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"Early Modern Play Manuscripts and their Licensing" by Gabriel Egan

The late John Orrell, theatre historian and consultant to the replica Globe in South London, was fond of remarking that Clio is the most tight-fisted of the muses. In attempting to reconstruct how an early modern theatre company turned a dramatist's (or the dramatists') script into something from which the play could be performed, we are hampered by a paucity of documentary evidence. A key step in the readying of a script was performance was getting it approved by the state censor, the Master of the Revels, which is the subject of this talk. I'm going to put licensing into three contexts: the way we categorize the surviving play manuscripts, the relationship between licensing, play revival and revision, and the light it throws on notions of authorship in the period. 

I. Licensing and Play Manuscript Categorization

    For the purposes of this talk, when I say 'play manuscript' I mean those from the professional theatre between 1576 when the first purpose-built playhouse opened and 1642 when all the theatres were closed as the Civil Wars started. The closest thing to a list of the relevant manuscripts appears in Grace Ioppolo's Dramatists and their Manuscripts in the age of Shakespeare, Jonson, Middleton and Heywood published seven years ago, although we would have to weed out the university- and private-performance plays she includes (Ioppolo 2006, 5-7). By contrast, Tiffany Stern's recent Documents of Performance in Early Modern England gives no such conspectus of its materials and she infers professional performance processes from amateur and closet drama; for Stern the early modern period starts in the the middle of the sixteenth century and continues to the end of the eighteenth (Stern 2009). Of the 100 or so manuscripts that meet my definition and time-span, only one or two dozen have any palpable connection with the theatre and it is those I will focus on.

    It appears that the Master of the Revels would usually write the words of his licence on the play manuscript itself, together with any cuts or alterations he demanded. Five such licensed manuscripts survive, all in London--four in the British Library and one at the Victoria and Albert Museum--and they span the period 1611-35. All were known to Greg and the New Bibliographers, so that in this regard the manuscripts outside London are irrelevant. [SLIDE] The earliest is Thomas Middleton's The Second Maiden's Tragedy (British Library Lansdowne 807), which has in it some marks of George Buc, Master of the Revels from 1610 to 1622, and at the end his licence. [SLIDE] It reads "This second Maydens tragedy (for it hath no name inscribed) may wth the reformations bee acted publikely. 31 octobr. 1611. /. G. Buc" (56a).1 (We can tell that the marks in the body of the play are Buc's because they are in the same ink and hand as the licence.) [SLIDE] Taking them chronologically, the second licensed playbook is Nathan Field, Philip Massinger and John Fletcher's The Honest Man's Fortune (Victoria and Albert Museum Manuscript Dyce 9), at the end of which is written [SLIDE] "This Play being an olde one, and the Originall lost was reallowd by mee this 8. Febru. 1624 Att the Intreaty of Mr <Taylor>" (34b). Although the licence lacks his signature, its handwriting is clearly that of Herbert. Grace Ioppolo thought that the signature was at some point cut out by a signature collector, but as N. W. Bawcutt observed there does not seem to be room for it (Ioppolo 2006, 114-15; Bawcutt 1996, 43).

    [SLIDE] The third of the five surviving licensed playbooks is Massinger's Believe As You List (British Library Manuscript Egerton 2828), at the end of which Herbert has written [SLIDE] "This Play called Believe as you List may bee acted this 6 of May 1631. Henry Herbert" (27b). [SLIDE] Two years later Herbert did the same with the manuscript of Walter Mountfort's The Launching of the Mary or, The Seaman's Honest Wife (British Library Manuscript Egerton 1994), our fourth licensed playbook. At the end Herbert wrote [SLIDE]:

This play, called ye Seamans Honest wife, all ye
Oaths left out In ye action as they are crost In ye booke &
all other Reformations strictly obserud, may bee acted not
otherwyse. this .27. Iune. 1633. Henry Herbert.

I commande your Bookeeper to present mee wth a faire Copy hereafte<r>
and to leaue out all Oathes, prophaness, & publick Ribaldry, as
he will answer it at his perill. HHerbert.

[SLIDE] The last of the five playbook manuscripts containing a performance licence is Henry Glapthorne's The Lady Mother (British Library Egerton 1994). After the end of the play is written [SLIDE] "This Play Call'd the Lady=moth<her> (the Reformcõns obseru'd) may <be> Acted. October the xvth. 1635 Will: Blagrau<e> Dept to the M<aster> of the Reuoll<s>" (210a). It is noteworthy that of these five licences, three draw attention to the censoring marks ("reformations") in the manuscript and require that they be obeyed. The censor, then, trusts the performers to put into practice the changes he has marked. Of the other two, Believe as You List was in fact entirely refused a licence on first submission (Bawcutt 1996, 171-72) and the version that Herbert licensed was a thorough revision of it, and The Honest Man's Fortune had previously been approved and needed a fresh licence only because the manuscript containing Buc's licence was lost. Although it is a sample too small to reliably indicate the overall rate of intervention, we should note that none of these plays was a new one passing through the censorship process unscathed.

     Two of these five manuscripts, Believe As You List and The Launching of the Mary, are particularly important because, aside from the licences and some annotations, they are written in the handwriting of their dramatists. (The other three are in the hands of scribes.) Believe As You List and The Launching of the Mary, then, show that a playing company did not have to get a scribe to make a transcript of the dramatist's papers in order to have something clean enough for the censor to read. [SLIDE] However, The Launching of the Mary suggests that this could be a close call since untidy authorial papers were apt to annoy the censor: [SLIDE] "I commande your Bookeeper to present mee wth a faire Copy hereafte<r>" (349b). 

    All the surviving performance licences are from the second half of the period 1576-1642. Edmund Tilney was Master of the Revels from 1579 to 1610, almost exactly the first half of our period, and just a glimpse at his practice may be seen in a play that survives in a manuscript mainly in the handwriting of its primary dramatist Anthony Munday but with additional dramatic material in the handwritings of Henry Chettle, Thomas Heywood, Thomas Dekker, and William Shakespeare. [SLIDE] The play is Sir Thomas More (British Library Manuscript Harley 7368) and Tilney wrote his substantial objections on the first page: [SLIDE] "Leaue out ye insurrection wholy & ye Cause ther off & begin wt Sr Tho: Moore att ye mayors sessions wt a reportt afterwardes off his good servic' don being' Shriue off Londõ vppõ a mutiny Agaynst ye Lubardes only by A shortt reportt & nott otherwise att your own perrilles E Tyllney" (3a). This has been universally understood as Tilney's denial of a performance licence, and it may well be. However, since we do not know Tilney's usually phrasing when allowing a script we cannot rule out the possibility that this is in fact a strongly worded conditional licence.

    If these words are guidance to the authors about the revision of the thing, they seem remarkably detailed. If Tilney wanted to deny a licence, why not just deny it? If he wanted only to advise the authors on revision, why make it "att your own perrilles"? Herbert later used similar phrasing ("at his perill") when describing what the bookkeeper who had presented The Launching of the Mary should do about "Oathes, prophaness, & publick Ribaldry" in future, so perhaps Tilney likewise indicated what the next draft should contain. On the other hand, if this was a conditional licence for performance, the detail and the vehemence make perfect sense. Buc, Herbert and Blagrave wrote conditional licences that referred to reformations that had to be observed (The Second Maiden's Tragedy, The Launching of the Mary and The Lady Mother). Observing these reformations would require local rewriting, yet these Masters of the Revels apparently did not expect to see the script again, else there would be no need to make the licences provisional. Perhaps Tilney did not expect to see the script of Sir Thomas More again after giving his very firm warning of what he would allow the players to perform, which implicitly required them to make revisions he was not going to check. It would be a remarkably trusting Master of the Revels who ordered such extensive revisions and yet permitted performance of the results without seeing the results, but we cannot exclude this possibility: we simply do not know how far Tilney's practices differed from his successors. As we shall see, Herbert later commented that previous Masters of the Revels permitted liberties that he would not.

    The first attempt significant survey of the surviving play manuscripts was W. W. Greg's Dramatic Documents from the Elizabethan Playhouses (Greg 1931b; Greg 1931a). Greg largely confined his work to materials available in the United Kingdom, and especially the Bodleian Library, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum Library (renamed the British Library in 1973). As Paul Werstine observed, Greg's limited purview--and especially his almost complete ignorance of American library holdings--vitiated his study of the problem of classifying the manuscripts (Werstine 1997, 481-83). Despite this, Greg's classification remains essentially correct and has not been overturned by study of the American holdings. [SLIDE] Greg counted fifteen manuscripts that he called Class A "showing reasonable clear signs of use or origin in the playhouse", meaning that they were used during performance or prepared for that use or are faithful transcripts of the same, and another fifteen, Class B, "similar in type but less intimately connected with the stage", with Class C being interesting miscellanea (Greg 1931b, 190). Greg characterized his manuscript classification as "a rash venture" to be excused as "a first attempt" (Greg 1931b, 191), but in fact it survives essentially unchanged in the latest work on the problem. The fifteen manuscripts in Class A were:

  1. John a Kent and John a Cumber (Huntington Library)
  2. Sir Thomas More (British Museum)
  3. Thomas of Woodstock (British Museum)
  4. Edmund Ironside (British Museum)
  5. Charlemagne (British Museum)
  6. The Second Maiden's Tragedy (British Museum)
  7. Sir John Van Olden Barnavelt (British Museum)
  8. The Two Noble Ladies (British Museum)
  9. The Welsh Ambassador (Cardiff Public Library)
  10. The Parliament of Love (Victoria & Albert Museum)
  11. The Captives (British Museum)
  12. The Honest Man's Fortune (Victoria & Albert Museum)
  13. Believe as You List (British Museum)
  14. The Launching of the Mary (British Museum)
  15. The Lady Mother (British Museum)
    (Greg 1931b, 239-308)

As we have seen, items [SLIDE] 6, 12, 13, 14 and 15 contain the Master of the Revels's performance licence and assuming that the licensed manuscript was the one used to run performances these are broadly equivalent to what theatre practitioners since at least the late eighteenth century have called prompt books. The other ten Greg admitted to his list because they all contain annotations likely to be made by someone readying a play for performance, most especially in the form of actors' names but also including the marking of material to be omitted or altered, either by the players or the censor.

    There was no sustained attack Greg's classification appeared until William B. Long published a series of articles in the 1980s and 1990s (Long 1985b; Long 1985a; Long 1989; Long 1999), [SLIDE] adding three plays to Greg's list. Long's central claim was that New Bibliographers were wrong to think that the manuscripts used to run performances had to be more tidy and regular than the author's own papers, which might easily neglect important practical matters such as provided warnings for getting actors ready some time before their entrances were to be made. Instead, he argued, the surviving manuscripts show that the authors' papers were usually good enough to run a performance, and theatre personnel would only fitfully annotate them to solve particular problems of staging. However, Long repeatedly described certain phenomena as untypical of the class of manuscripts he was surveying, even when he found them in more than one manuscript. The author of The Noble Ladies must have been written by an amateur, Long decided, because he does not follow what Long thought were the usual rules: "He is almost compulsively complete, even writing out the full name in every speech heading, apparently unaware of the almost universal theatrical practice of abbreviation" (Long 1999, 427). For contrast, Long offers the case of Thomas Heywood--"Any man who testified that he had a hand in 220 plays surely qualifies as a professional . . ." (Long 1999)--yet as Long noticed, in his manuscript of his play The Captives Heywood shows a "curiously atypical insistence on writing out the full names in speech headings" (Long 1999).

    Long found that The Lady Mother has what he considered a curious feature untypical of playbook manuscripts: [SLIDE] "All entrances which do not begin a new act are 'anticipated' by inscribing in the left column the names of characters coming onstage eight to twenty lines before their actual entrance" (Long 1999, 432). [SLIDE] This feature was, he admitted, also found in The Welsh Ambassador with its many "bee ready" anticipations. Moving on to The Wasp, Long found that it has [SLIDE] "one curious difference from most playbooks. in the inscription of warnings for entrances some twelve to twenty lines before entry" (Long 1999, 432). It is unclear how many manuscript would have to display a feature before Long might accept it as normal rather than atypical. The bookkeeper's annotations in The Wasp include warnings to get properties ready before they are needed. [SLIDE] Eight lines down on folio 3b is the stage direction "Bed discovered. Gilb: in it", and at the foot of the previous page is the anticipatory warning [SLIDE] "Bed. Gilbert". Other readying notes call for "A Table" (9a), "Table | Wine" (15b), "Ladies | Table | Banquet" (20a). [SLIDE] One annotation takes an author's permissive stage direction "Enter filius | wth somthing" and makes it specific: [SLIDE] "a Capon" (17b). These are precisely the kinds of annotation that Long insisted we should not expect to find: "None of the theatrical personnel who add notations to the surviving playbooks shows any inclination to clarify, particularize, or regularize either stage directions or speech headings" (Long 1999, 418). Long was quite right that the manuscript playbooks do not show a thoroughgoing process of clarification and regularization taking place (as New Bibliographers sometimes assumed), but he overstated his case by claiming the absence of such improvements to the script.

II. Licensing, Revision and Revival

    In the past twenty years it has become commonly asserted that plays were much altered during their early stage lives, being extensively reworked for revival in a process that Tiffany Stern called "re-patching" (Stern 2004). In a study of the various kinds of revision that might be undertaken, [SLIDE] Rasmussen noted that "Along with adding new material to a finished script before the first production, playwrights might write additions for later revivals (see Knutson, 'Henslowe's')" (Rasmussen 1997, 448). Rasmussen went on to discuss some famous examples, but the essay by Roslyn L. Knutson's that he cites concludes from the evidence in Henslowe's Diary covering that period 1592-1603 that this was rare: ". . . revision for the occasion of revival was neither commonplace nor economically necessary" and "under normal circumstances companies did not pay for revisions of old playbooks" (Knutson 1985, 1). The one routine occurrence that might prompt a company to revise a play was being called to court to perform it. [SLIDE] A typical example is the £1 that Henslowe gave Dekker "in full payment of his booke" for Old Fortunatus on 30 November 1599, having paid £5 in two instalments over the preceding three weeks, followed by a further £1 the next day [SLIDE] "for the altrenge of the boocke", which presumably meant final revisions to meet the company's approval. Less than two weeks later Dekker received a further £2 [SLIDE] "for the eande of fortewnatus for the corte" (Foakes & Rickert 1961, 127-28), presumably including a specially composed royal epilogue. (Incidentally, these images come from the publicly funded online Henslowe-Alleyn Digitization Project which is, outrageously in my view, protected by digital locks. However, the locks are easily broken to enable one to download a whole high resolution document, and I'd be glad to show anybody who's interested how it's done.) [BLANK SLIDE]

    Some plays were revised for revival, most famously The Spanish Tragedy, but this was not the norm and if Herbert was typical as a Master of the Revels then the protocols of licensing presented a strong economic disincentive against the practice. Almost as soon as he took office, Herbert established that plays licensed by his predecessors would need relicensing for revival under his tenure. On 19 August 1623 he recorded in his office book the relicensing of "An ould play", now lost, called The Peaceable King, or the Lord Mendall (previously allowed by Buc) "& because <itt was free from adition> or reformation I tooke no fee", and another "olde play", Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale (also previously allowed by Buc), for which "the allowed book was missinge" but "on Mr. Hemmings his worde that there was nothing profane added or reformed" Herbert relicensed it and "returned it without a fee" (Bawcutt 1996, 142). On 21 August 1623 Herbert took no fee for relicensing "An Old Play", Thomas Dekker's Match Me in London, first performed c.1611-c.1613 and formerly allowed by Buc, presumably because it was unaltered (Bawcutt 1996, 143). On 7 July 1624 Herbert took ten shillings for relicensing Dekker and Philip Massinger's The Virgin Martyr, performed in 1620, with an additional scene and he took the same amount on 13 May 1629 for relicensing an unnamed old play with "a new act" (Bawcutt 1996, 153, 168).

    Herbert appears to have charged ten shillings for relicensing revised plays until the 1630s when the fee jumped to £1. The latter is what he took on 12 January 1631 for relicensing an unnamed old play "new written or forbisht", on 15 August 1633 for relicensing William Rowley's old play Hymen's Holiday, now lost, "with some alterations in it", on 16 August 1634 for relicensing the lost play Doctor Lamb and the Witches "An ould play, with some new scenes", on 16 September 1635 for relicensing Fletcher's Love's Pilgrimage, first performed in 1616, with a new scene, and on 12 May 1636 for relicensing an unnamed old play with new scenes (Bawcutt 1996, 174, 181, 189, 194, 199). Because Herbert's office-book is lost and we are dependent on incomplete transcriptions made two centuries ago, we must be careful when inferring general practice from the absence of contradictory records. But these relicensings, representing all but one of the known cases, form a distinct pattern: if the script was unchanged the relicensing was free and if there was revision Herbert charged first ten shillings and later £1.

    The single anomalous case is that on 23 November 1633 Herbert took £1 for relicensing Fletcher's The Loyal Subject without mentioning any changes to the script made since Buc licensed its first performance in 1616 (Bawcutt 1996, 185). The explanation for this appears to be connected with a temporary tension between Herbert and the King's men. On 21 October 1633, Herbert wrote in response to a dispute over the King's men's revival of Fletcher's The Tamer Tamed that "The Master ought to have copies of their new playes left with him, that he may be able to shew what he hath allowed or disallowed" (Bawcutt 1996, 182). Herbert's desire for an independent record of his actions was probably fired by the trouble he was in regarding Jonson's The Magnetic Lady, which the King's men seem at first to have blamed on Herbert's faulty censorship. On 24 October 1633 he recorded that "Upon a second petition" to the Court of High Commission the players "did mee right in my care to purge their plays of all offense" and took the blame themselves, having hitherto "excused themselves on me and the poett" (Bawcutt 1996, 184). There is no evidence that Herbert enforced his newly announced desire to keep a second copy of each play at the Revels Office, and since annotating such a copy to reflect the reformations made in the licensed copy that was returned to the players would virtually double his labour, we should understand this as an aspiration abandoned almost as soon as it was conceived.

    We should presumably understand the next sentence in his office book the same way: "All ould plays ought to bee brought to the Master of the Revells, and have his allowance to them for which he should have his fee, since they may be full of offensive things against church and state; ye rather that in former time the poetts tooke greater liberty than is allowed them by mee" (Bawcutt 1996, 182-83). This appears to require that licensing even revivals of unaltered plays generated the usual fee, which is the rule that appears to have been applied to Fletcher's The Loyal Subject the following month. However, the tone of Herbert's entry suggests that the players were simply trying to made amends for annoying Herbert over The Tamer Tamed and The Magnetic Lady: the players sent "an ould booke of Fletchers called The Loyal Subject . . . which according to their desire and agreement I did peruse, and with some reformations allowed" (Bawcutt 1996, 185). Herbert's marginal note next to the entry for The Loyal Subject indicates the start of a new practice--"The first ould play sent mee to be perused by the K. players"--but since he had been relicensing old plays for some time this must mean that it was the first one subjected to the new rule that even revivals without revision needed his approval and the payment of his fee. Shortly thereafter Fletcher's The Tamer Tamed and The Loyal Subject were performed for, and "very well likt" by, king Charles (Bawcutt 1996, 185) and Herbert appears to have been mollified: in future he charged a fee only for plays revised for revival.

    In 1622-5 Herbert's standard fee for licensing a new play for performance was £1, for 1626-31 we have no evidence, and from 1632 it was £2 (Bawcutt 1996, 39-40). Thus Herbert's fees for relicensing plays revised for revival, ten shillings and £1, are substantial and must has acted as a disincentive to the routine minor alteration ("re-patching") of plays when they were being revived. For plays licensed under Herbert's tenure, then, there was a power economic disincentive to revision, and if it was deemed desirable it might as well be substantial revision to justify the additional cost of relicensing. What about previous Masters of the Revels? We do not know, but as we have seen at least once Herbert claimed to believe that they were less strict than he was. Recording his (unenforced) ruling that even unaltered old plays had to be relicensed, he noted that ". . . they may be full of offensive things against church and state; ye rather that in former time the poetts tooke greater liberty than is allowed them by mee" (Bawcutt 1996, 182-83). But even if they were less strict about what they approved, there is no reason to suppose that previous Masters of the Revels forewent the opportunity to earn extra fees that would follow from insisting that revivals-with-revision were relicensed. There is no evidence that plays would have been endlessly and haphazardly re-patched in the way that Stern supposes. Revision was costly and for that reason orderly and rare.

    Indeed, looking at just which plays Henslowe recorded as "ne" (presumably meaning new) in his Diary, R. A. Foakes concluded that the likeliest significance of this label is that it marks plays for which a new performance licence had been granted, either because the play was entirely newly composed or because it had been substantially revised for revival (Foakes & Rickert 1961, xxx-xxxi). As Foakes pointed out, this would explain why the plays so marked generated greater income for Henslowe--more spectators, a higher entrance fee, or both--and the fact of new licence might itself have been part of the advertising that generated a larger than usual audience. Although Stern has described the characteristics of early modern playbills on the assumption that they looked much like printed play titlepages (Stern 2006), we have in fact no evidence for what was in them because no pre-Restoration example has survived. Given the close relationship between Henslowe and Master of the Revels Tilney--the former was making weekly payments to the latter in the early 1590s and then switched to fortnightly and then monthly payments (Foakes & Rickert 1961, xxviii-xxxix)--it would not be surprisingly if the Tilney's approval was exploited in Henslowe publicity for this theatre.

III. Licensing and the Authority of the Author

    When the Spanish ambassador to London succeeded in suppressing performances of Middleton's A Game at Chess in August 1624, the writer was held to be the chief culprit although others shared the blame for the offence caused. Writing to William Trumbull, John Woolley reported that "Middleton the Poet is sought after, and it is supposed shall be clapt in prison, if he doe not cleere him selfe by the Mr. of the Reuells, who alowed of it". Herbert's position was secure, however, since Prince Charles (later Charles 1), the Duke of Buckingham, and King James 1 himself were "all loth to haue it forbidden, and by report laught hartely at it" (Bawcutt 1996, 153). As I mentioned, when Jonson's The Magnetic Lady caused offence nine years later there was some attempt by the players to shift the blame to Herbert for failing to censor it properly, but this device did not work. Sensibly, writers and not the performers or the censor were held to be primarily responsible for what was played.

    When Jonson and Thomas Nashe's lost play The Isle of Dogs gave offence in 1597, the privy council pursued the actors as well as the dramatists, but held the latter most responsible. The privy council's letter to its interrogator Richard Topcliffe boasted that one of the apprehended players (Jonson, Gabriel Spencer and Robert Shaw) was "not only an actor but a maker of parte of the said plaie" (Chambers 1923, 323). A suspension of London playing coincided with The Isle of Dogs but it is unclear whether the city aldermen's letter to the privy council of 28 July 1597 that precipated this preceded or followed (perhaps as a consequence of) the play. Glynne Wickham saw the whole prohibition as a display of complex manoeuvering between the city and privy council and thought that the play's offence was merely the excuse for it all (Wickham 1969). Jonson, George Chapman and John Marston's play Eastward Ho! caused offence in 1605 and the exact consequences are again unclear, but Jonson and Chapman appear to have gone to jail, the former voluntarily. As Richard Dutton saw it, the key question was the authorship of the offending material and the Blackfriars boys who performed the play continued unmolested until in 1608 they performed Chapman's The Conspiracy and Tragedy of Charles Duke of Byron, quite possibly including scenes the censor had not approved (Dutton 1991, 171-85)

    When Herbert read the script of James Shirley's The Ball in November 1632 he found nothing to prevent him licensing it, but once it was performed its clear allusions to living courtiers tempted him to ban it outright. Instead Herbert summoned the company manager Christopher Beeston from whom he extracted a promise that the offending matter would be omitted and that the problem would be tackled at source ". . . he would not suffer it to be done by the poett any more, who deserves to be punisht . . ." (Bawcutt 1996, 52). Beeston's son William took over his theatrical business and on 4 May 1640 was committed for the one offence for which someone other than a writer might most easily find himself jailed: "playinge a playe without license" (Bawcutt 1996, 208). Everything we know about about play licensing indicates that while actors could be punished for failing to follow the rules regulating their new industry, and might be jailed for their most egregious performances, the principal blame fell for offensive writing fell on its authors.

    Brian Vickers has compiled the voluminous evidence that, contrary to French literary theory of the 1960s that is still popular within literary studies, authorship was a well-defined early modern phenomenon and authors had essentially the same moral rights and responsibilities that they enjoy today (Vickers 2002, 506-41). Michel Foucault's claim in "What is an Author?" (Foucault 1969) that from the seventeenth century scientific texts were essentially anonymous is not true: Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, Rene Descartes and Isaac Newton were recognized as scientific authors. Foucault's claim that before the seventeenth century poetic texts were effectively anonymous ignores the classical world's concept of the author. Over 90% of books published in England between 1475 and 1641, amounting to more than 30,000 items, have messages from their authors specifically thanking their patrons. This is not the behaviour of Anonymous. Publishers often boasted that the author's permission for publication had not been received and unauthorized publication capitalized on the image of the usurped and displeased author. Among writers, literary plagiarism was recognized and detested.

    In place of the authority of the author, recent theatre historiograhy has tended to emphasize the collaborative, socialized labour of the theatre company, the scribe and even the printshop compositor, whose effects upon the script are treated as though they were just as important as the author's labour. Because it is difficult to differentiate these various inputs when studying their collective output--typically an early printed play--it is sometimes said to be virtually impossible to do so, and it is implied that only an elitist who overvalues authors and undervalues other kinds of labourer would persist in the attempt. [SLIDE] A typical example is Jeffrey Masten's insistence that attempts to attribute parts of co-written plays to their respective co-writers are bound to fail because ". . . the collaborative project in the theatre was predicated on erasing the perception of any differences that might have existed, for whatever reason, between collaborated parts" (Masten 1997b, 17). Just as we cannot distinguish writers' individual inputs to a printed book, we cannot distinguish the compositors' inputs from the writers': [SLIDE] ". . . compositor analysis . . . insists upon a precise individuation of agents at every stage of textual production, in ways that are often strikingly anachronistic. In this way, compositor analysis closely parallels the work of scholars like Cyrus Hoy (and more recently Jonathan Hope) who have sought to discern and separate out of collaborative texts the individuated shares of particular playwright" (Masten 1997a, 97-98).

    Since Masten wrote this, extraordinary successes in the field on computational stylistics have reinforced the idea that postmodern sought to overturn, showing that authorship is indeed individualistic and discernible and not a post-seventeenth century construction. As Hugh Craig explains:

In the case of authorship, statistical studies might have revealed--were free to reveal--that authorship is insignificant in comparison to other factors like genre or period. In that case the theory that authors are only secondary to other forces in textual patterning would have been validated. . . . As it happens, however, authorship emerges as a much stronger force in the affinities between texts than genre or period. Unexpectedly, perhaps uncomfortably, it is a persistent, probably mainly unconscious, factor. Writers, we might say, can't help inscribing an individual style in everything they produce. We need to take account of this in a new theory of authorship. (Craig 2009-10, par. 3)

Anthony B. Dawson has written pithily about postmodern attitudes towards authorship affecting theatre history, and points out that extremely illiberal and conservative views are entirely compatible with the Foucauldian idea that in the early modern period human subjectivity had not yet emerged in a recognizably modern form (Dawson 2003; Dawson 2004; Dawson 2008). 

    The postmodern view of early modern drama entails the paradox of a printed play embodying multiple labours that cannot now be extricated yet also being a hopelessly discontinuous affair, forever at odds with itself. In Stern's model of theatrical production, the place of the single authorized manuscript of the play has been taken by a play decomposed not only into actors' parts, but also songs (written out separately to be sent off to a composer for setting to music), prologues and epilogues (held on separate manuscripts and reused for different plays), and property documents such as letters to be read aloud during a performance (Stern 2009). All these documents were also 'the play' yet they circulated beyond the bounds of the authorized manuscript. The result is that we must treat "The play as patch-work" (Stern 2004, 154) as Stern puts it. This is postmodernism, and Stern is quite explicit about it [SLIDE]:

The suggestion then is that a play is a collection of fragments taken from elsewhere and loosely held together . . . . there was something 'patch-like' in the very way a play was written in the first place . . . . the very method of creating the play seems to be, somehow, 'patchy'. . . . There was a sense at the time that plays were not whole art-works in the way that poems were. Plays had the bit, the fragment, the patch in their very natures. (Stern 2004, 154-55)

A thing of shreds and patches, the bitty play of Stern's theatre historicism is, she admits, [SLIDE] "a product of its time", meaning not the time the play was written but the present, the time at which the analysis takes place [SLIDE]: ". . . the inferences this chapter has made . . . very much reflect the age--this age--in which they are drawn". This should trigger any historian's mental alarm bell, since it is the old-fashioned historiographical error of presentism. Stern's method, she writes, [SLIDE] "'deconstructs' the text along certain lines and then, up to a certain point, 'de-authors' it" (Stern 2004, 171). The evidence of early modern licensing points in precisely the opposite direction, away from deconstructing and de-authoring the plays


1In quotations from manuscripts, missing words or letters that be confidently inferred are enclosed in pointed brakets (<...>) and where abbreviations are expanded italic type is used. References are by leaf number and front ('a') and back ('b').

Works Cited

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