The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0219 Monday, 27 March 2006
Date: Friday, 3/24/2006 11:12 AM
Subject: Shakespeare in Time Magazine (Europe)
Shakespearians (and Middletonians) might be interested in--or outraged
by--the cover story on Shakespeare, Inc. in this week's edition of Time
The story does not appear at all in the US edition (which itself says
something interesting about transatlantic differences in Shakespeare's
When two actors, Henry Condell and John Heminges, started putting
together a book of all their friend's plays, they could not have guessed
where it would lead. But they did know publishing was an expensive and
risky business - if their labor of love wasn't going to end in financial
disaster, it had to sell. By the time he died in 1616, William
Shakespeare was already a popular playwright and well-known actor in
England. So when Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, &
Tragedies hit the shelves seven years later, the title page carried the
author's name in big letters. Underneath it was a portrait that would
have been familiar to anyone who had seen Will on stage - the 17th
century equivalent of putting Paul Newman's face on a bottle of salad
dressing. Half of Shakespeare's plays had already appeared in print, and
there were a few that Condell and Heminges either chose not to or
couldn't include; but to assure readers that they were still buying
something special, the price for the collection, known today as the
First Folio, was set at a steep 20 shillings, the cost of over 100
loaves of bread. "The fate of all bookes depends upon your capacities,
and not of your heads alone, but of your purses," the editors wrote in
their introduction. "Whatever you do, buy."
Even back then, Shakespeare's value as an artist was tied to his worth
at the till. Not that it was a hard sell; he was pretty handy with a
quill. From Macbeth's tortured soul to Much Ado About Nothing's romantic
antics, he had the uncanny ability to put into words what it means to be
human. "More than any other writer, he can teach us enormously about
ourselves," says American Shakespeare critic Harold Bloom. "He has this
almost miraculous ability to keep inventing language, to think more
deeply, and more capaciously, than any philosophical mind and to show us
how far thinking can go."
But without that weighty tome published by his two friends, Shakespeare
might never have gone from local boy made good to global literary icon.
"If you believe that Shakespeare's words have survived because they were
written by a great poet and playwright, you're wrong," says Gary Taylor,
English scholar at Florida State University and co-editor of the Oxford
University Press's authoritative edition of Shakespeare's complete works
(see Viewpoint). "His words have survived because someone put them into
pieces of type, set those into forms, pressed those inked forms into
sheets of paper and sewed those sheets together in a particular order."
And because someone else bought them.
That relationship between culture and cash has followed Shakespeare ever
since. . . .
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