Cambridge: J. Burges, Printer to the University, 1796-1797. Two octavo volumes bound in one, measuring 8 x 5 inches: , 44; , 85, . Recent full polished calf, boards tooled in blind with a floral border, spine decoratively tooled in gilt, red morocco spine label lettered in gilt. Bound without half-title for Appendix. Inscribed by Plumptre to William Richardson on half-title of Observations and title of Appendix. Publisher’s advertisement on final page of Appendix.
First editions of these historical Shakespeare studies by James Plumptre (1771-1832), a young playwright and fellow at Clare Hall, Cambridge, later a clergyman. Plumptre argues, through an elaborate series of parallels, that the character of Gertrude in Hamlet is intended as a critique of Mary Queen of Scots, who like Gertrude remarried hastily under a cloud. Plumptre characterizes Hamlet as an effort by Shakespeare to secure the approval of Elizabeth I, “to flatter his mistress by adding his drop to the flood of calumny poured out against her rival.” The final page of the Appendix advertises Plumptre’s first two plays, The Coventry Act: A Comedy (1793) and Osway: A Tragedy (1795), as well as a forthcoming two-part drama entitled Mary Queen of Scots, which was apparently never published. Bound in a single volume, these presentation copies of Observations of Hamlet and its Appendix are both inscribed to literary scholar William Richardson (1743-1814) at the University of Glasgow. Richardson’s Philosophical Analysis and Illustration of Some of Shakespeare’s Remarkable Characters appeared in 1774, and featured a chapter on Hamlet. These Plumptre essays are uncommon. I have been unable to locate an extant presentation copy of either work, and neither title has appeared at auction since 1973. A near-fine pair of presentation copies, handsomely bound in period style by Philip Dusel.