Prologue to Dryden’s adaptation of Troilus and Cressida

John Dryden
London: Printed for Jacob Tonson at the Judges-Head in Chancery-lane near Fleet-street, and Abel Swall, at the Unicorn at the Wes-end of S. Pauls, 1679

Acclaimed contemporary actor Thomas Betterton appears on-stage and delivers a prologue of 40-lines introducing himself as the “awfull ghost” of William Shakespeare. In the long prose preface to the adaptation, Dryden compares Shakespeare to Aeschylus for “noble boldness of expression,” “lofty and heroick,” “daring to extravagance.” He is a “more Masculine, a bolder and more fiery Genius” than Fletcher. Likewise, then, in the prologue, Shakespeare the Ghost introduces his play as “rough-drawn” but full of “Master-strokes,” “manly” and “bold.” He describes himself as “untaught,” “untutored,” creating theatre in England out of his own “abundance” in the midst of a “barbarous Age.” Like “fruitfull Britain,” he is “rich without supply,” i.e. without importing any “store” from abroad. He decries the feebleness of his successors in the present age and says that their “insipid stuff” would be more fitting to a “Judge or Alderman”: “dullness is decent in the Church and State.” —PG

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Measure for Measure

or, Beauty the best advocate as it is acted at the theatre in Lincolns-Inn-Fields: written originally by Mr. Shakespear, and now very much alter’d, with additions of several entertainments of musick
Charles Gildon
London: Printed for D. Brown at the Black Swan without Temple-Bar and R. Parker at the Unicorn under the Royal Ex-change in Cornhill, 1700

The “very much alter’d” production of Measure for Measure, includes an epilogue “spoken by Mr. Verbruggen” (the actor John Verbruggen) as the ghost of Shakespeare. Here we have Shakespeare the Critic, commenting on contemporary theatre. Interestingly, the Ghost does not complain about the altering of his text, but rather that only a few actors—Mr. Verbruggen among them, we assume—are worthy of acting in his plays. —VH

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The Jew of Venice

A comedy. As it is acted at the Theatre in Little-Inn-Fields, by His Majesty’s servants
George Granville, Lord Lansdowne
London: Printed for Ber. Lintott at the Post-House in the Middle Temple-Gate, Fleetstreet. Prologue by Bevil Higgons, 1701

This adaptation of the Merchant of Venice includes a prologue in which the ghosts of Dryden and Shakepeare “arise Crown’d with Lawrel” to discuss current theatre. Dryden disdains English audiences who only want to see French farces about men loving men or women pursuing women. Shakespeare says “these crimes” were unknown in his “less polished age.” Some commentators have interpreted this scene as an attempt to impose eighteenth-century morals on Shakespeare and quash any notion of the homoerotic in his works. In another eighteenth-century imposition, Shakespeare is made to praise his emendators, who have “adorn’d and refin’d” his “rude Sketches.” —VH

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Prologue to the Subscribers for Julius Caesar

Spoken by Mr. Betterton. Written by Mr. John Dennis
John Dennis
Muses Mercury, January 1707

In his prologue, the ghost of Shakespeare serves as a patriotic force, welcoming English audiences to a performance of Julius Caesar, which he suggests might provide the English with inspiration to prevail over hostile contemporary nations. John Dennis puts his political statement in the mouth of Shakespeare, who compares Caesar to Philip II of Spain. ―FCR

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Don Sancho

or, The students whim, A ballad opera of two acts, with Minerva’s triumph, a masque
Elizabeth Boyd
London: Printed by G. Parker, at the Star in Salisbury-Court, and sold by C. Corbet at Addison’s Head over-against St. Dunstan’s Church Fleet-Street, and the booksellers of London and Westminster, 1739

In a garden in Oxford, the necromancer Don Sancho helps student Joe Curious [sic] and his friends resurrect Shakespeare. Shakespeare, who is accompanied by Dryden, does not appreciate the effort. Somewhat miffed at having been dragged from his heavenly bliss, he does not tarry, asking that they never again disturb the “happy Bard.”

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Queen Tragedy restor’d: a dramatick entertainment

Mrs. Hoper
London: Printed for W. Owen, 1749

A member of “Shakespeare’s Ladies,” a literary club founded in 1736 to promote performances of his works, Mrs. Hoper penned her own theatre piece in which Queen Tragedy (played by Mrs. Hoper herself) languishes and cannot be revived until the ghost of Shakespeare rises to speak in the epilogue. Shakespeare’s Ladies Club supported good theatre, but, by all accounts of its two-day run, Mrs. Hoper’s play did nothing to further the cause. —VH

Memoirs of the Shakespear’s-Head in Covent Garden

In which are introduced many entertaining adventures, and several remarkable characters
The Ghost of Shakespeare
London: Printed for, and sold by, F. Noble, at his Circulating Library in King-Street, Covent-Garden, and J. Noble, at his Circulating Library in St. Martin’s-Court, near Leicester-Square, 1755

This early portrayal uses the ghost of Shakespeare as a guide for a series of amusing scenes and character sketches. The premise, however, is that Shakespeare is in some kind of purgatory for youthful crimes and indiscretions. As punishment, he has been wandering this earth “for two hundred and sixty moons past,” observing what fools these mortals be. –VH

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The Visitation

or, an interview between the ghost of Shakespear and D-v-d G-rr–k, Esq.
Anonymous
London: printed for the author, and sold at C. Corbett’s State-Lottery-Office, opposite St. Dunstan’s Church, Fleet-Street, and by the pamphlet shops in London and Westminster, 1755

This brief poem indicates that the famous Shakespearean actor David Garrick had accrued some detractors by 1755. Indeed, he cuts a cowardly figure when the spirit of Shakespeare appears to him in this visitation (“the little hero” is “struck with Fear … mad like Lear”). The Bard chastises Garrick for his “haughty Spirit” and the introduction of dances, music, and other distractions into performances of his plays. Garrick forswears dance, pantomime, and airs, promising to perform Shakespeare’s plays as Shakespeare wrote them. —VH

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Garrick in the Shades

or A Peep into Elysium, a Farce never offered to the managers of the Theatres-Royal
Anonymous
London: Printed for J. Southern in St James’s Street, 1779

The ghost of David Garrick is in Elysium discussing his career on earth with other poets and actors. Garrick wishes to know what the ghost of Shakespeare, “a poet whose works have made him immortal,” thinks of his (Garrick’s) career devoted to promoting the Bard’s plays. He is told that Shakespeare’s ghost has declared that Garrick had exploited him and his fame in order to satisfy his own monstrous avarice. Though extensively quoted, the ghost of Shakespeare does not actually appear in the farce. ―FCR

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