Authorship and Appropriation: Writing for the Stage in England, 1660-1710

Authorship and Appropriation: Writing for the Stage in England, 1660-1710

Authorship and Appropriation: Writing for the Stage in England, 1660-1710

Authorship and Appropriation: Writing for the Stage in England, 1660-1710


Authorship and Appropriation is the first full-length study of the cultural and economic status of playwriting in the later seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, and argues that the period was a decisive one in the transition from Renaissance conceptions of authorship towards modern ones. In Shakespeare's time, the creative originality and independence of voice had been little prized. Playwrights had appropriated materials from earlier writings with little censure, while the practice of collaboration among dramatists had been taken for granted. Paulina Kewes demonstrates that, in the decades following the Restoration, those attitudes were challenged by new conceptions of dramatic art which required authors to be the sole begetters of their works. This book explores a series of developments in the theatrical marketplace which increased both the rewards and the prestige of the dramatist, and shows the Restoration period to have been one of serious and animated debate about the methods of playwriting. Against that background, Kewes offers a fresh account of the formation of the canon of English drama, revealing how the moderns - Dryden, Otway, Lee, Behn, and then their successors Congreve, Vanbrugh, and Farquhar - acquired an esteem equal, even superior, to their illustrious predecessors Shakespeare, Jonson, and Fletcher.


As Laws are made for the Security of Property, what pity 'tis that there are not some enacted for the Security of a Man's Thoughts and Inventions, which alone are properly his?

John Dennis, 'To the Spectator' (1711), in Critical Works, ii. 27

Quest. What is Property?

Answ. Wou'd any body wou'd tell us.

Athenian Mercury, 17 Apr. 1694

Until now we have concentrated on appropriation as it was practised and justified by leading amateur and professional dramatists of the late seventeenth century. Many of them, as we have seen, overtly acknowledged the sources of their plays; others deliberately suppressed them. We have also surveyed controversies provoked by the use of source materials in individual plays. It is now time to turn to the more sustained and theoretically oriented criticism that was directed at the practice of appropriation.

In the last decades of the age the demand for the explicit acknowledgement of sources intensified. the preoccupation with the integrity and legitimacy of source materials reflects a new perception of the relationships, links, and affinities between old texts and new ones. An awareness of the rapidly expanding market for printed playbooks prompted an enquiry into the licence of authors to appropriate older texts. It also raised questions about the status of authorship which remain unanswered to this day.

The Restoration saw a growing concern with the integrity of an author's œuvre. That concern is reflected in the changing organization and formats of play catalogues. the first catalogues of plays were produced in the 1650s. They were lists of titles of plays. Plays rather than authors were the commodity for sale. in Gerard Langbaine's catalogues of the 1680s and 1690s, however, the organizing principle shifts from play to author. That development belongs and contributes to a larger one: the production of a novel form of dramatic criticism . . .

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