Dramatic Publication in England, 1580-1640: A Study of Conditions Affecting Content and Form of Drama

Dramatic Publication in England, 1580-1640: A Study of Conditions Affecting Content and Form of Drama

Dramatic Publication in England, 1580-1640: A Study of Conditions Affecting Content and Form of Drama

Dramatic Publication in England, 1580-1640: A Study of Conditions Affecting Content and Form of Drama

Excerpt

The purpose of this book is not to trace the history of dramatic publication from 1580 to 1640, but to discuss certain definite problems as to how, why, and when plays came into print. The control of the drama by public officials is here considered less for its own sake than for its effect upon the content of the plays, the time of their publication, and the nature of the dramatic texts. The discussion of censorship of drama is prefaced by some consideration of censorship of general literature in order to give an idea of comparative rigidity in the application of standards. The closing chapter, on printing and publishing conditions as affecting the state of the text, is intended to give the general reader such a background of information as will enable him to resist the prevalent tendency to conclude that a poor text of a play is a sure sign of piracy. How strong this tendency is may be seen from a survey of the separately edited Shakespeare texts used in the schools and colleges. In many cases the texts are declared to have been unauthorized, even though not extremely corrupt according to the standards of the day.

There has existed for about a hundred and ninety years a theory that the publication of plays in the period 1580-1640 was for the most part surreptitious or unauthorized if it took place while the plays were still in demand for the stage. The strong hold of this theory upon the public may be illustrated by a few references ranging from the early eighteenth century to the present.

In 1733 Theobald, in his edition of Shakespeare's plays (xxvii ff.), set forth the ways by which the plays might get into print:

It was the custom of those days for the poets to take a price of the players for the pieces they from time to time finished; and thereupon it was supposed they had no farther right to print them without the consent of the players. As it was the interest of the companies to keep their plays unpublished, when any one succeeded, there was a contest betwixt the curiosity of the town, who demanded to see it in print, and . . .

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