While Henry VIII did much to suppress the printing of plays, and Edward and Mary only tightened their control of the printing industries, Elizabeth was more open to both printed and performed dramatic works. Elizabeth imported Italian scholars to her court, especially refugees of the counter-Reformation, who brought with them their evolving editorial sensibilities, which were coming to treat contemporary texts with the same scholastic rigor as their classical counterparts (69 - 70).
Paratextual materials calling attention to editorial practice were common in Italian playbooks. Editors took care to let readers know they had invested care and attention to correcting the mistakes of previous editions, and of identifying the failings of previous editors and translators to provide the reader with the editorial apparatus for the construction of the new, presumably superior edition (71 - 72).
With the increasing popularity of Italian drama at court, English play books started to advertise their own editorial apparati. John Day, in the second edition of Gorboduc, added an address to the reader that went so far as to claim that Norton and Sackville's original play was effectively raped as it was put into print (73 - 73). That is interesting, as it establishes a precedent as early as 1572 for the existence of the sort of piratical print house practices that led to the printing of bad quartos.
John Wolfe may be another source of continental editorial practices being introduced to the London print house. Wolfe, who specialized in printing Italian books (including Machiaveli's The Mandrake), probably traveled to Europe after serving a seven year apprenticeship to John Day in London, and possibly worked with Giunti. Although there is no documentary evidence that proves this beyond a doubt, Wolfe did adopt Giunti's device when he returned to London (75 - 76).
Wolfe's books generally include extensive paratextual materials that specify that the texts have not been interfered with by any editorial hand where the original authors are both still alive and directly involved in publication. By contrast, similar materials specifically advertise the work of an editor in preparing the texts of well-known, deceased authors (77).
Continental imprints on books made them more desirable to consumers, and Wolfe had a tendency to forge these imprints to help move copy, but the way in which he did belies a knowledge of humanist works, and Wolfe's typographical and editorial rigor was comparable to materials printed on the continent (79). Which tends to beg the question: if London book buyers were interested in continental imprints because of their supposed higher quality, how learned could these consumers have been if they were fooled by fictitious place names? Also worth considering, how justified was the London book purchaser in presuming that native works would not have bee subject to such a heightened level of editorial scrutiny? Still, if Wolfe felt the need to forge a continental imprint to make money, it clearly indicates that Londoners of the time were aware of quality editorial work, and actively sought it out in their purchases.
"The Italian plays published by Wolfe seem to have received as much editorial attention as any other f his literary publications" (79 - 80).
Professional writers, scholars, translators, and other men of letters all became familiar with Wolfe's editorial practice of recruiting scholarly assistants to help conduct his work (80).
Richard Jones, a contemporary of Wolfe's, published similar prefatory materials in some of his editions. Especially worthy of note is the address to the reader in Promos and Cassandra, in which he explains to the reader that the author had not perfected a copy of the manuscript for printing, and begs their indulgence if he has committed any errors (83).
Jones, however, was not so diligent in revealing his apparatus with his earlier works as he was with Promos and Cassandra. It is noteworthy that the printing of Promos and Cassandra coincides with the appearance of Wolfe's editions in London, and that this edition marks a turning point in Jones' career as a printer/editor (84).
When Jones later printed Marlowe's Tamburlaine, he would follow the same conventions he used for Promos and Cassandra, however when he printed Wilson's The Three Lords and the Three Ladies of London he did not do so. Massai posits that Marlowe's work was more reminiscent of the great Italian comedies, and thus inspired a more serious editorial treatment than Wilson's more allegorical play (84).
Jones was sporadic in his editorial work, and whereas Wolfe seemed concerned with recovering authorial intention, Jones was more concerned with distancing printed books from the play houses where they originated (87). In his introduction to Tamburlaine, for example, he mentions that he has excised several comic scenes that were well received on the stage, but that he did not deem appropriate for "so honorable and stately a history" (84 - 85). When Jones would later print A Knack to Know a Knave, he would retain the same conventions of setting speech prefixes (left margin) and stage directions (centered) that he used for Pomos and Cassandra, but neglected to include similar prefatory material (87).
Shakespeare used Pomos and Cassandra as a source for Measure for Measure, and would have thus been aware of print house conventions being employed for printing plays, and perhaps most notably to the literary status that the print house was beginning to accord to plays, or at least this play in particular (87).
The London reading public of the late 16th century was developing a taste for the textual scholarship that had been imported by continental editions, scholars, and London printers who had traveled the continent. Driven by market demand, other printers were forced to adopt at least the appearance of this editorial rigor in preparing works for print, but the degree to which they did so depended on their perceived quality of the work. A playbook that was perceived to have been written in the classical mode would be accorded the dignity of a more literary preparation than a playbook that was viewed in a lighter regard (which Merry Devil almost certainly was).
While rigorous, even by modern standards, editorial practices were available, they were not universally applied. Let us again return to Henry Ballard's print shop. Arthur Johnson brings him a copy of Merry Devil, Ballard sees immediately that, although it may start in the same mold as a history or tragedy, it is a fairly light hearted comedy. As I once heard Tom Berger described printed plays, a "comic book," and perhaps a literally cut and pasted manuscript at that. How should he treat this work? While modern editorial practice may have been available in 1608, it was not universally applied because it did not need to be. Tamburlaine is a play that some might study for its fine rhetoric, Merry Devil is not. Nor, for that matter, is Merry Wives. It is becoming increasingly obvious to me that I need to seek out that bad quarto of Merry Wives as a reference point.
This begs another question: if Merry Devil was not worthy of editorial rigor in 1608, is it in 2010? What is the text designed to do? What is the text that serves a production designed to do? What purpose should a new edition serve?