Edmond Malone - Shakespearean scholar

Portrait of Edmond Malone by Joshua Reynolds ca. 1778

Edmond Malone

Born Oct 04, 1741 in Dublin
Died Apr 25, 1812


Edmund Malone


Son of Edmond Malone (d. 1774), an MP in the Irish House of Commons, and Catherine Collier (d. 1765).

Little is known of his childhood years, except that in 1747 he was sent to Dr. Ford's preparatory school in Dublin. In July 1757 he entered Trinity College in Dublin, where he received top honours at his very first examination. In 1762 or 1763 he entered the Inner Temple in London and soon became a "bencher", a member of the governing elite of the student body.1

Like Boswell he first met Samuel Johnson at the age of 22, being introduced to him by Edmund Southwell at some point in 1764, and like Boswell he cultivated a friendship with Johnson until his death in 1784.

In the 1770s Malone embarked on the project that would make him famous, researching Shakespeare. In 1778 he was the first to publish a proposed and thorough chronology of Shakespeare's works, the "Attempt to ascertain the Order in which the Plays of Shakespeare were written" in the first volume of the Works of Shakespeare (1778), and in the following years he would edit or contribute to various works on Shakespeare.

His fame and authority as the foremost Shakespearean scholar was secured when in 1796 he published "An inquiry into the authenticity of certain miscellaneous papers and legal instruments published Dec 24 MDCCXCV and attributed to Shakspeare, Queen Elizabeth and Henry, Earl of Southampton", in which he exposed the forgeries of one William-Henry Ireland who had supposedly discovered (and made public) a large cache of old documents directly related to Shakespeare.

Malone worked for many years on a comprehensive Life of Shakespeare, but failed to complete it. After his death the manuscript was edited and expanded by his literary executor, James Boswell the younger, the son of his friend, James Boswell the biographer, and published in 1821 as a part of the so called Third Varioum edition of the Works of Shakespeare in 21 volumes.

Today Malone is considered to be one of the major early Shakespearean scholars and is credited with taking Shakesperean scholarship to a new level. Some however, while acknowledging his major contribution to the field, critizise him for having instigated the practice of writing Shakespeare's biography through the interpretation of his works, which is heavily disputed.2

  • 1. The main source for the information on his early life is Peter Martin's "Edmond Malone, Shakespearean Scholar" (1995), an excellent biography of Malone (available from AbeBooks.com).
  • 2. F.ex. James Shapiro in "Contested Will" (2010).

Life with Boswell: 

Just a few days after Boswell's death, Malone wrote the following touching paragraph, in a letter to William Windham:

"I suppose you know poor Boswell died on Tuesday morning without any pain. I don't think he at any time of his illness knew his danger. I shall miss him more and more every day. He was in the constant habit of calling upon me almost daily, and I used to grumble sometimes at his turbulence; but now miss and regret his noise and his hiliarity and his perpetual good humour, which had no bounds. Poor fellow, he has somehow stolen away from us without any notice, and without my being at all prepared for it."1

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The works of Edmone Malone, including his various editions of Shakespeare and his "Works of Dryden" (1800) are widely available even today via used book shops.