graphic Shakespeare and the Book

The Playhouse in Printing House

Davenant, Just Italian (1630): sig. H2v

Songs were an important part of early modern theatrical productions, and printed plays often emphasized these songs through typographical conventions such as printing them in different type faces. In William Davenant's The Just Italian (1630), for example, "A Song betweene two Boyes" is printed in italics and headed by a title in larger type, a typographical layout meant to attract the reader's attention. Other plays separated songs from the play itself, placing them in a book's preliminaries or final pages.

These typographical layouts suggest two important points about the songs in printed plays. First, songs were not necessarily written by the play's author, and they were not always considered part of the play itself. Hence we find the same songs used in multiple plays, or inserted in plays whose earlier editions did not include them. Second, songs were popular enough to be isolated at the beginning or end of a printed play, suggesting that publishers thought some songs would encourage potential customers to buy a play.

Massinger and Field, The Fatal Dowry (1632): sigs. A2r, A2v

The publisher of The Fatal Dowry (1632), by Philip Massinger and Nathan Field, puts four songs in the book's preliminaries, before the play itself. Where the songs belong in the play are then marked by stage directions like "Song. Musicke." This typographical organization suggests that songs were often seen as extra-literary, part of the performance, but not necessarily part of the author's play. In fact, other plays from the period even have stage directions indicating where a song belongs, but without actually providing the song itself.

Lyly, The tragicall Comedie of Alexander and Campaspe, Song "O for a bowl of Fat canary" (1632): sig. G11v; 17.4 Middleton, Mad World My Masters, Song "O for a bowl of Fat canary" 
  (1640): sig. K4r

In the collection of John Lyly's plays, Six Court Comedies (1632), three songs have been added to Alexander and Campaspe, songs that were not in the 1584 and 1591 editions of the play (twenty-one songs in total were added to Six Court Comedies). One, "O For a Bowle of fatt Canary," appears eight years later in Thomas Middleton's A Mad World My Masters (1640), a play that was originally published in 1608, also without the song. In Alexander and Campaspe, the song is integrated into the text, while in A Mad World My Masters, it has been printed on the last page of the book and entitled "The Catch for the Fifth Act, sung by Sir Bounteous Progresse to his Guests."

Images: Columbia Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Technology: Columbia Center for New Media Teaching & Learning