By comparison to other fields of interest to the bibliographer, formal bibliography and typography are fairly stable and certain fields of inquiry because they are examinations of mechanical processes of which we know a great deal (34).
cf McKerrow An Introduction to Bibliography for Literary Students.
cf Percy Simpson's Proofreading in the Sixteenth, Seventeenth, and Eighteenth Centuries (1935).
The level of proof correction in a print house varied according to the nature of the book, the standing of the printer, and the importance and persistence of the author. While Pope Sixtus V could expect that none of his writing would be printed without his first seeing a proof, the press could not afford to wait for most authors. Some would make regular visits to the print shop to correct their works, but they would do so with the knowledge that uncorrected sheets already pressed would be bound in the volume. To this end, some authors seem to have taken residence near the print shops for easy access (45 - 46).
In his 1608 History of Serpents, the author Topsell explains to the readers that there were 'escapes of the presse' in his 1607 History of Four-footed Beasts because the printer (William Jaggard) lacked Latin, Topsell was absence on other employments, and both of them together 'because we were not so thorowly estated, as to maintain a sufficient Scholler to attend only upon the presse' (47). As I proposed before, professional proof readers were not unknown in the period, and just as an author/publisher could chose to hire one, they could also chose not to.
There is no evidence that either Shakespeare or his fellow players (especially Heminge and Condell) did anything to correct Folio proofs; there exist in none of Shakespeare's plays any signs of cancel slips, manuscript corrections, or errata lists. There is only one case of leaves being cancelled to supply an omission to the text (47).
"What correction Shakespeare's plays received as they were passing through the press they received from the printers" (48).
Of four existing proof sheets of Elizabethan plays ("the inner forme of sheet D in one British Museum copy of Chapman's Monsieur D'Olive (1606); the outer forme of sheet B in one of the Huntingdon Library copies of The Contention (1600); and pp. 333 (Othello) and 352 (Anthony and Cleopatra) of the First Folio now in the Folger Library) errors are left uncorrected, and the errors that are corrected are technical, including punctuation and imperfections of type. These corrections could have easily been made without recourse to a manuscript (48). A footnote from Helen Gardner, who edited Wilson's work, notes that "two more proof-sheets for the Folio are now known: ff. Iv: 6(pp 62 and 71 in Romeo and Juliet) and qqI-6v (pp. 281 and 292 in Hamlet and Lear respectively)." (48 footnote 3*).
quoting Hinman: "The proofing [of the First Folio] ... achieved little indeed except in the way of obviating a fair number of superficial faults. There was a good deal of proof-correction. Over 500 changes were made. Very few substantive errors, however, were noticed at all; for the reader paid scant attention to these, and only on rare occasions did he consider it necessary for his purposes to read proof against copy" (49, footnote 1*).
Printing books is a mechanical process, and even when the errors committed in printing a book are human errors, the nature of those errors are often traceable as disruptions in the mechanical process. As a result, despite the fact that there is a great deal of mystery surrounding the records of the Stationer's Company, the London book trade, and the relationship between playing companies and publishers, the mechanics of books and typography are relatively transparent.