Sunday, December 12, 2010

Notes on Shakespeare and the Rise of the Editor - Chapter 3

The quartos of Richard II, Richard III, 1 Henry IV, 2 Henry IV, and Much Ado printed by Andrew Wise represent ideal case studies to test the theory of McKerrow, Pollard, and Greg that Shakespeare had a direct hand in the preparation of his works for print. These texts are considered authoritative, and no publisher ever invested so heavily in printing Shakespeare's works while he was still alive. If Shakespeare worked with anyone for initial or subsequent printing of his plays, it would have been Wise (91).

Paul Werstine has demonstrated that both McKerrow's description of an 'author's original draft' and Greg's of 'foul papers' are 'a purely ideal form of printer's copy of which there are no examples among extant dramatic manuscripts' (91).

Greg and Pollard have conceived of an extremely linear path of transmission that led from the author's hand to the prompter's book to the printed form, but Gurr's argument that the written text existed in different states at different times, and served different purposes challenges this notion. Scott McMillan argues that transcriptions of performances were sometimes offered to patrons or given to printers; he supports this by noting Mosely's address to the reader in Beaumont and Fletcher's Comedies and Tragedies, which notes that "the Actours omitted some Scenes and Passages (with the Authour's consent) as occasion led them; and when private friends desir'd a Copy, they then (and justly too)transcribed what they Acted.  But now you have both All that was Acted, and all that was not" (92).

New Bibliography, generally speaking, attempts to streamline the process of print, which may cause New Bibliographers to overlook realities of print house practice: type setters were expected to faithfully reproduce the copy they were given, and paid more attention to the details of their craft than the dramatic action of the plays they were setting (94).

It is possible that an annotating reader, maybe Shakespeare or Wise himself, contributed annotations to the early printings of the Wise Quartos, such as the correction of a wrong speech prefix in Richard II (95).

Wise published Shakespeare's three best-selling quartos as his first three plays (Richard II, Richard III, 1 Henry IV); whether this was exceptional foresight or good luck, it has lead both Lukas Erne and Andrew Gurr to speculate that the Chamberlain's Men had a regular relationship with Wise, but his relationship may be stronger than either speculate; effectively making him the Chamberlain's first official publisher (95-98). 

Wise had no strong ties to the Stationer's Company, and in this way he was not unique among printers of plays during the period. Other printers, such as Thomas Millington and Richard Oliff, seem to have printed dramatic works only after coming into contact with a specific company or an agent of that company. Massai describes numerous other printers and stationers doing likewise (98-99). 

Most of the books Wise printed come from three authors: Thomas Nashe, Thomas Playfere, and William Shakespeare; all of whom were under the direct patronage of Sir George Carey, Earl of Hunsdon. It is likely that Wise had a connection with one of these three authors, and to have met the other two as a result of this connection, as patrons seldom had a personal hand in the printing of their company's works (100).

Revenues from selling a playbook for printing were small; Peter Blayney argues that companies may have sold their playbooks as a way of generating publicity for their performances. Printing playscripts was a means of advertisement (101). It sounds like I definitely need to look up this article in Shakespeare Quarterly.

"Substantive variants in speech prefixes, stage directions and dialogue in the second and third quartos of Richard II, Richard III, and 1 Henry IV suggest that they were corrected as they were repeatedly reprinted between 1598 and 1602" (102).

Emendations that require knowledge of the plot of a play are more realistically going to come from an annotating reader than a print-house typesetter (103). 

The publisher was as likely as the author to have a hand in emending manuscripts for print, and while it is possible that Shakespeare did take an interest in revising the Wise Quartos for subsequent printings, especially as his popularity was then peaking, he did so more like an annotating reader of the 16th century than as a revising author as E.A.J. Honigmann or Lukas Erne describe (105).


The Wise Quartos were both some of the earliest examples of Shakespeare's works in print, and some of the most successful. As these quartos were regularly reprinted, and as their reprints require knowledge of dramatic action, it is likely that an annotating reader had a hand in these revisions. Since the texts are considered authorial, these annotations were perhaps done either by Shakespeare himself, or with his approval, but that cannot be demonstrated, and even if it could, the annotations do not conform to New Bibliographical conceptions of an author revising their work. 

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