Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary (1755-6), completed a good decade before his Tonson edition, was effectively his first major Shakespearean project, since he took examples predominantly from the Bard.
SHAKESPEARE, NOTABLE FOR HIS COINAGES AND NEOLOGISMS, NOW BECAME A TOUCHSTONE OF THE CORRECT USAGE OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE.
The strategy was repeated by James Murray (1837-1915), editor of the 19th-century New English Dictionary (which we know today as the Oxford English Dictionary), which also cited Shakespeare more than any other writer.
Johnson positioned himself at the centre of a coterie of Shakespeareans who made teamwork the scholarly standard, emphasizing the immense poetic resources of Shakespeare. There was, for example, great interest in establishing the “intellectual credentials” of this untutored genius. This inspired Richard Farmer (1735-97), an indolent Fellow of Emmanuel, Cambridge, to write his Essay on the Learning of Shakespeare (1767) on the subject.
I LOVED OLD PORT, OLD CLOTHES AND OLD BOOKS, AND COULD NOT BE PERSUADED TO RISE IN THE MORNING, GO TO BED AT NIGHT, OR SETTLE AN ACCOUNT. JOHNSON, ANOTHER MAN WHO STYLED HIMSELF AS “THE MOST INDOLENT IN THE KINGDOM” AND ONCE DICTATED A BOOK FROM HIS BED, SAID OF FARMER’S ESSAY … YOU HAVE DONE THAT WHICH NEVER WAS DONE BEFORE; THAT IS, YOU HAVE COMPLETELY FINISHED A CONTROVERSY BEYOND ALL FURTHER DOUBT.
Farmer decided that “Shakespeare wanted not the Stilts of Languages to raise him above all other men”.