graphic Shakespeare and the Book

Publishers, Printers, and the Printed Book
Publisher and Editor Dedications

Shakespeare, First Folio (1623): A2r, A2v

Authors were not the only ones to write dedications to their plays; publishers, editors, and players did too. In the Shakespeare First Folio (1623), the editors of the volume, John Heminge and Henry Condell, two former players with Shakespeare in the King's Men, dedicate the book to William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke (who was also Lord Chamberlain in 1623), and his brother Philip Herbert, Earl of Montgomery. The Herberts were sons of Mary, Countess of Pembroke, the sister of Philip Sidney, and both had been raised in Wilton House, the site of a literary coterie including Samuel Daniel and Edmund Spenser. The two brothers were chosen as dedicatees because of their "likings of the seuerall parts, when they were acted, as before they were published." The editors now offer the plays to them as Shakespeare's "Orphanes" in need of "Guardians."

Heminge and Condell, however, register a certain unease with dedicating mere plays to two such illustrious brothers. They repeatedly allude to the subliterary status of plays, calling them "trifles" and "the most, though meanest, of things," which they hope can be "made more precious, when they are dedicated to "Temples," or eminent persons like William and Philip.

Beaumont and Fletcher Folio (1647): A2r, A2v

Twenty-four years later, Philip Herbert, now 4th Earl of Pembroke and Earl of Montgomery, had another folio collection of plays dedicated to him-the Beaumont and Fletcher Folio (1647)-by ten former members of the King's Men (the six upper names belong to long-standing members of the King's Men, the four lower ones to players who joined the company a few years before the theaters were closed in 1642). The former players say they chose Pembroke not only because of his family's history of literary patronage, but also because he and his brother were "Patrons to the flowing compositions of the then expired sweet Swan of Avon Shakespeare." Furthermore, the players were supported financially and politically "for many calme yeares" by Herbert, "deriv[ing] a subsistence to our selves, and Protection to the Scene." As in the Shakespeare Folio, the players feel that Herbert deserves to be the patron of the literary remains of their dead friends-and, of course, the players surely hoped to reap some reward from Herbert too.

Lyly, Six Court Comedies (1632): A5r, A5v, A6r

John Lyly's Six Court Comedies (1632) contains a dedication from its publisher, Edward Blount, who was also one of the publishers of the Shakespeare First Folio. Lyly was dead when this collection of his plays was published, but he was not quite as well known as Shakespeare or Beaumont and Fletcher were when their folios were issued, in part because his plays had been written close to fifty years before this collection came out. Blount therefore feels he must explain to the book's dedicatee, Richard Lumley, that Lyly was admired in "Elizaes Court" and that he has chosen to publish these plays because once again, "Light Ayers are now in fashion." Blount offers these plays to Lumley out of his own "Debts of dutie and affection, in which I stand obliged to your Lordship."

Thus, whereas the Shakespeare Folio and Beaumont and Fletcher Folios were dedicated to the Herberts because they liked Shakespeare's plays and had close ties to the King's Men, the dedication in Lyly's collection derives from the publisher's own interests. Blount has no idea whether Lumley likes Lyly's plays, and, in fact, he worries that they may not "sute so well with your more serious Contemplations."

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