Fritz Kredel and the Limited Editions Club

Having recently been given the opportunity to explore our complete collection of Shakespeare plays published by the Limited Editions Club, I chose one volume to research more deeply. The LEC published thirty-seven separate plays by Shakespeare in individual volumes, each volume illustrated by a different artist. From a vast selection of beautiful illustrations and talented illustrators, I chose to learn more about Fritz Kredel, the illustrator of the 1939 edition of Much Ado About Nothing.

Beginning of the play and audience gathering

Beginning of the play and audience gathering

Kredel created six separate illustrations for this volume, charting the opening of the play all the way to the closing reconciliation. What is unique to his approach is that he chooses to not only depict the action of the play but to also show the reactions of the watching audience beneath. Using pen drawings and a blue watercolour wash, he divides his images into two separate parts: the bottom quarter of the page shows the audience beneath the stage, gossiping and cheering; the top three-quarters shows the actors up on the stage with a succession of elaborate backdrops behind them. He explains, in his foreword, that he coloured the audience in a darker shade of blue to show that they were secondary to the main display, and that he did not wish to show a static audience but a lively and real one. The audience changes noticeably between each illustration, at first gathering in preparation for the play, then chatting, then silent and attentive, and finally applauding as the play comes to a close.

Members of the audience flirt as the characters discuss love affairs.

Members of the audience flirt as the characters discuss love affairs.

Kredel describes the period represented in his illustrations as Baroque, chosen because it was “the grand period of the theatre” and the time when the works of Shakespeare became popular on the continent as well as in Britain. Kredel lived in Germany from his birth in 1900 until he emigrated to the United States in 1938. During his time in his home country the German relationship with Shakespeare fluctuated drastically. Shakespeare first came to Germany in the Baroque period in the seventeenth century. In the Weimar Republic, post-World War One, there was an attempt to repossess and reinvent Shakespeare in a way that distanced it from the pre-war monarchic Germany and embraced its new democratic form. Shakespeare performances began to absorb elements of German-speaking Europe – which can be seen here in Kredel’s illustration of the church in Much Ado About Nothing, which is strongly based on St. Charles’s Church in Vienna.

Reconciliation of the couples and the audience applauding.

Reconciliation of the couples and the audience applauding.

Through the period that Kredel has chosen to contextualise a performance of the play we can see a strong preoccupation with the birth of Shakespeare in continental Europe and the enduring relationship of his works with German theatre. The performers and audience wear the same fashions, placing the plays in a context that the audience could relate to, a tradition that early twentieth-century German productions continued.

William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing, edited by Herbert Farjeon and illustrated by Fritz Kredel (New York: The Limited Editions Club, 1939).

Roger Paulin, The Critical Reception of Shakespeare in Germany 1682-1914 (Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag, 2003)

Wilhelm Hortmann, Shakespeare on the German Stage: The Twentieth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).

 

Hannah Catterall, Collections Volunteer

 

  • Liski

    Here you can watch amazing illustrations. http://www.labirint.ru/screenshot/goods/124401/1/
    Unfortunately I don’t know the illusrator’s name. The book is called “Selected Shakespeare’s works adopted for children”. Can you guess what works does it contain?

A freely available online exhibition exploring keys aspects of the music in Shakespeare’s plays, as well as music inspired by Shakespeare.