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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: January ::
Re: "Reading" the Plays
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0284  Thursday, 31 January 2002

[1]     From:   David Knauer <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 30 Jan 2002 12:13:20 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0255 "Reading" the Plays

[2]     From:   Martin Steward <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 30 Jan 2002 18:29:16 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0255 "Reading" the Plays

[3]     From:   Steve Roth <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 30 Jan 2002 11:38:16 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0255 "Reading" the Plays

[4]     From:   Don Bloom <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 30 Jan 2002 14:29:38 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0255 "Reading" the Plays


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Knauer <
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Date:           Wednesday, 30 Jan 2002 12:13:20 -0600
Subject: 13.0255 "Reading" the Plays
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0255 "Reading" the Plays

Jimmy Jung asks,

"When did it occur to someone that Shakespeare's plays (or any plays)
could be read for themselves, or that they were a publishable commodity.
. .  . [W]hat was the first person thinking when it happened?"

A crucial and probably unanswerable question. Here are some theories
I've come across over the years: Theater cos. sold plays for publication
to advertise their performances, or to support themselves in bad times,
or to prevent others from doing so (various problems with all of these).
A few (but not most) playwrights thought plays were worthy reading
material on the level of other poetry and actively sought publication
(think Jonson), or sought to spare themselves the embarrassment of
unauthorized/badly mangled publication (yeah, right). A few readers
(again, not most, and only about half of London could read anyway)
thought the poetry worthy of putting in their libraries or copying into
commonplace books.

In any case, Peter Blayney seems to have irreparably demolished the idea
that plays were much sought-after or profitable books. See his essay,
and, for an exceptional case of playbook collecting, Heidi Brayman
Hackel's, in A New History of Early English Drama.

Clearly, someone wanted to read these, or was convinced by someone else
that they should want to. But there doesn't seem to be a single
historical or intellectual development that accounts for it.

Dave

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Martin Steward <
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Date:           Wednesday, 30 Jan 2002 18:29:16 -0000
Subject: 13.0255 "Reading" the Plays
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0255 "Reading" the Plays

Jimmy Jung wonders when people started reading plays, rather than
forking out to go and watch people act them. Jonson's tragedy "Catiline"
was the most popular play of the seventeenth century, bar none, if we
judge by the number of citations and references in other people's works
(see Gerald Eades Bentley, Shakespeare and Jonson: Their Reputations in
the Seventeenth Century Compared (Chicago 1945), Vol. I, pp.109-112).
And yet it was staged only one more time after its premier in 1611. The
notoriously long speech by Cicero probably didn't help its
theatricality, but as reading matter it makes a fine translation of the
original. It's that Ben Jonson again! Most of his career was spent
protecting his precious plays from the oiks who frequented theatres. He
much preferred them to be experienced by individual aristocrats in the
comfort of their armchairs.

Did he invent the modern world single-handedly, or what?

m

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Steve Roth <
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Date:           Wednesday, 30 Jan 2002 11:38:16 -0800
Subject: 13.0255 "Reading" the Plays
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0255 "Reading" the Plays

>When did it occur to someone
>that Shakespeare's plays (or any plays) could be read for themselves, or
>that they were a publishable commodity.

Certainly by 1623. Viz, the repeated injunction from Heminges and
Condell in their introduction "To the Great Variety of Readers" in the
First Folio: "Read him therefore, and again, and again." (Equally
revealing but more amusing is their earlier injunction: "But, whatever
you do, Buy.") The opening page of the Folio is Jonson's epistle titled
"To the Reader."

And all those quartos that were printed prior to the Folio were patently
for reading. Publishers published then for the same reason they publish
now--because people would buy the books. And their market was not
playing companies looking for scripts--it was readers.

Steve
http://princehamlet.com

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Don Bloom <
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Date:           Wednesday, 30 Jan 2002 14:29:38 -0600
Subject: 13.0255 "Reading" the Plays
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0255 "Reading" the Plays

Jimmy Jung writes,

> When did it occur to someone
> that Shakespeare's plays (or any plays) could be read for themselves, or
> that they were a publishable commodity.
>
> I put this odd notion up there with the first person to try rocky
> mountain oysters or put catsup on scrambled eggs.  The idea is not
> inconceivable, but what was the first person thinking when it happened?

There may be more technical information forthcoming, but plays in Latin
(Seneca, Plautus, Terence) had been a staple of secondary and higher
education time out of mind. I cannot speak to Greek plays, but I presume
that the 'Varsity types read them along with their Homer, Hesiod,
Herodotus, and so forth. That is the basis on which Sidney savages the
contemporary English drama. Reading plays in English would follow
naturally as soon as some publisher felt he could make a buck printing
them.

Cheers,
don

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