The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0015  Tuesday, 8 January 2008

From:		Gabriel Egan <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:		Tuesday, 8 Jan 2008 11:40:59 -0000
Subject: 19.0009 The Popularity of Playbooks
Comment:	Re: SHK 19.0009 The Popularity of Playbooks

Duncan Salkeld wrote:

 >It would certainly be wrong to dismiss naively his and Alan Farmer's 
 >widely researched and important work.
 >But Blayney's reply to their essay makes
 >no concession so far as I can see to any
 >part of their argument . . .

For the purpose of refuting Farmer and Lesser Blayney agrees to switch 
to counting books not plays (so the Shakespeare Folio of 1623 counts 
once, not 36 times) and this lowers the reprinted-inside-25-years rate 
from 40.8% to 32.4% (p. 34).  At this point, Blayney makes certain 
concessions.  Counting what share of raw STC entries is comprised of 
plays is the mixing of apples and pears, and Blayney accepts the 
elimination of the STC's false duplicates that are minor variant states 
in one edition.

But Blayney does not accept the elimination of non-speculative 
publications, at least, not for the reason that Farmer and Lesser give, 
which was the practice of payment-in-advance rather than outlay being 
recouped later; as Blayney points out, printers were often simply paid 
to do a job of work. Rather, Blayney argues, the non-speculative should 
be excluded because they were not made for the purpose of being sold 
wholesale to booksellers for resale to the public. (This seems like 
something of a smokescreen: Blayney pretends to object to Farmer and 
Lesser's phrasing, accusing them of confusion, in order to distract 
attention from the fact that he has conceded their point that lots of 
publications carried little or no risk and hence ought not to be 
compared to the speculative endeavour of play publication.) Blayney 
objects to books published at the cost of their authors being excluded 
because he thinks them just as speculative as any others. I would have 
thought that the suspicion of vanity publishing (which by definition is 
not market-driven) would indeed justify the exclusion of these books.

Likewise Blayney objects to the exclusion of surreptitious religious 
books, which he thinks were made to be sold like any other books, as in 
the case of the recusant The Manual of Prayers, which went through 27 
editions and "was therefore far more popular than any printed play" (p. 
36). This claim would be more convincing if Blayney took the trouble to 
convince the reader that the number of new editions was directly an 
expression of popularity and not simply a result of the surreptitious 
circumstances of printing. After all, we are bound to wonder whether 
secret printing kept the print runs small (where to hide a large stack 
of dangerous books?) and hence made reprinting more frequently necessary 
(p. 36).

Blayney complains that when speaking of the best years for playbook 
sales, Farmer and Lesser neglect to mention the worst years, which he 
calls "biased and misleading" reporting. But the method, he admits, has 
at least been so far quite sensible (p. 37). After caviling on the 
nature of patent protection and whether it skewed the market to such an 
extent that the affected books should be excluded from the calculations, 
Blayney strongly objects to the exclusion of books sold to the captive 
markets of "students, lawyers, or parish churches" (pp. 38-39). Or 
rather, Blayney again concedes and admits that perhaps patented books 
ought to be excluded from such a study, but insists that the exclusion 
should not be for the reasons given by Farmer and Lesser, and he comes 
up with a book that they exclude but that was wildly popular without 
anyone being coerced to buy it (pp. 40-41).

Most importantly, while Blayney accepts that the percentage of playbooks 
that got reprinted (40% by Farmer and Lesser's methods and date span, 
33% by Blayney's) was about double that of the percentage of sermon 
books that got reprinted (20% by Farmer and Lesser's count, 17% by 

As you say, Duncan, the crux of this is whether one values total sales 
or rates of reprint. Blayney started out (in his 1997 essay) basing his 
case on the latter and only shifted to the former once Farmer and Lesser 
showed that his counts were wrong. Since we've known for a long time 
that religious books vastly outnumbered all other kinds of writing, 
there's no news in Blayney's restating that plays had only a small share 
of the total market.

Gabriel Egan

S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
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