From TLS - 'Delectable and pithy'

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 30.103  Sunday, 10 March 2019


From:        Hardy Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         March 10, 2019 at 9:07:34 AM EDT

Subject:    From TLS - 'Delectable and pithy'


[Editor’s Note: The following appeared in the March 8, 2019, TLS. I will provide excepts here; and if anyone wishes the entire article and does not have access to TLS, please contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. -Hardy]



Delectable, pithy and elegant

How play scripts sold themselves

Laurie Maguire


Tamara Atkin


240pp. Routledge. £115.


Reading Drama in Tudor England is a “wondrous necessary” book. Here Tamara Atkin shows how sixteenth-century booksellers marketed drama in print: looking at title pages, colophons, doubling charts (which set out which roles could be performed by the same actor), authorship attributions (names, initials, or anonymity) and reprints, Dr Atkin argues that these booksellers were thinking about how to shape their customers’ reading experiences of drama from the start. Doubling charts, for example, given prominence on plays’ title pages, were not provided to facilitate performance for amateurs (always a limited market), but to reinforce the sense of the work in question as a play. This conclusion runs counter to recent studies that promote the idea of the “literary dramatist” – an idea that would seem to keep any hint of theatricality at a distance.


Atkin’s book is full of such bracing observations, and her comparative readings consistently enable fresh ways of thinking. She compares the title pages of plays to those of other genres, showing how printers could make sense of drama by linking it to other recognized categories – hence the title-page formulation “in manner of”. She scrutinizes adjectives on title pages, too. “Fruitful” occurs seventy-five times on the title pages of Tudor devotional works but only twice on dramatic title pages; these two particular plays are by the clergymen Lewis Wager and William Wager, where “fruitful” piously suggests that “time reading this book is time well spent”.


Hybrid terms like “tragical comedy”, meanwhile, are signs of inventiveness rather than Polonian pedanticism. Adjectives advertising forms of mirth – delectable, pleasant, witty, pithy, excellent – rarely appear on non-dramatic title pages. Even so, they only appear on dramatic title pages after 1570, where their brand of comedy replaces the “fruitful” morality. These descriptors, Atkin concludes, reflect stationers’ attempts to convey the idiosyncratic experience of a new comic genre. (One of the stimulating by-products of Atkin’s textual inquiry is the new light it sheds on the development of generic categories.)


This approach raises questions in turn about current assumptions and scholarly practices. Atkin queries the academic habit of presenting play dates by year of composition or performance (often conjectured), observing that this privileges the play qua play rather than as printed artefact. (Plays in print frequently post-date performance by several years.) We have become so fixated with authorship or performance as a legitimizing category that we underplay the ways in which drama before 1576 locates authority elsewhere: in the author’s status (“chaplain to . . .”) or in an appeal to a coterie such as the Inns of Court. Authority derived from performance comes later, with the publication of a second edition of Thomas Norton and Thomas Sackville’s Gorboduc (1570), and is a “radical new way of marketing playbooks”.


[ . . . ]


Atkin reasonably ends her study at 1576, the year that the Theatre opened in Shoreditch. Nonetheless, one frequently finds oneself offering adjunct material of a later date. An anthropomorphized description of a text as violated female is acknowledged as unusual in 1565; but it becomes a standard trope in prefatory materials of the public playhouse period, and the nascent vocabulary could be plotted across the pre- and post-playhouse divide. This is not to complain but to acknowledge the necessity of studying the continuum rather than making a bifurcation between early sixteenth century and later sixteenth century. This book’s purpose is to question such a bifurcation; and it shows our need for more scholars working, as Tamara Atkin does, across the awkward literary phases of the sixteenth century.




From TLS - 'Shining passages'

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 30.102  Sunday, 10 March 2019


From:        Hardy Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         March 10, 2019 at 9:04:35 AM EDT

Subject:    From TLS - 'Shining passages'


[Editor’s Note: The following appeared in the March 8, 2019, TLS. I will provide excepts here; and if anyone wishes the entire article and does not have access to TLS, please contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. -Hardy]


Pushed by many hands

Drawing attention to those who experienced Shakespeare on the page


Stanley Wells


Jean-Christophe Mayer


A cultural history from 1590 to 1800

272pp. Cambridge University Press. £75 (US $105).


The title of this immensely scholarly and wide-ranging book may give a false impression of its aims and scope. The “early readers” discussed do not include Dryden, Johnson, Goethe, or Voltaire, all of whom wrote major works of appreciative criticism such as Dryden’s Essay of Dramatic Poesy, or Johnson’s great Preface, or Goethe’s reflections on Hamlet – or, for that matter, Thomas Rymer’s diatribe against Othello in his Short View of Tragedy, or Voltaire’s strictures on the “barbarous drama” of Hamlet.


[ . . . ]


These were all “early readers” of Shakespeare who left substantial evidence of how they reacted to his works, but Mayer’s book narrows its focus to concentrate on people – many of them obscure, some even unidentifiable – who wrote “on” Shakespeare’s works in the most literal sense of the word – that is to say who wrote – often scribbled – comments of many different kinds on their copies of plays and poems by Shakespeare, annotating quartos and Folios and later editions, attempting to correct their texts, underlining selected passages, commenting on their merits and their perceived defects, and sometimes just doodling.


Within these limits, Mayer’s scope is wide. As well as drawing on the work of previous scholars, he has personally examined or reports on “several hundred books” and numerous documents in libraries and other collections world-wide – reporting, for instance, on annotated copies of Folios in the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC, in the collections of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-upon-Avon, and in Meisei University in Japan.


As he writes, he is interested in “used books”, even sometimes fragments of books, which bear traces of life and activity on the part of their owners and readers. His “central argument” – and here he quotes Dryden’s “Of Dramatic Poesy” – is that “Shakespeare was ‘pushed by many hands’, including those who wrote in the margins of his books, or took great pains to extract, transform and pass on his works in writing”.


A necessary preliminary is to examine “the issue of early modern literacy, in order to determine who could read and afford Shakespeare’s works in print”. Literature could circulate even among the illiterate: passages from the Bible, daily news, popular stories or plays could be read aloud by family members, friends, or workmates. And unschooled but dogged autodidacts could achieve literacy through their own efforts. The fact that publishers thought it worthwhile to print and reprint poems and plays by Shakespeare, and to offer them for sale at reasonable prices, indicates the existence of a considerable reading public: “there was ‘a significant market’ for single play editions before the First Folio was printed”. Of course, such editions (like the Folio itself) cost less when sold unbound, which helps to explain why some of the early quartos survive in only small numbers, or were even read out of existence.


So it is difficult to assess the impact of Shakespeare’s works through reading rather than performance over a period of two centuries, but remarkable facts emerge. Even during Shakespeare’s lifetime, some readers amassed considerable collections of his plays: Sir John Harington (best known as inventor of the water closet but a fascinating character in other ways, too), who died four years before Shakespeare, owned copies of “at least 135 plays, of which 20 were either by or attributed to Shakespeare”; and Sir Edward Dering, who conflated the two parts of Henry IV for amateur performance, was an avid book collector who bought two copies of the First Folio in the year it was published. King Charles I famously left his personal mark on his copy of the Second Folio, writing characters’ names beside the titles of certain plays. A number of prominent clergymen, Protestant and Catholic, bought and inscribed Folios. Among middle-class readers, Edward Pudsey transcribed extracts from several Shakespeare plays during the dramatist’s lifetime.


The First Folio of 1623 was reprinted three times in the seventeenth century, and quartos continued to be reprinted, but in 1709 came the first solo-edited Complete Works, prepared by Nicholas Rowe, and after this a succession of new editions offered opportunities to annotators. Extraordinarily, the greatest of these editors, Edmond Malone, who owned “the most prodigious collection of early playbooks and poems”, worked towards his edition of 1790 by disbinding all his copies of the quartos and having their leaves inlaid into paper mounts, allowing him to write his copious notes without marking the originals.


[ . . . ]




Shakespeare Census

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 30.101  Sunday, 10 March 2019


From:        Al Magary <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         March 8, 2019 at 3:13:30 PM EST

Subject:    Shakespeare Census


Dear all,


We are very pleased to announce the launch of the new Shakespeare Census <>. The Shakespeare Census is a database that attempts to locate and describe all extant copies of all editions of Shakespeare’s works through 1700 (excluding the four folio editions). 


The Shakespeare Census enables new work in book history, bibliography, and the reception of Shakespeare’s works, revealing copy-specific information that has been “hiding in plain sight”. It promotes scholarly discussion and collaborative research by assigning each copy a unique identifier (the SC number). Over time, details will continue be added about each copy, including its condition, binding, marginalia, and provenance, along with a bibliography of scholarship discussing that specific copy. Currently the Shakespeare Census includes 1752 copies, and there are certainly more to be located. Many copies are not in Henrietta Bartlett’s Census or ESTC.


We invite you to explore the site and to contribute to it by alerting us to copies not yet listed, by contributing copy-specific information, and by identifying scholarship to be added to the copy-specific bibliography.


We are especially interested in hearing from librarians, collectors, and dealers who know of copies that should be in the database but aren’t. If you curate a collection that includes copies covered by the Census, we will set up a Librarian account for you so you can submit your copies and edit their details directly into the database. If you are a collector or dealer and know of privately held copies, please get in touch as well. We are eager to include these and are happy to anonymize as needed.


We hope the Shakespeare Census will be an exciting new resource for your work!



Zachary Lesser, University of Pennsylvania

Adam G. Hooks, University of Iowa



The Shakespeare Canon and the NOS

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 30.100  Friday, 8 March 2019


[1] From:        Gabriel Egan <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         March 7, 2019 at 5:36:20 PM EST

     Subj:         Re: SHAKSPER: NOS 


[2] From:        Pervez Rizvi <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         March 8, 2019 at 8:02:02 AM EST

     Subj:         Re: The Shakespeare Canon and the NOS 




From:        Gabriel Egan <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         March 7, 2019 at 5:36:20 PM EST

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: NOS




Gerald E. Downs writes that “F ought to be considered generally unfit for ‘too too’ stylometry until textual questions are answered”. By “F” he appears to mean the entire First Folio. If so, this suggest that about half of Shakespeare’s plays should be off-limits to stylometric analysis, since they are available to us only from their appearance in the First Folio. That half would include ‘Timon of Athens’ and ‘Henry VIII’, both of which have been shown, to most people’s satisfaction, to be co-authored, with Thomas Middleton and John Fletcher respectively.


The studies that reached these conclusions were stylometric. Are we to understand that Downs thinks that these studies are not to be trusted, and hence that for him Shakespeare remains the sole author of ‘Timon of Athens’ and ‘Henry VIII’? Since this seems an extraordinarily sceptical view to take, I suspect it’s not what Downs means to say. If so, I’d be grateful to learn how I’m misunderstanding him.



Gabriel Egan



From:        Pervez Rizvi <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         March 8, 2019 at 8:02:02 AM EST

Subject:    Re: The Shakespeare Canon and the NOS


Readers who are frustrated with the longevity of this thread, please accept that if I have replied too often to Gabriel Egan's posts, it's only because I have felt that I could use them as hooks on which to hang new points of mine. Applying that policy, I'll comment briefly on his latest.


Rizvi wrongly summarizes this as “the phrases ‘and it’ and ‘and that’ are given twice the weight of the phrases ‘it and’ and ‘that and’”. That’s not true.....Rizvi’s implied question, asking why we do this, is unanswerable since our method doesn’t do what he thinks it does.


Anyone who wants to can check, by looking at any one of Egan et al's equations 4, 6 or 7, that what I wrote was true.


In fact, the calculation of limit probability is subtler than that [etc.]


It's quite a lot worse. Although the method is comparing two texts, it derives the weights by looking at only one of them. Having been thus chosen, the weights are applied to numbers that could be positive or negative, depending on the nature of the differences between the texts being compared. It follows that the weights could have the effect of emphasizing minor differences, or de-emphasizing major ones. Why? Because when you are adding a list of numbers, some positive and some negative, then the weights you give to each number could make the total go in either direction. If you start with 1-1=0, then the total (zero) may go up or down depending on whether you apply the larger weight to 1 or to -1. If you have chosen your weights by looking at only one of the texts - as this method does - then you cannot be sure whether the weighting might make similar texts looks different or different texts look similar. Zeta does not make that mistake. This method is almost comically inept. I appreciate that this point is a bit too technical to explain fully here. I may expand my online comments one of these days to elaborate it.




Q1 Hamlet

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 30.099  Friday, 8 March 2019


From:        Gabriel Egan <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         March 8, 2019 at 4:06:45 AM EST

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER; Q1 Hamlet




Brian Vickers has found that lots of two-word, three-word, and four-word phrases in Q1 ‘Hamlet’ also occur in other plays. There must be hundreds in all. When he turns to collocations, defined as “dispersed sequences within a ten-word window”, the number of potential matches must be vastly greater still. He excludes all but the unique matches: those found “in this text [Q1 ‘Hamlet’] and only one other”.


Surely if we take the many hundreds or thousands of matches that will naturally occur because the playwrights are all writing in the same language and then exclude all but the ones that Vickers defines as unique, we’re just bound to get the kind of list that Vickers presents. I’m not clear why he thinks this list shows that Q1 ‘Hamlet’ is a memorial reconstruction. Why can’t these matches simply have occurred because we’ve taken the full set of matches and applied a filter (the uniqueness rule) that removes 90% of them?


Aside from that general question, a few things are not clear to me from Vickers’s description of his method:


  • In his list of matches, are the matches in Q1 ‘Hamlet’ those that find a match in the parts of ‘Hamlet’ that are unique to Q1? This seems implied by his mentioning his use of a text in which the “Q1-only material” is marked up, but his account doesn’t positively assert it.
  • Why is 1587 the start of “the relevant period (1587-1603)” within which he is searching?
  • Does anything other than Vickers’s own judgement govern his choice to exclude those matches that are “expressed in everyday language that any character in such a situation might have been expected to use”. I’m not clear why he needs to make this judgement and thereby eliminate some evidence. It sounds subjective.
  • If he confined himself to matches “in this text [Q1 ‘Hamlet’] and only one other”, how come he includes matches found in three or four plays? (See for example his hit 1.14 for “imperious death” that he shows he has found in ‘Hamlet’, ‘Tamburlaine’, and ‘Two Lamentable Tragedies’, or his hit 1.20 “in Christendom” that he shows that he has found in ‘Hamlet’, ‘Soliman and Perseda’, ‘King Leir’, and ‘Arden of Faversham’, or his hits numbered 1.29, 1.31, 1.44, 1.45, 1.58, 2.1, 2.17, 2.23, 2.35, 2.47, 2.62, 2.72, and 2.97 that all seem to involve three plays not two.)

Spot-checking the first few hits in his list of matches using EEBO-TCP I’m seeing what look to me like matches that Vickers has missed:


1.1 “sad and melancholy” seems to occur in Lyly’s ‘Endymion’ (“passions of loue, the sad and melancholie moodes of perplexed”) but is not mentioned by Vickers.


1.4 “relate the circumstance” seems to occur in Heywood’s ‘How a Man may Choose a Good Wife from a Bad’ (“Tis true as I relate the circumstance, | And she is”) but is not mentioned by Vickers.


1.8 “hapless son” seems to occur in Yarington’s ‘Two Lamentable Tragedies’ (“To be the father of that haplesse sonne” but is not mentioned by Vickers.


That’s just in the first 10 claimed matches, at which point I stopped and thought I’d better checked with Vickers that I understand what he is doing.



Gabriel Egan




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