graphic Shakespeare and the Book

Publishers, Printers, and the Printed Book
Publisher Addresses to the Reader

Shakespeare, First Folio (1623), "To the great Variety of Readers": 
  A3r, A3v

Shakespeare, First Folio (1623), first page of Henry the Fifth, p. 69 of Histories,
  23.1 Shakespeare, Henry the Fifth (1608 [1619): first page of action

In addition to dedications, addresses to the reader were increasingly printed in seventeenth-century plays. These could be written by authors or others involved in a book's publication. The Shakespeare First Folio (1623) has perhaps the most famous such address, "To the great Variety of Readers," by John Heminge and Henry Condell. The purpose of their address is introduced almost immediately: "the fate of all Bookes depends vpon your capacities: and not of your heads alone, but of your purses." Purchasers of the Folio can "read, and censure" it, but they must "buy it first. That doth best commend a Booke, the Stationer saies."

In urging readers to "buy" this book, Heminge and Condell argue that even if readers own earlier copies of Shakespeare plays, they should buy this book anyway because it has more accurate texts: "Where before you were abus'd with diuerse stolne, and surreptitious copies, maimed, and deformed by the frauds and stealthes of iniurious imposters that expos'd them: even those, are now offer'd to your view cur'd, and perfect of their limbes." Heminge and Condell label those earlier quartos as "stolne," "surreptitious," "maimed," and "deformed," so that readers will now buy the Folio, the plays of which have been printed from "the true originall copies" just "as he conceiu'd the[m]."

One play they offered "cur'd and perfect" was Henry the Fifth, which had been published in three quartos substantially different the version in the Folio. Among other differences, the Folio version is about twice as long, and, as this image shows, the Folio begins with the Chorus-"Enter Prologue"-as does each subsequent act, scenes that do not appear in the quartos.

Beaumont and Fletcher Folio, "The Stationer to the Readers," (1647): 
  A4r, A4v; 
  1.7 Beaumont and Fletcher Folio, "Postscript": g2r

In his "The Stationer to the Readers," the publisher Humphrey Moseley offers a much different rationale of collection for the Beaumont and Fletcher Folio (1647). Instead of printing all the plays that Beaumont and Fletcher wrote, this collection only includes their plays that have not yet been published. His address-which offers an incredibly rich account of his imagined readers of the plays, the cuts that were made in the plays' staging, the market for manuscript plays, and the history of the volume-explains that Moseley left out those plays that had already been printed because including them "would have rendred the Booke so Voluminous, that Ladies and Gentlewomen would have found it scarce manageable, who in Workes of this nature must first be remembred." Size, therefore, is of primary concern, since Moseley wants to produce a that could be easily handled by women readers.

He returns to this issue in his "Postscript," writing that the plays have been printed in a type that "(though very legible) is none of the biggest, because (as muche as possible) we would lessen the Bulke of the Volume." Increasing "the Bulke of the Volume" would have made the volume more expensive, potentially hurting sales (larger books cost more to produce and so were typically sold at higher prices). Plus, he adds, so many of the authors' plays had been "printed and re-printed," that he did not want to make "Gentlemen . . . pay twice for the same Booke."

Milton, Poems (1645): A3r

In "The Stationer to the Reader" in Milton's Poems (1645), Moseley once again touches on the economic concerns in book publishing. Here, though, he offers a slightly different take on the trade than he does in the Beaumont and Fletcher Folio, but one still focused on the size of books. He worries that Milton's poems will not sell because "the slightest Pamphlet is now adayes more vendible then the Works of learnedest men." As short news pamphlets came to dominate the book trade during the English Civil War, Moseley suggests longer works like Milton's will have a difficult time attracting buyers. His claim of course targets those who wish to separate themselves from the common reading masses , turning Moseley's apparent complaint into an effective strategy for attracting a certain type of "learned" reader.

Heywood, Royal King and Loyal Subject (1637): I3v

Publishers of old plays were sometimes nervous that tastes in drama had changed so much that they might have a difficult time selling their plays. In Thomas Heywood's The Royal King and the Loyal Subject (published in 1637 but written around 1602), the "Epilogue to the Reader" addresses this fear and tries to forestall criticism of the play for its old-fashioned qualities. The epilogue encourages readers not to despise this play simply because it is old, for like "Doublets with stuft bellies, and bigge sleeves, / And those Trunke-hose, which now the age doth scorn," so too were earlier verse styles different, when "rime" was preferred ahead of "Strong lines." The author of these lines asks readers to judge not with "rigor," but "reason," tacitly admitting that this play may not be considered very good according to contemporary poetic standards.

Shirley, The Martyred Soldier, "To the Reader of this Old Play Come 
  to Print" (1638): K2v;
  26.2, 26.3 Shirley, The Martyred Soldier, "To the Courteous Reader" (1638): 
  A3v, A4r

In Henry Shirley's The Martyred Soldier (1638), the same apologetic epilogue appears (with two small changes) under the title "To the Reader of this Play now come to Print." The play was printed by John Okes, who had printed The Royal King and the Loyal Subject one year earlier. This "old play"-it would have been about twenty years old by 1638-also contains an address "To the Courteous Reader" that discusses the play's history. It is described as an "Orphant" without "him to protect that first begot it" (i.e., the author, Henry Shirley who died in 1627). Since Shirley cannot praise the play nor himself, this epistle does it for him, commending the author, his "Muse" (which "was much courted"), and the "generall applause" the play received when it was first performed, even by "the Rigid Stoickes of the Time."

Middleton, A Mad World My Masters (1640): A3r, A3v, A4r

The second edition of Thomas Middleton's A Mad World My Masters was published in 1640, over 30 years after its first publication in 1608. In "The Printer and Stationer to the Gentle Reader," "J. S.," or John Spencer, the play's publisher (the terms "printer" and "publisher" were often used interchangeably in the period) discusses the play's dead author and tries to prevent criticism of its old poetic style. The epistle resembles the epilogue in The Royal King and the Loyal Subject and The Martyred Soldier in that it apologizes for the author being "long since dead" and for "some lines that doe answer in meetre [i.e. rhyme]." There has elapsed some "full twenty years since it was written, at which time meetre was most in use, and shewed well upon the conclusion of every Act & Scene."

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