This post was written by Nazlin Bhimani of the UCL Institute of Education Newsam Library and cross-posted from the Newsam Library’s news page.


The Droeshout Portrait of William Shakespeare, from the First Folio

Last week was the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.  To commemorate the event, UCL Library Services have an exhibition Fair play and foul: connecting with Shakespeare in the Main Library.  The exhibition aims to bring together historical resources connected with Shakespeare and learning from UCL’s Special Collections and the Special Collections, Archives and Curriculum Resources held at the Institute.


This post highlights some of the materials  chosen from the Institute’s Special Collections used for the exhibition and others that didn’t quite make centre stage but are just as relevant. They come from the different collections namely, the Michael, Hayward, Official Publications, Historical Textbooks Collection and the History of Education collections.

Two of the selected items come from the Michael Collectionwhich has a focus on the teaching of English. The earliest item from this collection is Charles Vyse’s 1808 primer or textbook for teaching reading, The new London spelling book, or The young gentlemen and ladies’ guide to the English tongue: containing such a variety of really useful matter as to enable teachers to instruct their scholars to spell and read the English with propriety, without the assistance of any other book (Michael 370). The primer includes an extract from Shakespeare’s King Henry V (Act 3, sc. 1) which is set as a lesson.


Vyse , Charles (1808) The New London spelling book or, The young gentlemen and ladies’ guide to the English tongue… A new ed. with alterations, improvements, and additions. London: Brambles.

Charles Vyse was a private tutor to the upper classes. His New London Spelling Book, first published in 1777, ran into many editions as it became one of the most used children’s primers in the 18th century. It was used in Dame and Common Day Schools. Unlike books that taught pronunciation using a method of classification of sounds – mutes and semi-vowels – Vyse’s book is an example of writers who refrained from trying to describe pronunciation (Michael, 1987, p.57).

Like many primers of the period, this primer aimed to develop the child’s character. Not only does it have a guide to grammar which would enable the child to learn how to communicate but there are also rules of moral conduct (character development and the inculcation of morals being the primary aim of education). It also includes lessons in natural history, a brief introduction to the arts and sciences, outlines of history and geography and fables – evidence of the importance of a well-rounded education being the primary aim of education.

Another item from this collection is William Dodd’s (1729–1777) The beauties of Shakespeare: regularly selected from each play: with a general index, digesting them under proper heads (1818, Michael 340). Dodd’s Beauties of Shakespeare was so popular that it continued to be published for nearly 200 years, from 1752 to 1940, both in England and in the United States. Cambridge-educated Dodd was a wrangler (a wrangler is an undergraduate who gains first-class honours in the third and final year of the University’s mathematics degree), and a Doctor of Laws  (also from Cambridge). Dodd became an Anglican preacher and a ‘literary hack’. He was described as perhaps the most learned clergyman and most eloquent speaker in England, possessed of a melodious voice and dramatic delivery that would often bring women to tears and men to contribute financially to whatever cause he was preaching about (Willoughby, 1954, pp.351–2).


Rev William Dodd being hanged at Tyburn (source unknown)

Sadly, despite his success as a writer and a clergyman, Dodd is better remembered today for his flamboyant and extravagant lifestyle (he was called a ‘macaroni pastor’ due to his overly fashionable clothing) which caused him to fall into debt. Using his connections with the aristocracy, he attempted to rectify his severe financial difficulties through devious means and was imprisoned for forging a bill of exchange; this eventually led to the death penalty being imposed upon him. A campaign for mercy was set up with thousands of petitioners including Dr Johnson.  However all this failed and he was hanged at Tyburn on 27 June 1777 (Money, 1993).

A narrative on Dodd would be incomplete without the colourful story given above.  However, going back to his work, Dodd published his ‘Beauties’ at the age of 23. The anthology contains selections from Shakespeare’s plays, passages of which became the most read and best known of all Shakespeare’s works. Although Dodd had a genuine love of Shakespeare’s works and was influenced by the great playwright, modern scholars are critical of him for severing individual speeches from their original theatrical context and for influencing generations of students who learned only the selected excerpts (Keymer, 2012, p.128).  In the preface to the work, Dodd writes:

It was my first intention to have considered each play critically and regularly through all its parts but as this would have swelled the work beyond proper bounds, I was obliged to confine myself solely to a collection of his Poetical Beauties… (p. v).

Shakspeare’s [sic] seven ages of man, or, The progress of human life was a work produced by the Rev. John Evans (1767-1827) of Islington (1834, Michael 120).  It is not a work that was selected for the exhibition but provides a fascinating account of how life lessons were taught.  The book consists of a series of extracts in prose and poetry for the ‘use of schools and families with a view to the improvement of the rising generation’ by understanding the seven stages of life, that is,  ‘infancy, school boy [or school girl], lover, soldier, justice, pantaloon and second childishness’.  The book is available on the Internet Archive if you are interested in looking at an online edition of this work and the actor  Paterson Joseph recites one of Shakespeare’s most memorable monologues on the seven stages in celebration of the  Shakespeare: Metamorphosis exhibition at Senate House Library.

Much was written about how to teach English in the early part of the twentieth century as educators began moving away from the rote learning engineered by the ‘payment by results’ system (see the IOE LibGuide Literacy Attainment for more information).  It was widely acknowledged that being quintessentially English, Shakespeare’s work had to be taught in the English schoolroom.  Particularly active in ensuring the promotion of the Bard was The English Association which was founded in 1906.  They published a series of leaflets which provided advice to teachers on how to teach Shakespeare’s plays:

“It is desirable that all the Shakespeare chosen for study should be read aloud in class. The living voice will often give a clue to the meaning, and reading aloud is the only way of ensuring knowledge of the metre. In a class of beginners the teacher must take a liberal share of the reading, but the pupils should be brought into play.  They can be cast for some of the parts; the forum scene in Julius Caesar comes one step nearer the dramatic if the teacher is Anthony and the other parts are distributed and the class transformed into a Roman mob shouting for the will.” (Leaflet No. 7, 1908, p. 2).

The Institute’s Library holds many of the English Assocation’s publications from the early years of the 20th century.  The 1919 report, The Teaching of English in England, by the Departmental Committee of the Board of Education (HW136) confirmed of the importance of teaching Shakespeare in schools.  In addition to the above, there were a flurry of articles published by teachers some of which are in our ‘Education Miscellanies’.   The School Master of Blackheath Proprietary School, Hubert William Ord, for example,  wrote about “The child and education in Shakespeare” in the journal Contemporary Review (1913, pp. 737-741) and Michael Mason published the article “Mr. Shaw, Shakespeare, and the secondary schoolboy” in the journal The Nineteenth Century in 1928 (pp. 525-536) which emphasises the study of drama in schools.

It is not surprising that the Hayward Collection has sample school materials on Shakespeare since Dr. F. H. Hayward was a School’s Inspector at the London County Council in the early part of the 20th Century and was a passionate advocate for moral instruction which Shakespeare was a Master at through his plays.  Howard Hayden’s 1936 publication The immortal memory: a new approach to teaching Shakespeare (London: Dent) (HW51) is an example of a work from this collection which is featured in the exhibition.  Hayden was the Headmaster of Eckington County School in Derbyshire.  His book is for 14 to 16 year olds and he chose relevant excerpts from Shakespeare’s works to  ‘afford widely different examples of his [Shakespeare’s] dramatic skills and to broaden the acquaintance of the class with the variety of his work’.

And finally there are many other examples in the Historical Textbooks Collectionincluding works of the famous Shakespeare scholar John Dover Wilson.  His Through Elizabethan eyes: an abridgment of Life in Shakespeare’s England for junior readers(published in 1939 by Cambridge University Press) is one of the items in the Main Library exhibition. The book was used in junior schools to introduce students to the social life and customs in England during the 16th century.  Dover Wilson uses extracts and illustrations from contemporary sources, including books and pamphlets published during Shakespeare’s time to enrich students’ understanding of the place and time when the Bard was writing his now famous plays.

More information on selected items, including material from the Curriculum Resources Collection and the Archives is in the online exhibition catalogue.




Michael, I. (1987). The Teaching of English:  From the Sixteenth Century to 1870. Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press.

Keymer, T. (2012). Shakespeare in the novel. In F. Ritchie & P. Sabor (Eds.), Shakespeare in the Eigteenth Century (pp. 118-140). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  Retrieved from

Money, J. (1993). The Masonic Moment; Or, Ritual, Replica, and Credit: John Wilkes, the Macaroni Parson, and the Making of the Middle-Class Mind The Journal of British Studies(4), 358-395.  Retrieved from

Steedman, C. (2014). Mayhew:  On Reading, About Writing.  Journal of Victorian Culture, 19 (4), 550-561.

Willoughby, E. E. (1954). ‘A Deadly Edition of Shakespeare’. Shakespeare Quarterly, 5 (4), 351-7. [accessed 26 February 2016].