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SHAKESPEARE, William.

The Tragedy of Hamlet Prince of Denmark.

As it is now Acted at his Highness the Duke of York's Theatre.

London: printed by Andr. Clark for J. Martyn and H. Herringman, 1676 Stock Code: 110109
£52,500.00
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Davenant's celebrated revival of Hamlet, with the first female Ophelia, Mary Betterton

First Davenant edition and the sixth edition overall; there is another edition dated 1676, with the imprint in five lines, though in fact printed c.1683-4 for Richard Bentley.

As manager of the Duke of York's theatre, Sir William Davenant (1606-1668) was in a unique position with regard to the staging of Shakespeare, as his father, John Davenant, had seen the play acted in Shakespeare's day: "Sir William's father, the devotee of Shakespeare, had probably left London just before the first performance of Hamlet at the Globe on Bankside; he would certainly have seen it at Oxford by 1603 (title-page, first quarto). Later on he no doubt told his young son about the production: thus William Davenant, the man mainly responsible for the return of Shakespeare's plays to the London stage at the Restoration, would have had the unique advantage of hearing a firsthand account of how Richard Burbage played the prince. By 1661 Shakespeare had been dead for nearly half a century; his language would have seemed old-fashioned, his plots were unfamiliar, and tastes had changed. Davenant's version of Hamlet (printed 1676) was severely cut - largely of course because of its length - and some of its diction altered in the supposed interest of clarity and intelligibility. However, the power of the play prevailed. Pepys, who was at the first performance, wrote that it was 'done with Scenes very well. But above all, Batterton sic did the Prince's part beyond imagination'. Mary Saunderson later Mrs Betterton, then aged about twenty-five, played Ophelia, her first Shakespearian role in a career which, to quote Colley Cibber, 'was to the last, the Admiration of all true Judges of Nature and Lovers of Shakespeare'. John Downes prompter for the Duke of York's company reports in his Roscius Anglicanus that 'No succeeding Tragedy for several Yeares got more Reputation, or Money to the Company'" (ODNB).

Although Davenant cut lines from the performance they are retained here but marked with speech marks "so that we may no way wrong the incomparable Author" (Davenant's "To the Reader"). This recension is also referred to as "Betterton's edition" because it "purports to provide the text as Betterton acted it... typical of such 'player's editions,' it includes a cast list in which Betterton's name is given for the title role" (Alan R. Young, Hamlet and the Visual Arts, 1709-1900, 2002, p. 23). Thomas Betterton (bap. 1635-1710) is generally considered the greatest English actor between Burbage and Garrick but "because no record of day-to-day reception survives, he remains an obstinately shadowy titan" (ODNB).

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Description

Quarto (203 x 143 mm), pp. [4], 88. Collation: A2, B-M4. Recent brown roan to style, decorative gilt spine, red morocco label, gilt panelled sides, red speckled edges, marbled endpapers.

Condition

Small tear (repaired) to lower corner of title touching one letter in imprint, pale discolouring from old wax stain on pp. 43-46, a few other skilful small repairs in gutter of a few leaves. Contemporary marginal annotations at p. 85 (adding "aside" against a couple of lines for the King and Laertes, clearly showing familiarity with the play).

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