Wlliam Gilmore Simms
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A Supplement to the Plays of William Shakspeare

Drama | Geo. F. Cooledge & Brother | 1848

           Well-known as a poet, cultural critic, and novelist, William Gilmore Simms’s undertaking of an edited volume of Shakespearean apocrypha seems, at first, odd and atypical.  Yet, throughout his long career, Simms displayed a real interest in the theatre, attempting, often unsuccessfully, to write and stage plays.  His correspondence also shows a recurring concern with the opinions and evaluations of the great Shakespearean actor Edwin Forrest, for whom Simms wrote several dramas, none of which were ever staged.[1]  Taking into account the author’s deep and abiding interest in the great English authors alongside his dramatic aspirations[2], his work on A Supplement to the Plays of William Shakspeare[3], published in 1848 by George F. Cooledge & Brother of New York, is a logical task for a man who desired to be seen as one of the leading men of letters throughout the United States.

           Simms’s interest in this project seems to have its origins in a desire to stage a version of The Tragedy of Locrine, one of the most significant of the Shakespearean apocrypha.  In a letter to James Lawson on 5 August 1845, the author stated that he had “conceived the idea of altering for the Stage the play of ‘Locrine’ imputed to Shakspeare, and have succeeded in manufacturing a first act, out of portion of the 1 & 2 of the original.”[4]  This interest in the “imputed” plays of Shakespeare seemed to grow during an 1847 visit to New York, as he wrote to James Henry Hammond that “there is a copy of Shakspeare in N.Y. (or was) for $20 or $25. which [sic] was unique, being one of the best folio editions & containing all of the imputed plays viz. Locrine, The London Prodigal, Sir Thomas Cromwell, Widow of Watling Street, Sir John Oldcastle &c.… If you come on to N.Y. I can easily show you these things.”[5] These plays, along with The Two Noble Kinsmen and The Yorkshire Tragedy, were published, with Simms’s explanatory notes, as A Supplement to the Plays of William Shakspeare.

           Sometime soon after the discovery of this volume of the Shakespearean apocrypha in New York, Simms began work on A Supplement, as evidenced by a letter of 6 July 1847 to Lawson.  Two months later, on the fifth of September, Simms wrote to Lawson and stated that “I have sent to Cooledge’s all the dramas but one (Locrine) the analysis and correction of which I shall have to delay—wanting certain books in my library.”[6]  While these two letters evidence that he worked quickly at first, the delay over Locrine was to be prophetic.  The work became deeply frustrating to Simms, as evidenced by the exasperated tone of another letter to Lawson, from January 1848:  “[The Shakespeare volume] has been a work of very great labor to me, taxing five times the time I had thought to give it, & vexing & wearing me by its tedious manipulations.  I hope soon to send on the whole of the matter & wash my hands of it,”[7] sentiments that were expressed in several subsequent letters.  Despite the frustration, Simms still wanted to do more work with Shakespeare, noting in April of 1848 that “I contemplate a new & revised version of Shakspeare entire, for which my studies for years have been silently preparing me.”[8]  A Supplement was finally published in the spring of 1848, and received positive reviews.[9]  Despite Simms’s great labor on the project and its positive initial reception, it seems to have never been republished, and remains one of the more obscure texts on which he worked.

           The book features red boards with an ornate stamped frame.  The front cover includes a central gilt stamp of four putti removing a curtain from a profile of Shakespeare.  Back cover does not include this stamp.  The red spine features an ornate gilt stamp of a rose and paisley pattern surrounding A | SUPPLEMENT | TO THE | PLAYS | OF | WILLIAM | SHAKESPEARE  Its title page reads A | SUPPLEMENT TO THE PLAYS | OF | WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE: | COMPRISING | THE SEVEN DRAMAS, | WHICH HAVE BEEN ASCRIBED TO HIS PEN, BUT WHICH ARE NOT INCLUDED | WITH HIS WRITINGS IN MODERN EDITIONS, NAMELY: | [table in two columns] [left column] THE TWO NOBLE KINSMEN, | THE LONDON PRODIGAL, | THOMAS LORD CROMWELL, | SIR JOHN OLDCASTLE,| [vertical rule separating two columns] | [right column] THE PURITAN, OR THE WIDOW | OF WATLING STREET, | THE YORKSHIRE TRAGEDY, | THE TRAGEDY OF LOCRINE. [end table in two columns] EDITED, | WITH NOTES, AND AN INTRODUCTION TO EACH PLAY, | BY WILLIAM GILMORE SIMMS, ESQ. | THE FIRST AMERICAN EDITION. | NEW YORK: | PUBLISHED BY GEORGE F. COOLEDGE & BROTHER, | BOOKSELLERS AND PUBLISHERS, 323 PEARL STREET. | [rule] | 1848.


W. Matthew J. Simmons

[1] Letters, 1:.cv

[2] Several letters throughout his voluminous correspondence show Simms recommending many of the great English writers, as well as comparing the work of his contemporaries to these writers.  Simms also seemed to have an especial investment in Shakespeare, and the idea of the poet as historian and journalist, telling history in a way more nuanced and true than anyone else.  For an example of this, see a letter to J. S. Simms of 22 April 1850; Letters, 5:409-410.

[3] Simms always spelled Shakespeare without the “e” between the k and second s.

[4] Letters, 2:93.  Simms will later share with Lawson that while he has not finished this adaptation, he was hopeful that he would “muster the time and courage” to pass it along to Forrest, who would hopefully perform it.  Letters, 2:214.

[5] Letters, 2:313

[6] Ibid., 346

[7] Ibid.,  392

[8] Ibid., 409.  The editors of the Letters note that this project was never carried out.

[9] Ibid., 397n