A Life of William Shakespeare

By Joseph Quincy Adams | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER XXVIII
THE PRINTING OF THE QUARTOS

THE question frequently is asked, Why did not Shakespeare himself publish his plays, freed from the cuts of the actors and the scars of the tiring-house, "absolute in their numbers as he conceived them "? One reason, doubtless, may be found in the prevailing opinion that plays were not lasting contributions to literature, and would confer little honor on the poet. But a more potent reason is to be found in the fact that when Shakespeare sold his manuscripts to the company he parted with all right in them, and the company, regarding them as its own property upon which its income depended, was unwilling to let them be printed. As Heywood tells us, the actors "think it against their peculiar profit [i.e., personal gain] to have them come into print." Years after Shakespeare's death, Leonard Digges wrote:

But oh! what praise more powerful can we give
The dead than that by him the King's Men live.1'

Naturally, as long as his plays were among their important sources of income the King's Men would be anxious to prevent their sale to the public. And how deeply concerned actors in general were to forestall the publication of their manuscripts is shown in the Articles of Agreement signed by the members of the Company of the Revels at Whitefriars in 1608. One clause of the agreement reads: "That no man of the said company shall at any time put into print, or cause to be put into print, any

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1
Lines prefixed to the 1640 edition of Shakespeare Poems, but doubtless written earlier, for they seem to have been designed for the First Folio of 1623

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