Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Notes on "Shakespeare and the New Bibliography" - Chapter 2

c.f. Pollard's Shakespeare's Folios and Quartos.

When a dramatist sold their play to a playing company, they sold their rights along with their manuscript, and if they were, like Shakespeare, sharers in that company, they continued to own the play as sharers, but not as authors in the modern sense (18).

When a theatre wished to print a playbook, they would sell it, and the rights, to a stationer, who typically assumed all of the financial risks and publishing responsibilities, just as they would when any other author sold them a work to be printed (19).

"The notion that books not entered [in the Stationer's Register] must necessarily be surreptitious has long been abandoned" (22).

A bookseller might enter a work with the Stationer's Company to secure the job of printing it, but this theory does not account for the entry and transfer of the rights of Merry Wives by and from Busby to Johnson on 8 May 1605 as Busby was not a printer, and Johnson had the quarto printed by Thomas Creede. Pollard (Shakespeare's Folios and Quartos, 45) and Greg (The Library, 4th ser. xx (1940), 379) both hypothesized that the purchaser of the copy feared trouble and insisted on the procurer of the manuscript make the registry entry on the first instance (21). All of this only makes sense if you believe in the piracy and surreptitious printing practices, which I don't see a good argument for in light of the complete absence of legal action taken against such printing. This is, of course, significant, as this bad quarto Merry Wives is a cousin to Merry Devil.

Chambers speculates that the Lord Chamberlain's order of 1619 that none of the King's Men's plays should be printed without their permission in Shakespearean Stage i.136-137 (32). The idea is, apparently, older the Lukas Erne, but I still think Massai makes a strong argument for the logic behind the Pavier quartos.


Copyright, in the modern sense, did not exist in early modern London, and our evidence for the way printing rights were handled is thin. We have Stationer's records from which we can draw inferences, but  the data that we do have does not give us sufficient information to determine how the relationships between stationers, printers, and playing companies functioned in any exact detail. We therefore must be cautious about interpreting that data with our own prejudices.

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