London: Chapman & Hall (printed by The Whitefriars Press, Ltd.), 1925. First Edition. Hardcover. The first edition with John Austen illustrations, quarto size, 214 pp. Near fine / very good +. Item #19100202
Morality plays have been an important part of society for centuries, with their conveyance of religious and/or moral lessons; the earliest dated morality play was composed by Hildegard von Bingen ca. 1151. The three plays contained in this volume would have been well-known to the English audience of the day as they had been told and re-told, having been passed down the ages.
"Everyman" teaches the well-known (and yet still relevant) theme that material possessions can get in the way of a human being's pursuit of heavenly, spiritual goals. "Man, in the beginning Look well, and take good heed to the ending, Be you never so gay....". "The Nativity" relates the well-known story of the birth of Jesus Christ, foretold by the prophets - the great Hebrew prophet Isaiah opens the play: "That no creature is able us for to release Till the right unction of Judah doth cease." The final play, "The Shepherds' Play" presents a trio of shepherd's with less obvious moral lessons, however, "other characters such as Mary, The Child Christ, and An Angel show a strong moral presence and the importance of God in the play" (n.b., quote from Wiki).
The themes in these three plays are brought to extraordinary life by the artwork of John Austen (1886-1948), whose style was at first influenced by Aubrey Beardsley and later by the Art Deco movement. He illustrated many books such as "Hamlet" and "Madame Bovary", and his elongated, elaborate style, both grotesque and wildly lovely, brings to vivid life the various personified characters in these three plays.
___DESCRIPTION: Bound in full black cloth, gilt lettering and decoration on front board and spine, pictorial endpapers in navy blue on grey paper, frontis one of the nineteen full-page, three-colour illustrations by Austen, illustrated title page with blue decorative borders (the small illustration in three colours), in addition to the twenty colour illustrations there are thirteen in-text monochrome illustrations by Austen throughout, running decorative border at the top of the text; quarto size (9 7/8" by 6.5"), pagination: [i-xii] -201 [202, Printer's statement]. Pictorial dust jacket with an illustration of "Death" from the book on the front panel in three colours, decorative and ruled borders in blue on the front panel and spine, black lettering on both panels and spine, back panel a publisher's ad for another John Austen title with an illustration from that book above, both flaps blank..
___CONDITION: Volume near fine, with clean boards, gently bumped corners with minimal rubbing only to the bottom front corner, head and tail of spine gently bumped, a strong, square text block with solid hinges, the interior is clean and bright, and entirely free of prior owner markings; some of the illustrations with off-setting from the opposing page of type, and a few gutters are beginning to crack, but the text block remains sturdy. The dust jacket a bit better than very good, some sunning to the spine, minor overall edgewear particularly at the top and bottom of the joints, and the bottom corner of the front flap has been price-clipped.
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