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The Farm Boy and the Nonconformist:
A History of the Globe Shakespeare

In order to understand the nature of the Globe, it is helpful to know more about the unlikely pair of men who created it. William George Clark and William Aldis Wright both came from non-elite backgrounds and died at the pinnacle of academic accomplishment, but they shared little in common beyond that and a love of Shakespeare.

In 1821, Clark was born a farmer’s son in Yorkshire, far from the commercial and academic power centers of nineteenth-century Great Britain. He was a promising student at his grammar and public schools, and matriculated at Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1840. Four years later, he was named a fellow at the college, remaining at Trinity until 1873, when he left for health reasons (DNB, “Clark”).

He was ordained by the Church of England in 1853, but abandoned the clerical state in 1870, apparently also for reasons of health (Murphy, 184). His reputation was for classical scholarship, having won a prestigious award in that field as an undergraduate. Clark’s “constant facility and wit in classical composition were much admired” (DNB, “Clark”).

Surprising, then, that this ambitious farm boy would make his name not in the more rarified world of classical scholarship, but in vernacular English. True, his object of study was Shakespeare, whose popularity in nineteenth-century England was unrivaled, but there must have been something that made him want to commit to such an arduous project. Perhaps he appreciated Shakespeare’s use of classical sources in so many of his plays.

Wright, born in 1831, was even more of an outsider than Clark. He was a Baptist, and thus ineligible to receive a university degree. Not only that, he was the son of a Baptist minister in his native Suffolk. Despite his faith, he was admitted to Trinity College in 1849 as a “sub-sizer” (scholarship student). After briefly leaving to teach elsewhere, he returned to Cambridge in 1858 once the university’s religious requirements were rescinded, collected his bachelor’s degree, and earned his M.A. three years later.

Two years after that, Wright was appointed librarian at Trinity, the first of the official university offices he would hold, including senior bursar (treasurer) and vice-master. Sadly, though his contributions to Cambridge were substantial and visible, his faith kept him from receiving a fellowship until 1878, when he was 47 years old. By contrast, Clark was 23 when he was named a fellow.

Wright “neither taught nor lectured,” says his Dictionary of National Biography entry. “Few undergraduates ventured to speak to him, and even the younger fellows of his college were kept at a distance by the austere precision of his manner. His old-fashioned courtesy made him a genial host, but his circle of chosen friends was small” (DNB, “Wright”).

Combining a keen mind and an indefatigable work ethic, Wright’s career was long and productive. Two editions of Shakespeare were guided by Wright. The first was the nine-volume Cambridge Shakespeare (1863-6), from which one-volume Globe Shakespeare was derived. Also, he co-edited with Clark the first four Clarendon Press volumes of Shakespeare, each of which was devoted to a single play. For six years he worked on a project that became the Oxford Chaucer, but stopped when his administrative responsibilities became too onerous. He edited six volumes of various authors’ writings, and led the Journal of Philology from its inception in 1868 until 1913. (DNB, “Wright”).

The rest of his career was similarly fruitful. His publishing interests included biblical commentary — he was conversant in ancient Hebrew and Greek — Milton, and Tennyson. A bachelor his entire life, he died in the same rooms he first occupied when he was working with Clark on the Cambridge and Globe Shakespeares (DNB, “Wright”). By the time of his death in 1914, Wright was worth over ₤75,000, the equivalent of ₤4.4 million today (Officer). Not bad for a former scholarship student.

Globe Shakespeare, 1867 printing
The 1867 American printing of
the Globe Shakespeare

In 1863, when the two began editing the Cambridge Shakespeare, Clark was a 42-year-old Anglican minister, while Wright, 32, remained a nonconformist Baptist. By then, Clark had been a fellow of Trinity College for almost two decades, a status Wright was denied because of religious politics. Clark had a reputation for being “warm and loyal,” Wright for being aloof. Clark traveled as much as he could, and wrote two full-length books about his journeys, one of which had the whimsical title “Gazpacho,” after the cold soup he consumed on his trip across Spain. Wright, who in modern parlance would be called a “workaholic,” had too many administrative duties for such diversions.

Even their scholarly interests diverged significantly. Clark’s lifelong project was the works of Aristophanes, and he had a predilection for the Greek classics. Wright cut his teeth working for William Smith and his Dictionary of the Bible, and he returned to biblical subjects throughout his career. Yet despite their superficial dissimilarities, over four years the two men collaborated on more than 884,000 words spoken by over 1,200 characters (Johnson), along with critical annotations.

The Cambridge Shakespeare’s intended readership was upscale readers who could afford the ₤9 price for all nine volumes, equivalent to about $100 today ( Taylor, 184). Clark and Wright’s project attracted the attention of Alexander Macmillan, a Scottish publisher with a sharp business sense, who judged that the public was ready for a Shakespeare edition with the imprimatur of Cambridge University professors. Macmillan wrote to a friend in 1864, asking him if he thought such an edition, priced at three shillings and sixpence ($19 today), could sell 50,000 copies in three years. The name Macmillan chose, “Globe Shakespeare,” was a double entendre — a transparent reference to Shakespeare’s theater, but as he explained, “I want to give the idea that we aim at great popularity — that we are doing this book for the million, without saying it.” Clark and Wright registered their mild objections to the name, preferring the clunkier “Hand Shakespeare,” but the publisher won out (Murphy, 175-6), and in 1864, the Globe’s first 20,000-copy print run rolled off Macmillan’s presses.

The Globe did not sell the 50,000 copies in three years — it sold double that number. All told, in its forty-seven-year printing career, the Globe sold almost a quarter-million volumes. Other publishers rushed to exploit the market that Macmillan had opened, and by 1868, there were three editions of the complete works costing only a shilling apiece ($5). One volume, from publisher, John Dicks, sold 700,000 copies of his shilling Shakespeare (Murphy, 176-8).

At least two factors made this consumption explosion possible. First, there was nationalistic sentiment, on the rise long before Shakespeare wrote Henry V, and which accelerated as Britain repeatedly collided with other expansionistic European powers. Nationalism encouraged the appreciation of native-born authors, and Shakespeare, as the pre-eminent English author, benefited from that most of all. Also, the market for Shakespeare increased as British reading public swelled, and the resulting demand caused book prices to drop an astonishing 40% from 1828-53 (Taylor, 183-4). Theatergoers, the mass audience of Shakespeare’s time, had been transformed into book readers by the mid-nineteenth century.

Cheap Shakespeares flourished before the Globe, too, with 162 editions published in the 1850s alone (184). Yet “[n]o other edition,” Taylor observes, “has achieved a comparable permanence,” either before or after its release (185). Its influence can be measured not only in its sales figures, but in other ways as well. The Globe spawned “many reprint editions” (Murphy 176-7), and major derivative works such as Alexander Schmidt’s 1886 Shakespeare Lexicon and Bartlett’s 1894 Concordance to Shakespeare, both based on the Globe’s text. These works caused Wright to “retain the original numbering of the lines,” as he wrote in the 1911 revised edition, “so as not to disturb the references” in those two books (Shakespeare [1911], x).

Other competing editions paid homage to the Globe by borrowing from it. The single-play volumes of the New Hudson Shakespeare (begun 1906) contain “a collation of the seventeenth century Folios, the Globe edition, and that of Delius,” and acknowledged their debt to “Dr. William Aldis Wright and Dr. Horace Furness, whose work in Shakespearean criticism, research, and collating, has made all subsequent editors and investigators their eternal bondmen” (Shakespeare, Black and George, iii-iv). The New Hudson’s texts use the Globe’s numbering for citations, except when the commentary refers to the play in question, in which case it uses the New Hudson’s internal numbering.

Harcourt, Brace and Company surveyed English professors in 1948 to see whether they preferred the Globe or a new edition based on “the latest scholarship,” and the scholars preferred the former “in a landslide” (Murphy, 206). G.B. Harrison’s 1952edition used the Globe as its base text, amending it only for “current American usage in spelling, punctuation, and capitalization.” Three years later, the eminent Columbia professor Mark Van Doren wrote an introduction for a volume of four Shakespearean comedies, all of which came straight from the Globe/Cambridge collection as well.

Burton Stevenson’s 1953 Standard Book of Shakespeare Quotations accepted the Globe as the reigning standard as well, not least because Bartlett’s Concordance used it:

In a few instances where recent scholarship has corrected or amended a wrong reading, or where a slip in the text has been discovered (for even the Globe occasionally nods), the new or corrected reading has been used. A special effort has been made to secure accuracy of the text by faithfully checking the proofs word by word with the Globe text and, wherever there seemed to be any obscurity or error, rechecking wit with the text prepared by Mr. A. H. Bullen for the Shakespeare Head edition. (Foreward)

As late as 1974, the Riverside edition followed its act and scene divisions (Murphy, 206). The line numbering scheme persisted into the late twentieth century, as the Norton Facsimile Edition used its numbering, as did the Shakespeare Association Quarto Facsimiles (Variorum, 13). These examples indicate why Taylor called Clark and Wright’s edition the “standard of reference for anyone who read Shakespeare in English,” and credited it for establishing “Shakespeare” as the official way to spell the poet’s name (Murphy, 191).

The multi-volume Clarendon edition, begun by Clark and Wright in 1868 and continued by Wright and others, was the scholarly follow-on to the Globe and enjoyed a parallel success in the academy. Its run did not end until Midsummer Night’s Dream was declared out of print in 1955, eighty-seven years after the series began and forty-two years after Wright’s death (185).

Clark and Wright were the right men at the right place and time to produce a mass-market scholarly edition of Shakespeare. Their upbringings brought them into contact with the middle and lower classes, which had taken up reading as a leisure activity. Their academic editorial training gave them the intellectual tools to address their texts, and their status as professors lent an “official” status to the Globe Shakespeare.