Discovering Shakespeare’s Personal Style: Editing and Connoisseurship in the Eighteenth Century

King, Edmund G. C. (2017). Discovering Shakespeare’s Personal Style: Editing and Connoisseurship in the Eighteenth Century. In: Depledge, Emma and Kirwan, Peter eds. Canonising Shakespeare: Stationers and the Book Trade, 1640–1740. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 130–142.




This chapter examines the use of connoisseurial rhetoric by Shakespeare editors and critics over the course of the eighteenth century, beginning with Alexander Pope in 1723–5 and concluding with George Steevens in the 1780s and 1790s. Connoisseurship was originally developed by art critics as a discourse for authenticating paintings and drawings. Beginning with Pope, however, literary editors began to draw upon it as an analogy for representing authorial style. As I shall show through an examination of Steevens’s work in compiling the first chronological catalogue of William Hogarth’s prints and paintings, this convergence between art criticism and textual criticism involved more than a simple exchange of metaphors. Connoisseurship offered critics such as Steevens new ways of looking at artworks and assessing their genuineness, modes of vision that could be applied as readily to plays as to paintings. The eighteenth-century art market relied upon the expertise of the connoisseur, who could guarantee that a given painting stemmed from the hand of a particular master. Shakespeare publishing in the eighteenth century likewise came to depend on the expertise of the editor, who could reliably identify Shakespeare’s personal style and distinguish the genuine from the spurious.

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