1st americanLiterary historian George Churchill, writing in 1906, observed (with a typically imperialist tone) that a “people that is winning the soil out of the wilderness and defending itself against savages has no thought of literature, much less of stage-plays,” and further noted that “Massachusetts was a Puritan state, founded by the kin of those of those men who in England attacked so bitterly the stage of Shakespeare. Pennsylvania was a Quaker colony, and the serious views of the Quaker gave no more countenance to the drama than did the austere and ascetic Calvinism of the Puritan.”

Records indicate that among the first copies of Shakespeare in America were ones bought by New England Courant Editor James Franklin (in 1722), Harvard (in 1723, which had purchased Rowe’s 1709 edition), Yale (which listed an edition in the 1743 library catalogue), and in 1746 by the Library Company of Philadelphia (the Hanmer edition).

The 1795 Philadelphia complete works, which we have in the Watkinson, was the first edition of Shakespeare to be produced outside of Great Britain. Alfred Van Rensselaer Westfall has tentatively identified the editor as Joseph Hopkinson, a prominent Philadelphia lawyer, observing that his work on the edition “leaves little to his credit,” as he hardly did more than “hand the printer a glossary from one edition, the text from a second, and a few notes from a third.” Interestingly, the bulk of the preface is taken up with a defense of Shakespeare’s works against the charge of immorality.

Andrew Murphy, Shakespeare in Print (Cambridge UP, 2003)

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