Johnson and Shakespeare

Date and time

7 Aug 2015 09:30 to 9 Aug 2015 17:00


Pembroke College

Conference to Mark the Two Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the Publication of Samuel Johnson’s 'The Plays of William Shakespeare'

The publication of Samuel Johnson’s edition of Shakespeare on 10 October 1765 was an important event in his own life and in the history of the editing of Shakespeare. This conference, held at Johnson's college, Pembroke College, Oxford, will invite perspectives from Shakespearians and Johnsonians, and explore the interplay of sameness and difference, restoration and innovation, in Johnson's work. It will reassess Johnson’s achievement as a critic and textual editor by revisiting established contexts and developing new ones.

Johnson’s Shakespeare edition was an intervention in a discipline notable for the heat of its disputes. It was preceded not only by Rowe’s Shakespeare (1709, the first modern edition) but by Pope’s (1725), Theobald’s (1733), Hanmer’s (1743/4), and Warburton’s (1747). A central aspect of Johnson’s achievement was his capacity for viewing the work of different editors as potentially collaborative; his edition has sometimes been called the first variorum edition of Shakespeare. Boswell, who had reservations about Johnson’s success, praised the Preface for judiciously ‘bestowing . . . deserved and indisputable praise’ on Shakespeare while ‘candidly admitting the faults’, and the commentary for exhibiting ‘such a mode of annotation, as may be beneficial to all subsequent editors’.

The plenary speakers will be:

  • Jenny Davidson (Professor of English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University)
  • Joseph Roach (Sterling Professor of Theater at Yale University)
  • Henry Woudhuysen (Rector of Lincoln College, Oxford, and General Editor of the Arden Shakespeare)

Lectures and panels will be supported by exhibitions in the Bodleian and Pembroke College Libraries, a tour of Johnsonian Oxford, an informal reading performance of Johnson’s play Irene, and a recital of Shakespearean music.

The organising committee (Michael Bundock, John Church, Robert DeMaria Jr, James McLaverty, Lynda Mugglestone, and Tiffany Stern) can be contacted by emailing Lynda Mugglestone.

For more information, and to book places please visit the Conference website.