English and Drama blog

3 posts from December 2012

13 December 2012

Blockheads and coxcombs: a belated bicentenary mention for Edmond Malone

Today’s blog post is somewhat delayed … by a little over six months. One thing and another prevented me from posting this in the spring but I’ve been spurred into writing it for a couple of reasons: firstly because I’ve recently been taking a closer look at some of the British Library’s unique Shakespeare material; and, secondly, because 2012 has clearly been the year of literary bicentenaries and I have to get in before it ends.

Dickens, Lear and Browning have perhaps sapped everyone’s enthusiasm for 200 year anniversaries, but I was a little surprised when 25 May passed and no one had mentioned Edmond Malone. Maybe I wasn’t looking in the right places but the least I expected was a nod in his direction on Twitter.

Malone, that eminent man of letters, died on 25 May 1812. He was the last of the great 18th-century Shakespeare editors; in fact, his entry in the Dictionary of National Biography records him as the greatest of them all, leaving Messrs. Steevens, Johnson, Theobald, Pope, Rowe and Capell in his dust.

The British Library holds a good number of Malone-related books and manuscripts but the item that caught my eye is a copy of the Edward Capell-edited Mr William Shakespeare his comedies, histories, and tragedies (London, 1768 – shelfmark C.60.g.10). It’s a fairly common edition but what sets this copy apart is the fact that it was once owned by Malone. In fact, it may well be the copy that he refers to in his Second appendix of 1783, when he writes that ‘I had lately to look into his [Capell’s] volumes'.

Annotated throughout, but particularly in the introduction, it’s a great example of the one-upmanship, jealousy and general bickering that wasn’t uncommon among the big Shakespeare guns of the 18th century (in William Shakespeare: the critical heritage (vol. 6, 1995), Brian Vickers describes it as ‘full of virulent abuse’). Malone wasn’t shy in criticising his fellow Shakespeareans – he publicly derided Capell’s work – but as can be seen from the following examples he reserved his most biting comments for his private jottings.

Where to begin? On p.8 Capell is described as an ‘absurd coxcomb’ for the way he lists Shakespeare’s plays:

Absurd coxcomb
This absurd coxcomb has been misunderstood here ...

On p.67 Malone throws in a sarcastic dig about Capell’s outdated assertion that there is no source for The Taming of the Shrew. To which Malone responds:

Except a play with the same title, containing all the great outlines of Shakspeare's comedy!!!!

I wonder if the four exclamation marks indicate the pleasure Malone took in making this correction, for he and Capell had history with this play. In 1779 Malone purchased a 1607 edition of The Taming of a Shrew (now in the Beinecke, Malone 152), a purchase that Capell begged Malone to give to him, even offering three earlier Shakespeare quartos in exchange. Malone refused, writing on the back of the title-page, ‘Mr Capel for 30 years searched for one in vain'.

Malone’s bluntest comment can be found on p.44. In response to Capell’s assertion that Shakespeare may have written Titus Andronicus, Malone writes:

Would not any one but this blockhead have concluded from the very arguments that he himself brings, viz from T. Andronicus exactly resembling these wretched plays, The Wars of Cyrus etc. in the style of versification, that it was written by some one of the authors of those pieces, and not by Shakspeare?

In this instance hindsight hasn’t really worked out in Malone’s favour.

So, when were these uncomplimentary musings jotted down? At a point when both men were at the top of their games? In jealous response to a scholarly triumph by Capell? Amazingly, just a few months after Capell’s death in 1781. Malone’s introductory notes, dated 20 June 1781, mention his rival’s death, together with another set of four exclamation marks which seemingly ridicule the pace of the recently-deceased man's work:

At length death over took him Feby. 24 1781, and the work is not yet finished!!!!

Actually, perhaps it was a good idea for me to delay this post. It's not exactly the most celebratory portrayal of Malone!!!!

11 December 2012

Privates on Parade- Theatre of War

Peter Nichols’s Privates on Parade (with music by Denis King) opened on Monday night at the Noel Coward Theatre, and has been garnering rave 5* reviews from the print press this week; good enough to raise a smile on even this (faux-) grumpiest of playwright’s faces.



Having enjoyed the final preview of Privates on Saturday (the title doesn’t disappoint, incidentally, with no lack of Privates’ privates on parade), I went back to Nichols archive in the British Library this week to look again at the papers relating to the play. Peter’s archive is a key component of our post-War British theatre collections– although his wickedly subversive formal experimentation marks him out from many of the more formally cautious social realist writers of the period.

The first item in the folders relating to Privates (British Library Additional MSS 78985-78988) is a glossy hotel brochure for the Merlin Hotel Group: ‘a most exciting holiday experience in Malaysia and Singapore’ with ‘a standard of service that makes you feel really important’. The ‘standard of service’ the brochure promises British visitors to Malaysia in the 1980s is a far cry from Peter’s play, set during the Malayan ‘Emergency’ in 1948, although the region’s post-war economic miracle is cheekily signposted in Michael Grandage’s new production. 
The play follows an entertainment unit called SADUSEA (Song And Dance Unit South East Asia), a fictitious version of the real-life Combined Services Entertainments Unit in Singapore, in which Nichols entertained the troops between 1946 and 1947. As Peter recently recalled, his unit toured a show called ‘At Your Service’

‘We’re men of the service,

We’re at your service - Entertaining you’

around mainland Malaya and Hong Kong to uninterested conscripts, unaware that the show’s performers included soon-to-be stars such as Stanley Baxter and Kenneth Williams. Privates on Parade reworks these memories into a rambunctious ‘Play with Songs’, which balances the narrative of their mission to track down Communist rebels in the jungle, and the stage world of the group’s performances – a separate play within a play that casts the audience as the show’s spectators.

The play was written in the mid 1970s, although some of the set-pieces drew on earlier sketches that Peter devised for end-of-term revues while working as a schoolteacher in the late 1940s (see ADD MS 78985), and the several stages of drafting and redrafting are documented in the archive.


The play was first performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Aldwych Theatre, London, in February 1977, where the star role of flamboyantly camp Captain Terri Denis

‘You dare to speak to an officer like that, and I’ll scream the place down’

was played by the late Denis Quilley, and the fanatically austere Major Flack by the late Nigel Hawthorne (programmes in MS ADD 79185).



It’s the first time that the play has run in the West End for many years (Michael Grandage directed an earlier production with Roger Allam at the Donmar a decade ago), and it remains a subversively sly, wholeheartedly entertaining evening that is well worth catching.

Peter has talked more about his work, including Privates on Parade, for the Theatre Archive Project (Peter talks about Privates on Parade from ca. 8'50" from the player below)


Peter Nichols_Part 1 of 2


03 December 2012

Some gratuitous Christmas illustrations

In honour of December, the month when we can officially begin to get excited about Christmas, I thought I would post some festive illustrations from the British Library’s Dexter Collection of Dickensiana. It is also a fitting way to round off Dickens’s bicentenary year.

Dickens was a great champion of Christmas. The Christmas stories he wrote captured the holiday spirit for his own and future generations. By the start of the 19th century, Christmas had rather fallen out of fashion among certain quarters of society and it was by no means universally celebrated. It was the immortalisation of Christmas tradition in print that largely helped to reinvigorate the festive season. By depicting an aspirational Christmas in literature, Dickens and his contemporaries (such as Thackeray and Gaskell) helped to shape and promote the Victorian ideal of Christmas as a time of joy and benevolence.

Mr fezziwig's ballDex 293(1)

A Christmas carol in prose: being a ghost story of Christmas / by Charles Dickens ; with illustrations by John Leech (London : Chapman & Hall, 1843)

‘Mr Fezziwig’s Ball’

To the extent possible under law, British Library has waived all copyright and related or neighbouring rights to Mr Fezziwig's Ball.

Even though Dickens can’t be credited with inventing Christmas, it is hard to separate him from the idea of a Victorian Christmas – he was, after all a Christmas print trendsetter. A Christmas Carol was phenomenally successful and John Leech’s illustrations contributed immensely to the book's charm.

See this on Images Online


Marley's ghostDex 293(1)

A Christmas carol in prose: being a ghost story of Christmas / by Charles Dickens; with illustrations by John Leech (London: Chapman & Hall, 1843)

‘Marley’s ghost’

Public Domain Mark
This work (Marley's ghost, by John Leech), identified by British Library, is free of known copyright restrictions.

Ghost stories at Christmas had long been an oral tradition by the time Dickens employed them in his writings. The cold and the dark drove families to gather round the hearth, and the shadows cast by the fire suggested an excellent setting for sharing ghostly tales.

See this on Images Online


The Christmas scenes depicted in the Pickwick Papers were full of nostalgia and have inspired numerous artists to illustrate them…

Dex 310(18) - col. pickwick

Dex 310(18). On the back is written ‘box cover holding stationery c. 1880-82'.


Public Domain Mark
This work identified by British Library, is free of known copyright restrictions.

Dex 311(11)

Dex 311(11).

Six original illustrations, to bind with the Volume of The Cheap Edition of The “Pickwick Papers,” engraved on wood, from drawings by “Phiz” (London: Chapman & Hall, [1847])

From a series of six designs issued as ‘extra plates’ issued separately from but simultaneously with the first cheap edition of Pickwick.

Public Domain Mark
This work (The kiss under the mistletoe, by Hablot Knight Browne), identified by British Library, is free of known copyright restrictions.


RB.23.a.22587, p.296 pickwick

Dex 53

The Posthumous papers of the Pickwick Club ...

(London: Chapman & Hall, 1837 [1836, 37].)

‘Christmas Eve at Mr Wardle’s’ illustrated by Phiz







Public Domain Mark
This work (Christmas Eve at Mr Wardle’s, by Hablot Knight Browne), identified by British Library, is free of known copyright restrictions.

Dex 311 - cheap ed 1847



Dex 311(10)

Pickwickian illustrations / by William Heath.

(London: T. McLean, [1837])

‘Blindman’s Buff’ (Chapter XXVIII)




Public Domain Mark
This work (Blindman’s Buff, by William Heath), identified by British Library, is free of known copyright restrictions.

Other Christmas scenes by Dickens’s illustrators …

Leech Mistletoe

Dex 257

Pictures by John Leech. Second series (London: Gowans & Gray, 1910, p.27)





Public Domain Mark
British Library, is free of known copyright restrictions.

This comic illustration was originally drawn for Punch magazine – to which Leech was a regular contributor.


Dex 243 Phiz

Dex 243

Christmas Day and how it was spent by four persons in the House of Fograss, Fograss, Mowton, and Snorton, Bankers / Christian Le Ros (pseudo. William J. Sorrell) ;  illustrated by Phiz (London: Routledge, 1854)



Public Domain Mark
British Library, is free of known copyright restrictions.

Hablot Knight Browne (aka “Phiz”) illustrated many of Dickens’s

+++works. His distinctive style is used to great effect in this Christmas book from 1854.


Book of Christmas p.2271568/2302

The Book of Christmas / by Thomas Hervey ; with illustrations by Robert Seymour (London : William Spooner, 1836)

Public Domain Mark
This work identified by British Library, is free of known copyright restrictions.

Seymour was the original illustrator for Pickwick. The Book of Christmas described Christmas practices and folklore, such as caroling, traditional Christmas games and fare. Seymour’s illustrations are more Regency in style and the characters he draws are uglier and more forlorn than the Victorian Christmas illustrations championed by Dickens’s later illustrators. The warm Christmas hearth depicted here is menacing rather than safe and loving.

So there we go – I claim no comprehensiveness in my list. Dickens wrote numerous Christmas stories, many of which were illustrated; he was also not alone in his penchant for creating festive stories and many a fine Victorian Christmas story can be found as a result (quite a few of them have ghosts in, which makes them even better).

Merry Christmas to us all.


Andrea Lloyd

Curator, Printed Literary Sources 1801-1914



Collected by John Furber Dexter, The Dexter collection, which was purchased by the British Museum in 1969, contains a wealth of printed material relating to, as well as editions of, the works of Charles Dickens (1812-1870). The collection has been microfilmed (Mic.B.613/1-93), and access to the originals restricted. Charles Dickens, the JF Dexter collection: accessions to the general catalogue of printed books, manuscripts, prints and drawings(London, 1974). * Copy in Rare Books and Music Reading Room at RAR 823.8, and in Manuscripts Reading Room at MSS 823.8. Another copy in British Library stacks at B.S.10/434