This essay concerns Victorian debates about how best to commemorate Shakespeare at the tercentenary of his birth in 1864. Victorian enthusiasm for Shakespeare was all but ubiquitous, but it evolved in unpredictable ways. The National Shakespeare Committee’s proposal for a Shakespeare statue, for instance, ended in controversy and failure. By contrast, alternative forms of commemoration enjoyed notable success, such as Howard Staunton’s serialized facsimile of the First Folio (1864–66). Both the controversy and its potential resolution in Staunton’s Folio are revealed in essays published in the Reader, a short-lived literary weekly. Staunton’s facsimile came to be regarded by the Reader and commentators in other periodicals as the most apposite of tercentenary monuments. It remade the First Folio for middle-class Victorian readers, trading on the prestige of the First Folio and remaking a high-end book version of Shakespeare in the image of ‘shilling monthly’ serial literature. Taken together, the Tercentenary monument controversies and the Staunton Folio show the Victorian relationship to Shakespeare to be less settled than we have previously appreciated.
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