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Home :: Archive :: 2008 :: January ::
The Popularity of Playbooks
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0026  Wednesday, 16 January 2008

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	Date:	Wednesday, 09 Jan 2008 14:09:23 +0000 (GMT)
	Subj:	Re: SHK 19.0015 The Popularity of Playbooks

[2] 	From:	Gerald E. Downs <
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	Date:	Wednesday, 16 Jan 2008 01:13:28 EST
	Subj:	Re: SHK 19.0015 The Popularity of Playbooks


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Date:		Wednesday, 09 Jan 2008 14:09:23 +0000 (GMT)
Subject: 19.0015 The Popularity of Playbooks
Comment:	Re: SHK 19.0015 The Popularity of Playbooks

Not even Farmer and Lesser are prepared to say, as Gabriel Egan does, 
that 'his [Peter Blayney's] counts were wrong'. They write: 'Blayney's 
figures are accurate, although they will differ somewhat from our own 
because of methodological differences outlined in our Methodological 
Notes, "Reprint Parameters" (18). Blayney's point is not simply that 
'godly' literature outsold playbooks but that Farmer and Lesser's 
arguments in fact demonstrate the reverse of their conclusion. This 
point turns on how percentages of reprint rates are interpreted. 
Studying a sample from 1576-1625, including reprints up to 1660, Farmer 
and Lesser hold that while almost 40% of playbooks were reprinted within 
20 years, a meagre 19.3% of sermons were reprinted within 20 years. 
Since playbooks were 'reprinted more than twice as often as speculative 
books in general and sermons in particular', they conclude, we should 
'recognize the popularity of playbooks' (28).

Blayney's sample is slightly different, covering all playbooks and 
sermons printed in 1583-1640. He ends up with a similar picture 
regarding percentages.  In his sample, 32.5% of playbooks were reprinted 
before 1641, while only 17.5% of sermons were reprinted before 1641. But 
here's the rub. Crucial to these figures, Blayney writes, is 'an 
elementary arithmetical truism that completely vitiates their main 
conclusion. Simply put, a small percentage of a large number can be much 
bigger than a large percentage of a small number' (43). The impressive 
32.5% is in fact equivalent only to 112 reprinted playbooks, while the 
meagre 17.5% is equivalent to 232 reprinted sermons.

At the risk of trying readers' patience, I quote a key paragraph of 
Blayney's reply to Farmer and Lesser:

'Having used real-world data to calculate their results, the authors are 
perfectly well aware of the facts and acknowledge that, "judging by 
market share, sermons do indeed appear to have been more popular than 
playbooks" (21).  I am at a loss therefore to understand how they 
nevertheless concluded that "sermons were reprinted much less frequently 
than were professional plays" (21) when the reverse is so irrefutably 
obvious; how they persuaded themselves that outselling playbooks by more 
than three to one constitutes only an illusion of popularity while their 
percentages tell a higher truth. Of the playbooks of Edward Sharpham and 
of Thomas Tomkis, 100 percent reached third editions inside twenty 
years, but only 35 percent of Shakespeare's fared as well. By the 
author's logic, Sharpham and Tomkis must have been far more popular - 
even though each man's 100 percent (two out of two) was greatly outsold 
by Shakespeare's 35 percent (eight out of twenty-three). Counting 
percentages without regard to the quantities they represent can lead to 
absurd conclusions.' (44)

I regard it as greatly to Farmer and Lesser's credit that they have 
ploughed up an important field in so thought-provoking a way, and also 
to Gabriel's credit that he should raise the debate in this forum. But 
while there are areas of agreement between the parties, I'd be surprised 
if Profs. Farmer and Lesser are under the impression that Blayney has 
conceded any part of their argument.

Duncan Salkeld

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Gerald E. Downs <
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Date:		Wednesday, 16 Jan 2008 01:13:28 EST
Subject: 19.0015 The Popularity of Playbooks
Comment:	Re: SHK 19.0015 The Popularity of Playbooks

I have revisited "The Popularity of Playbooks Revisited," by Zachary 
Lesser and Alan Farmer; Peter Blayney's response; and the subsequent 
"Structures of Popularity." I am still wondering how Blayney's article 
came to be in the same issue of The Shakespeare Quarterly. He did make a 
number of reasonable objections to "Revisited" that one supposes would 
have been made available to the authors had they been part of the peer 
review process. If that was the case, wouldn't an attempt have been made 
to reconcile the differences before publication? As it is, the reader 
gets the impression that the journal itself approves of the lambasting 
and its tone. Perhaps Professor Lesser will provide a "narrative."

In my opinion, the popularity of playbooks is more complicated a topic 
than is indicated by these articles. However, I don't see much need to 
improve on the simple presumptions that more than one kind of book was 
printed to make money, that plays were printed primarily for that 
reason, and that retailers and readers purchased enough of them to keep 
the process going.

Zachary Lesser quotes from their first article "that about three times 
as many sermons were published as plays," but I believe Blayney fairly 
responds by taking into account the sermon and play collections: "while 
the playbooks contain a total of 719 separate printings of individual 
plays, the sermon-books contain 6,852 printings of individual sermons. 
Numbers like those dictate their own conclusions" (44). That is more 
than nine times as many sermons as plays and the collections explain in 
part why individual sermons were not reprinted as much as plays 
(percentage-wise). Though other considerations make these classes of 
books hard to compare, it seems undeniable that sermons greatly outsold 
plays.

But again, plays were printed at a fair clip and I can see how low 
supply may have sometimes reduced the rate. After all, their numbers 
were significantly augmented by bad quartos, reprints of bad quartos, 
and corrected reprints of bad quartos; few of which would have appeared 
had better copy been readily had. "Revisited's" mention of "the forty 
new playbooks printed from 1589 to 1597" could have noted that nineteen 
of them were "suspect texts." This is the part of the story that 
interests me, and I don't see how it can be neglected. For example, I 
follow Thomas Heywood (who should know better than we do) and accept 
that of his plays "some Actors" thought "it against their peculiar 
[private property] profit to have them come in Print" (English Traveler, 
1633). Would it be so peculiar to find that demand encouraged stolen and 
surreptitious texts?

Lesser and Farmer do not discuss this possibility beyond reference to 
Blayney, accepting that "Through his detailed investigation of the 
workings of the Stationers' Company and the process of prepublication 
allowance, license, and entrance in the  Register, Blayney finally puts 
to rest the narrative of piracy that has maintained such a hold on the 
imaginations of twentieth-century Shakespeareans"  (Revisited, 3). I've 
read a number of similar statements since 1997, but I've never quite 
understood how Blayney's paper has so affected the imaginations of 
new-century scholars. "Put to rest" is not synonymous with "buried 
alive," which is how I might describe the 'piracy' hypothesis. What 
Blayney seems to describe is an environment that would have been 
conducive to and protective of piracy, but his argument against any such 
practice is inadequate. Consider the following excerpts:

1) Blayney's first page, speaking of Pollard's imagination: "It remains 
true that the five quartos he described as Bad resemble each other more 
than they resemble any of the  fourteen he called Good"  (383).

2) "What keeps the story [Pollard's piracy theory] alive is, I suspect, 
a reluctance to question the principal fallacy on which it depends" 
(384). One should differentiate "principal fallacy" and "principal 
evidence." The evidence is the bad quarto. That keeps the story going.

3) "It is rarely appropriate to hold the machine responsible for the 
supposed origins of the text it reproduced" (389). Blayney rightly 
absolves the printers, but publishers were also part of the Stationers' 
machine, and they didn't originate the texts, either.

4) "If the manuscript had been illicitly obtained, or if any rules of 
the Stationers' Company were  evaded or broken, the responsibility lay 
with the publisher . . .  (391). I believe Blayney successfully shows 
that the Company took care of its own. But what prevented a manuscript 
from being illicitly obtained?

5) "The nature of the manuscript offered to the press would depend 
largely on its source" (392).

6) "Sometimes, though, the person who tried to sell a play to a 
publisher might have no direct connection with the playhouse at  all (393).

7) ." . . any kind of  manuscript playbook that can conceivably have 
existed could conceivably have found its way into print"  (393).

8) "Modern notions of literary property simply would not apply . . . " 
(394).

9) ." . . it was not unknown for a stationer to admit quite openly that 
a book was being published  without its author's knowledge or consent" 
(395). That is, with impunity.

10) ." . . no stationer is known to have been punished for failing to 
have an inoffensive text perused and allowed. The purpose of the 
regulations was to prevent the publication of unacceptable material . . 
.  . If an unauthorized book caused offense, the perpetrator could be 
punished for failing to have it properly allow, but noncompliance seems 
otherwise not to have mattered" (397).

11) "Alternatively, they [master and wardens] might license it [a 
manuscript without governmental 'authority'] on condition that if any 
trouble arose, the  publisher would take full responsibility. Or they 
could agree with the publisher that the book could offend nobody, and 
license it without authority" (398).

12) "When Millington and Busby tried to license Shakespeare's Henry V in 
1600, therefore, the wardens would not have cared about either the 
authorship or the 'Badness' of the text - but they would have required 
the consent of Thomas Creede, who had  published (and printed) The 
Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth in 1598. Creede presumably did 
consent, on condition that he be hired (and therefore paid) to print the 
rival play" (399).

Maguire rules on Famous Victories: 'probably MR' (suspect texts, 252). 
She quotes H  T Price, 'a bad quarto, if there ever was one'; and yet 
this play conferred  ownership (and money) onto the publisher, who beat 
his bad quarto rival to the  punch. No matter where these awful texts 
came from, the rules were there to protect; first come, first served. 
The origins of the texts were apparently not relevant to the Company 
policies.

13) "And if the publisher of a suspected text [that is, a text suspected 
of piracy by amateur  scholars] was unsporting enough to register it 
anyway [instead of hiding the  piracy], the entry is likely to be 
scrutinized for signs of supposed  'irregularity' - which are easy 
enough to imagine if one knows nothing  about the range and idiosyncrasy 
of the records"  (404).

Blayney is undoubtedly right to argue that evidence of registry, 
authority, or license does not help to prove playbook piracy. But 
neither do they disprove piracy, as so many have concluded; only 
manuscript source-evidence is capable of such proof. But Blayney's essay 
indicates that a publisher participating in any manner in the printing 
of a piracy would be protected and encouraged by the system; as would be 
the pirates themselves. The evidence that has been debated historically 
is the bad quarto genre. But after all, Blayney has something to say 
about their sources, and one must conclude that Farmer and Lesser found 
this argument convincing also. However, his few words on the topic are 
not that forceful.

Blayney addresses the possibility of derivation of manuscripts by means 
other than direct descent from authorial copy (by which Kirschbaum 
defines the 'bad quarto'). His new take treats the address to readers by 
Humphrey Mosley on publication of the Beaumont and Fletcher Folio in 1647:

"One thing I must answer before it bee objected; 'tis this: When these 
Comedies and Tragedies were presented on the Stage, the Actours omitted 
some Scenes and Passages (with the Author's consent) as occasion led 
them; and when private friends desir'd a Copy, they then (and justly 
too) transcribed what they Acted." (Greg, Bibliography, 3:1233)

Greg assumed that Mosley implied the players "made a fair copy of the 
promptbook." This to Blayney seems "to be a forced and legalistic 
reading . . . " (394). He understands the passage instead to refer to 
"performance texts written down by actors who took part in them." And 
these, he believes Humphrey was saying, were of the "kind of text that 
Pollard called a Bad Quarto . . .  "(394). Now Blayney is placing his 
and Mosley's stamp of approval on (innocent, not piratical) 'Memorial 
Reconstruction' as explanation of dozens of published texts during the 
era we 'revisit.' I happen to agree with Greg that actors would have 
transcribed from a written text in the circumstance Mosley describes. 
Heywood's _The Captives_ (which I described in a recent post to this 
list) is a text shortened with the approval of the author that could 
have been recovered in its longer state. And it would have been 
perfectly natural to have transcribed a copy 'dutifully omitting the 
omissions.' However, issues are not resolved by arguable wording like 
Mosley's.

Lesser and Farmer  appreciate that "critics need no longer search for 
fictional pirates, thanks to Blayney and such scholars as Paul Werstine, 
Laurie E. Maguire, and Roslyn L. Knudson," (Revisited, 3). While I too 
will not recommend searching for fictional pirates, the possibility of 
real pirates intrigues me. Although neither Werstine nor Maguire deny 
the concept or possibility of memorial reconstruction outright, their 
critiques have cast a long shadow over specific arguments of such 
theorizing. Blayney's lumping of the bad quartos into a single 
hypothesis of 'innocent group' memorial recovery of plays that found 
their way into print must address these criticisms of similar cases or 
they must be taken as denying his suggestion.

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