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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: February ::
Re: "Leaking" Plays
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0303  Thursday, 8 February 2001

[1]     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 07 Feb 2001 13:32:56 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0292 Re: "Leaking" Plays

[2]     From:   David Knauer <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 07 Feb 2001 14:24:04 -0600
        Subj:   Re: "Leaking" Plays


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Wednesday, 07 Feb 2001 13:32:56 -0500
Subject: 12.0292 Re: "Leaking" Plays
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0292 Re: "Leaking" Plays

Dave Kathman recommeds (and so do I) Peter Blayney's chapter on

>"The Publication of Playbooks" in *A New History of Early English Drama*
>(1997), and notes that

>[Blayney] throws some cold water on the traditional
>idea that the acting companies were always fighting against stationers
>desperate to print their plays, and makes an interesting case that plays
>were printed primarily as a form of promotion for an acting company's
>current repertory.

I suppose that Blayney's theory is a form of the "leak" theory.

But Blayney's essay is filled with interesting facts and theories.  One
is that acting companies did not (usually) use another company's script,
even when that script had been printed.  So, companies probably didn't
worry about other companies "pirating" their plays.

Blayney also argues that printers and publishers did have a kind of
copyright to a book (though writers did not), and that copyright
extended beyond the individual book to other books similar to the
copyrighted book, when the second book might compete in sales with the
first book.  If this is true, then Q1 Hamlet must have sold out before
the printing and publication of Q2 Hamlet, that is, within about a
year.  Or, we have to account for the publication of Q2 is another way.
But as Blayney emphasizes, early modern printers and publishers were NOT
altruists.  They were in the book trade to make money. Is it possible
that acting companies actually paid printers and publishers to print and
publish their plays, when such a publication might lead to larger
audiences for certain plays?  This is not a rhetorical question.

Yours, Bill Godshalk

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Knauer <
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Date:           Wednesday, 07 Feb 2001 14:24:04 -0600
Subject:        Re: "Leaking" Plays

"Whoever published the Second Quarto (probably under the leadership of
The Lord Chamberlain's Men), isn't it more likely that his/their purpose
was to prevent rival companies from usurping the play's revenues. Once a
play was published (in these days of no copyright laws or performance
rights), it was available for anyone to produce and sell admissions to."

We covered this point last month, but here goes again: There are only
two documented cases of a company performing a play owned by another.
The fact that these were exceptional events, and were commented on as
such, indicates that no one anticipated printing a play made it
vulnerable to filching. And while copyright as we recognize it was
nonexistent, this isn't to say that the Renaissance was an intellectual
property free-for-all. Whoever owned the physical text of the
play--theater company or printer--owned the right to reproduce it. Plays
were licensed to be performed by individual companies by the Master of
the Revels, and printed books were licensed by the Stationer. This isn't
to say that illegalities didn't occur, but that people knew the rules
and generally followed them.

The scenario quoted above is nonsensical anyway: if there were no
copyright law, how could printing a play prevent anything?

Dave Knauer
 

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