediately apparent that this was not, as Larry Weiss suggested, a mind-worm, mindless sort of repetition on Shakespeare’s part. Rather, it’s clearly a subtly orchestrated, nine-part meditation on the word “book” as a metaphor for a variety of themes, such as creativity/freedom vs. mechanical expression, personality as a text to be read, bookishness vs. experience (as per North’s Plutarch intro), etc.


I went into JSTOR, and quickly found two articles that pick up on this theme. First, “Form and Formality in Romeo and Juliet” by Harry Levin in Shakespeare Quarterly 11/1 (Win. 1960), 3-11, quotes nearly all nine of those usages of “book”, but, surprisingly, does not address them as a group, and only in this one excerpt does Levin zero in on the thematics of “book” in R&J”:


“…Significantly Lady Capulet, broaching the theme of Paris in stiffly appropriate couplets, has compared his face to a volume:


This precious BOOK of love, this unbound lover, 

To beautify him only lacks a cover. 

The fish lives in the sea, and 'tis much pride 

The fair without the fair within to hide. (1.3) 


That BOOKISH comparison, by emphasizing the letter at the expense of the spirit, helps to lend Paris an aspect of unreality; to the Nurse, more ingenuously, he is "a man of wax". Later Juliet will echo Lady Capulet's metaphor, transferring it from Paris to Romeo:


Was ever BOOK containing such, vile matter 

So fairly bound? (3.2) 


Here, on having learned that Romeo has just slain Tybalt, she is undergoing a crisis of doubt, a typically Shakespearian recognition of the difference between appearance and reality. The fair without may not cover a fair within, after all. Her unjustified accusations, leading up to her rhetorical question, form a sequence of oxymoronic epithets: 


"Beautiful tyrant, fiend angelical,…honorable villain!" 


W. H. Auden, in a recent comment on these lines, cannot believe they would come from a heroine who had been exclaiming shortly before: 


"Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds... " 


Yet Shakespeare has been perfectly consistent in suiting changes of style to changes of mood. When Juliet feels at one with Romeo, her intonations are genuine; when she feels at odds with him, they should be unconvincing. The attraction of love is played off against the revulsion from BOOKS, and coupled with the closely related themes of youth and haste, in one of Romeo's long-drawn-out leave-takings: 


Love goes toward love as schoolboys from their BOOKS; 

But love from love, towards school with heavy looks. (2.2) 


The school for these young lovers will be tragic experience. When Romeo, assuming that Juliet is dead and contemplating his own death, recognizes the corpse of Paris, he will extend the image to cover them both: 


O give me thy hand, One writ with me in sour misfortune's BOOK! (5.3) 


It was this recoil from BOOKISHNESS, together with the farewell to compliment, that animated Love’s Labour’s Lost, where literary artifice was so ingeniously deployed against itself, and Berowne was taught-by an actual heroine named Rosaline-that the best BOOKS were women's eyes.” 


The other article, “At Thy Word”: A Reading of Romeo and Juliet by Leslie Brisman in The Bulletin of the Midwest Modern Language Association, Vol. 8, No. 1 (Spring, 1975), pp. 21-31, is spot-on, and does indeed address that overarching theme in many interesting ways. Brisman’s article is too thorough and wide-ranging to be excerpted from, I just recommend that you download it and read it all the way through.


And finally, given that I have previously argued, in two blog posts I call “The Satanic Shakespeare/Milton acrostic code in Romeo & Juliet”  ...that Milton’s “SATAN” acrostic is based on the “SATAN” acrostics in both Romeo & Juliet AND Brooke’s Romeus & Juliet as well, what I also found intriguing in Brisman’s article were these insightful intuitions and ruminations with which Brisman begins:


“In the balcony scene of Romeo and Juliet, the problem of name may be taken as a shorthand for the multiple problems of originating action or feeling in the context of family tradition or an inherited scheme more generally. With characteristic and winning directness, Juliet pleads that Romeo free himself: 


Deny thy father and refuse thy name; 

Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love, 

And I'll no longer be a Capulet. 


For love to “originate,” to come from lovers themselves and not be imposed by their families or social setting, lovers must deny their fathers in some sense, supplanting one understanding of their origin—biological and social—with the new beginning they make together. “Therefore,” Genesis says, “shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” Let us go back for a moment from Juliet to the first named woman in Genesis, Eve. Her name is not imposed by God as father-creator but invented by Adam, who says, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman (ish-ah) because she was taken out of man (ish).” In naming Eve, as in naming all animal life, Adam exercises his power of origination, his ability to share the creation with God. (In Romeo and Juliet, Mercutio, who embodies something of the playwright’s power of origination, returns Tybalt’s name to its cat nature and demands one of those nine lives. In a play about desire in a fallen world, names are reconceived at the price of lives exacted, not brought into being.) In Genesis, it is important that Eve is conceived out of a need to originate that which Adam could name ishah, could see as originating from him. Giving names to others, Adam discovers his own desire…[quote from Genesis]


In Romeo and Juliet, Romeo does not sleep the night of the balcony scene (as Friar Lawrence observes the next morning) and only in the tomb, when both Adam (“from the earth”) and his ishah (from man) are literally returned to the earth can the lady both be taken from the man and rest with him. Shakespeare seems to speed the temporal sequence of his plot-source to further the sense that the tragic experience of the play is the dream of love which must be compassed before waking too soon-as Juliet actually does-to the fact of loss. Romeo and Juliet does not allude to the Genesis story, but there is a significant way in which the creation of the play is related to the kind of creation Adam could and Romeo would perform.”


My only disagreement with Brisman is in his final sentence, above. I believe that Shakespeare very much had the Biblical story of Adam and Eve in mind as he wrote the characters of Romeo and Juliet; and, equally important, I believe Milton was 350 years ahead of me on that point, and that’s why, as I’ve also previously argued, Milton subtly alluded not only to Romeo and Juliet in forming his own Adam and Eve, but also to Shakespeare’s closet Satan, Friar Laurence, in forming his Satan!


Cheers, ARNIE



From:        Brian Bixley <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         December 3, 2016 at 3:26:11 PM EST

Subject:    R & J again


My thanks to Hannibal Hamlin and Charles Weinstein for their comments. I knew of Mercurio’s comment that Tybalt ‘fights by the book of arithmetic,’ but failed, alas, to see its relevance to my question. Yes, WS occasionally uses the same word or phrase (e.g., ‘grace’ in TWT) within a play, perhaps sometimes out of a kind of absentmindedness, but Juliet is not Mercutio and she surely means something different. My own sense is that her comment ( i.e., WS’s intention) is intended to punctuate lightly the seriousness of what has gone before, to reduce the tension and perhaps induce a laugh - this young woman, not yet 14, gently teasing her new and first seriously intense admirer, we like her more because of it - and I think Mr. Hamlin is closer to that when he seems to endorse the notion that Romeo is an ‘amateur’ kisser (!) in the modern sense of ‘amateur.’ Which is why I asked if ‘by the book’ was used in that sense in the 1590’s.


 On the second question of whether Tybalt killed Mercutio ‘accidentally,’ I was certainly not suggesting that Tybalt was intending to kill Romeo and hit Mercutio by mistake. Whatever Tybalt’s unattractive qualities, it would not occur to him to kill an unarmed man of his class or a man without his sword drawn, perhaps not even someone whose view was obscured by a third party. I found it intriguing that the actor who played Mercutio in the Utah production thought that his death was accidental, which I took to mean ‘devoid of intent’, rather than a sneaky piece of improvisation by Tybalt, a suggestion I had found nowhere else in the critical literature.


Brian Bixley


PS: No sooner had I written the above than I came across, in Stanley Wells, The Challenges of Romeo and Juliet, writing of Mercutio, that ‘he through his accidental death...turns the play from a romantic comedy into a tragedy.’ Accidental?


Sorry to bother you with this. I am, as I think you know, an amateur in this world, so I would be grateful if you would let me know if my submissions are foolish.


Brian Bixley




Politically Correct Pruning

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.410  Tuesday, 6 December 2016


[1] From:        Allston James <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         December 2, 2016 at 2:49:51 PM EST

     Subj:         Re: SHAKSPER: PCing Lear


[2] From:        Nick Ranson <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         December 2, 2016 at 10:50:26 PM EST

     Subj:         Re: SHAKSPER: PCing Lear



From:        Allston James <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         December 2, 2016 at 2:49:51 PM EST

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: PCing Lear


Ref. Lear cuts:


Yes. And while we’re at it, can’t we make those two older sisters a tad less demonic? They must have a good side.


It would seem that poor Shakespeare simply did not recognize or appreciate ‘assertiveness’. . . 


Allston James



From:        Nick Ranson <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         December 2, 2016 at 10:50:26 PM EST

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: PCing Lear


Surely Charles Weinstein is right here: to omit those five words is to reduce the ending of Lear to a shattering banality. The cause of the mayhem in Lear’s kingdom may well be found in his patriarchal values (if that’s what you want). But what is left hanging surely is the partial redemption of Lear as he contemplates the ruin of all he was capable of loving, embodied in the corpse of his favorite daughter. But this does not mean that Lear has completely learnt his lesson: that final image of father and daughter is one of pathos, of suffering rather than of a recognition of his own part in the tragedy. It seems to me another moment of the Shakespearean suspended judgment: a moment when Shakespeare exposes his protagonist to our gaze as one who still has something to learn about his own culpabilities and responsibilities.


Nick Ranson




Plays and Festivals Update

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.409  Tuesday, 6 December 2016


From:        Hardy M. Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:        Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Subject:    Plays and Festivals Update


It is my pleasure to announce that Kristin Backert has sent me an updated Plays and Festivals list before the New Year. 


It is now mounted here:


Please send any corrections or additions directly to Kristen at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.






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