Publishing Drama in Early Modern Europe

K. C. Harrison (Former City Librarian of Westminster)

Library Review

ISSN: 0024-2535

Article publication date: 1 June 2000




Harrison, K.C. (2000), "Publishing Drama in Early Modern Europe", Library Review, Vol. 49 No. 4, pp. 197-206.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

This is the third booklet of Panizzi Lectures I have had the privilege of reviewing, the others being the 1987 presentations on National Libraries by K.W. Humphreys (LA Record, May 1989) and the 1995 series by David Woodward on Maps as Prints in the Italian Renaissance (Library Review, Vol. 46 No. 6, 1997). All the titles in the series are very specific, extremely erudite, and each is valuable in its own way. Few will be found more erudite than this contribution by Dr Roger Chartier. He has been professor at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris since 1984, and he obviously has a superb command of the English language, since he has been a visiting professor at many universities in Canada, the USA and elsewhere.

For these three lectures he used as his theme the publishing of drama in early modern Europe, a subject in which he is a specialist. After a preface in which he pays tribute to Don Mackenzie, pioneer of the Panizzi Lectures in 1985, he titles his first lecture “Text as performance” and devotes it to (and I quote) “… the nexus of relations formed during the 16th and 17th centuries between the forms of transmission of texts or, to put it another way, the different modalities of their performance, and their possible reception by their different audiences”. To help in his task he uses many examples from European literature as a whole, drawing upon the works of Borges, Cervantes, Shakespeare, Molière and other dramatists. The roles of compositors and proof‐readers are mentioned, as is the problem of how punctuation may affect the meanings of individual passages.

Chartier’s second lecture is headed “Copied onely be the eare”, a phrase of Thomas Heywood’s. The lecturer provides a full transcript of Heywood’s passage which includes those five words taken from his Advice to the Reader of the edition of his play The Rape of Lucrece published in 1609. The whole lecture gives a fascinating insight into how pirated editions of dramatic works were common. Between 1588 and 1626 at least ten methods of shorthand or stenography were published, and these swift writing systems were used by the pirates to copy down the texts of plays performed in the afternoon, transcribed, and then sold to publishers. Of course, this method led to the textual anomalies, bad spelling and punctuation, all of which has been a nightmare to later students of the plays of the period. In this lecture, Chartier again draws on his wide knowledge of European dramatists, but ends with a detailed examination of the editions of George Dandin, a work by Molière. There is an edition of this in the Bibliothèque Municipale of Lyons which escaped many previous bibliographers, but it did not escape Roger Chartier. He uses this copy as a basis to compare the different editions of the play.

The final lecture in this booklet is “The Stage and the Page”, meaning the printed page. His many examples in this delivery are taken from such writers as Ben Jonson, Lope de Vega, Molière again, Shakespeare and others, and this perhaps is the most specific of his three lectures. To have been present, and to have heard Dr Chartier in person at the British Library must have been a rare experience, but those who were there will be glad to have this booklet as a permanent reminder of his detailed presentations. The British Library has done a service in making his researches available to a much wider audience. Students may not find these lectures, with their many foreign quotations and specific references, easy to read and comprehend, but the pages will repay careful study and perhaps several re‐readings. Libraries are therefore urged to add these 1998 Panizzi Lectures to their shelves.

Related articles