This online exhibit, generated using images from the Prints in the Parlor cataloging and digitization project, considers the ways William Shakespeare (1564-1616) was pictured inside the covers of literary annuals and gift books in the nineteenth-century.
The first American illustrated Shakespeare did not appear until the years 1844-7 with Gulian C. Verplanck’s Shakespeare’s Plays. But visually the subjects portrayed by England’s national poet captured the still culturally-dependent young republic. American-born painter Washington Allston (1779-1843), for instance, famously depicted A Midsummer Night’s Dream characters in his Hermia and Helena painted around 1815. Even though the performed plays themselves remained prized attractions, the books and print culture grew exponentially as the century progressed. As Virginia Mason Vaughan states “audiences who loved Shakespeare on stage wanted to read him at home.”1 It should come as no surprise that throughout gifts book’s heyday, from the 1820s through the years of the American Civil War, it was continually a subject visited. These texts contained richly illustrated scenes with excerpts and poems by Shakespeare. In his 1836 essay, "Advantages and Disadvantages of Foreign Influence on American Literature, Henry David Thoreau states of English writers like Shakespeare “True, we have declared our independence, and gained our liberty, but we have dissolved only the political bands which connected us with Great Britain…she still supplies us with food for the mind.”2 Indeed – and also visuals for the eyes.
Highlighted here are several themes pulled from this subset of visual material – each representative of more prints within the collection. These themes are women, re-using Shakespeare, comedies and imagining the man. Each of these sections features four representative images and a general introduction to connect users with the image resource. With each image is a detail, an option to enlarge and view the entire page, selected information and a link to the AAS bibliographic record which has a description, size, publisher, book and additional information.