January Rare Book 2013 – Typography Department In-house printing press book

  Rare Book – The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare ( 822.33 SHA)

This rare book is from our selection of in-house printing press books, that are accessible at Maidstone, Canterbury, and Rochester. Rochester and Maidstone printing press books have been digitised and will be shortly available on Turning The Pages Technology. They are of high interest for Graphic Design

In 1947, this edition of The Merchant of Venice was designed and printed by the Typography Department of the Medway School of Art and Crafts, Rochester.  The students, under the direction of the Head of Printing Charles L. Pickering, referred to the first and second quartos as well as Shakespeare’s 1623 first folio to reprint the first scene of Act One. 

The Merchant of Venice, inside cover

The Merchant of Venice, inside cover

The Merchant of Venice, Front Cover

The Merchant of Venice, Front Cover

In the School prospectus for 1946-47, Typography is described as a course ‘for apprentices and journeymen in: Compositors’ Work; Letterpress Machine Work; Layout and Design; Monotype (Keyboard) and Intertype Composition; Costing, Estimation and Administration.’  A Society of Medway Printing Students called ‘Typographia’ was also active.  By producing The Merchant of Venice edition, students learnt the skills of their chosen craft. 

Medway School of Arts and Crafts Prospectus, 1946-1947

Medway School of Arts and Crafts Prospectus, 1946-1947

 The Merchant of Venice was performed by the Chamberlain’s Men during 1596-7, a company which included boy actors who played female parts.  The play first appeared in a printed quarto edition in 1600.  Despite its age, the play is relevant to our lives today through its themes of money, debt and prejudice.

Antonio, the merchant, lends 3000 ducats to his friend Bassanio who wishes to marry Portia.  To help his friend he borrows money from Shylock, a Jewish moneylender.  Failure to repay the loan by a set date will entitle Shylock to a pound of Antonio’s flesh.  Meanwhile, Bassanio successfully passes a test and wins the hand of Portia, while his friend Gratiano marries Portia’s lady-in-waiting, Nerissa.

When Antonio’s ships are lost at sea, he is unable to repay his debt and Shylock takes his claim to court.  Portia, disguised as a young male lawyer, defends Antonio by stressing that Shylock can take his flesh if he can promise not to spill one drop of blood.  It is an impossible task and Shylock is soon being trialled for conspiring against a Venetian.  He is forced to split his wealth between Antonio and the state, convert to Christianity and leave his property to his daughter who has fallen in love with a Christian.

Our Rochester edition was finished during the Spring Term of 1947, a post-war period when the horrors of the Holocaust dramatically altered the play’s reception.  Shakespeare’s treatment of Shylock and the issue of anti-Semitism gained a new contemporary significance, one that could not be ignored in later productions.

One of the play’s most famous quotations, spoken by Antonio, appears in this edition: ‘I hold the world but as the world, Gratiano, | A stage, where every man must play a part, | And mine a sad one.’  Antonio understands the world as a commercial stage in which all men must play a part.

Reviewed by Lynsey Blandford, Library Advisor, Rochester. This book is available at UCA Rochester.

Our other Rare Book Gems can be viewed here

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