Monday, December 27, 2010

Notes on "The Craft of Printing and the Publication of Shakespeare's Works - Chapter 4

Venus and Adonis is Shakespeare's first printed work, it was printed in 1593 by Richard Field ad sold by John Harrison. Field entered the poem in the Stationer's register on 18 April 1593. Shakespeare's second printed work was The Rape of Lucrece, also printed by Field and sold by Harrison; first printed in 1594, Lucrece was entered in the Stationer's register by Harrison on 9 May 1594. While there is no evidence that Shakespeare personally oversaw their printing, both are cleanly printed and appear to be set from the author's holograph. This same care and attention was not devoted to the printing of any other of Shakespeare's works during his lifetime (73 - 75).

Williams calls the Pavier quarto arrangement "higgledy-piggldy" (87). Most of his assessment of Shakespeare in print is a standard trope of New Bibliography; there are "bad quartos" which are pirated, "good quartos" that are attempts to correct the work of the author in print, and the Folio. Especially in light of Massai's analysis of the Pavier Quartos, I found Williams' description amusing.

The printers of the First Folio seem to have been playhouse and printshop professionals, but a more 'editorial' hand guided the Second Folio, which makes considered corrections and improvements to the text over F1. The Third and Fourth Folios were printed by men who were more typographically sensitive, the result culminating in the Fourth Folio which, unlike its predecessors, is a "handsome" volume patterned after continental printings, the quality of which outpaced the English (90 - 92 quotation from 90).

"It is true that [Shakespeare] wrote many more lines to his play than could be spoken in a production" (92).

Shakespeare wrote plays "from the joy and agony of writing, not to see them appear printed on pages in a book" (93). Wow. In the same breath that Williams says Shakespeare wrote more lines than would actually be performed, he also says that Shakespeare wrote them because he was a Writer. Here we see the flaw of the New Bibliography in action: the understanding of Shakespeare as a writer in the purely artistic sense. Only a fictional character could be so dedicated to the production of words for the sake of words. Shakespeare was a man of the playhouse, and too prodigious a businessman to waste time writing words that he never expected to be read or performed.


The New Bibliographers have a rather consistent narrative of the history of William Shakespeare's plays in print, and a view of Shakespeare as a pure author who was interested in writing beautiful words for the sake of beauty. They are also persistent in ignoring or disregarding evidence to the contrary. Williams has clearly fixed himself in that tradition in this last chapter, and despite a book filled with otherwise interesting historical data about the rise of print, comes to a rather blase conclusion.


Williams, George Walton. The Craft of Printing and the Publication of Shakespeare's Works. Washington: Folger Books. 1985. Print.

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