1.2.1. Annotations to 1.2. (by KK)


In his essay Robert Detobel provided an admirable introduction into the history of printing in 16th century England, informing us about how the Stationers’ Register handled its entries, about the rights the authors had and about the dynamics of power between author, stationer and printer. In addition, Detobel scrutinized cases that showed how an author had a special right registered, namely  the right to be asked for his approval in case the book was to be reprinted; but he – Detobel – had to leave it at an assumption that an author (by way of a right entry for a publisher in the Stationers’ Register) was entitled to a blocking notice concerning the first publication. That is why we can only assume and not be completely sure whether the entry from 22 July 1598 “Lord Chamberlain” can indeed be equated with the “Great Lord Chamberlain”.

The profound scrutiny of the history of Shakespeare’s quartos can well be compared to an expedition through the jungle. It proves to be difficult to clarify features and rules of the business practices at that time. Only one thing is certain: all the people involved were aiming at some financial benefit: The authors selling their book to the Stationers’; the Stationers’ having their rights registered and cooperating with the printers; the printers who, in some cases, were responsible themselves for the right entry and who further sold these rights to a stationer; and the player companies owning the manuscripts and making money out of them.

It was, however, regarded as disrespectful and defamatory if a dramatist used a twofold strategy: Selling his rights to a company first and then to the press. No wonder, Thomas Heywood complained in 1608: „though some have used a double sale of their labours, first to the Stage, and after to the presse, For my owne part I heere proclaime my selfe ever faithfull in the first, and never guiltie of the last” (The rape of Lucrece a true Roman tragedie, 1608).

For an aristocrat even the slightest suspicion of his earning money with the printing of his work was considered highly inappropriate. Therefore he could not have anything printed or – in the case of the Earl of Oxford – he resorted to a pseudonym. Undoubtedly it would have been by an oversight in case he had registered as “Lord Chamberlain” in the Stationers’ register (what Detobel’s brilliant analysis aims at).

If we only want to roughly comprehend the entry of the printer James Roberts in the Stationers’ Register from 22 July 1598 we are bound to cast a glance at all quartos between 1594 and 1609 (see. 1.2.2 Quartos 1594-1609). One fact becomes accessible very quickly: The author – William Shake-speare – did exercise an influence on the way his works were printed.

1. John Danters’ last work was a pirated copy of a (bad) manuscript of Romeo and Juliet in the year 1597. Danter was raided by the Stationers’ Company and his presses destroyed in February or March 1597, for printing books without their authority. Whether the measure against him is to be seen in connection with the printing of Romeo and Juliet cannot be deduced for sure. Danters’ failed printing of Romeo and Juliet (Q1) was replaced by a good quarto (Q2) in 1599.

2. Love’s Labour’s Lost was published by William White in 1598 with the note: ”Newly corrected and augmented by W. Shakespere”. It is highly probable that John Danter had printed a copy in 1594 or 1595, which has gone lost.

3. The second edition of The history of Henrie the Fourth (1599) is commented with “Newly corrected by W. Shakespere” as well.

4. The good quarto of The tragicall historie of Hamlet (Q2), published by Nicholas Ling and printed by James Roberts in 1604 was commented in this way: “Newly imprinted and enlarged to almost as much againe as it was, according to the true and perfect coppie”. It was preceded by a bold pirated copy of a stage manuscript published by N. Ling and J. Trundell in 1603.

Between 1598 and 1609 three “bad quartos” appeared altogether: The cronicle history of Henry the fifth (1600:  Th. Millington und John Busby) ; Syr Iohn Falstaffe, and the merrie wiues of Windsor (1602: A. Johnson); und The tragicall historie of Hamlet (Q1, 1603: Nicholas Ling und John Trundell). - Hamlet (Q1) was replaced by Q2 in the year 1604; Henry V and the comedy The Merry Wives of Windsor only appeared in a good form in the Folio of 1623.

Interestingly, the printer James Roberts made the attempt to forestall the printing of Pavier’s, Millington’s  and Busby’s bad quarto of Henry V (1600) by appearing at the office of the Stationers’ on 4 August 1600. As only good manuscripts were related to his name (The Merchant of Venice, 1600; Hamlet (Q2, 1604); Troilus and Cressida, 1609), he definitely offered a good manuscript. The manuscript of Much Ado About Nothing promised to the Stationers’ on 4 August 1600 obviously went back to the author, as it appeared for the first time in 1623.

For this reason the assumption that James Roberts stayed in contact with the author is more than justified. Roberts’ rejected inquiry from 4 August 1600 was in conflict with the interests of Thomas Pavier’s dubious business practices. Pavier, however, Edward White’s business friend, must also have been in contact with the Chamberlain’s Men, since he could not have obtained the stage manuscript from anywhere else. (It seems a nice idea indeed to think that Pavier and his friends might have received the bad manuscript from the hands of the player and businessman Will Shakspere, who managed to give them a faulty text and a wrong name). In 1619 Thomas Pavier tried to make money with his own corrupt Shakespeare edition.

Nonetheless, Robert Detobel’s analysis is by no means a cheap fabrication. But it seems difficult to prove that the “Lord Chamberlain” in question is Oxford. The complex circumstances do not allow apodictic conclusions.

Why did James Roberts not print The Merchant of Venice in the year 1598? What might have been the author’s reasons against an immediate publication? (One explanation would be that Oxford intended to revise the comedy without pressure and without the threat of a new pirated edition). Why could the play be printed two years later, after Roberts had sold his rights to Thomas Hayes on 28 October 1600?

We do not know to what extent the Chamberlain’s Men cooperated with corrupt publishers. But in no case – as Michael J. Hirrel[1] in his fantasy suggests – were the actors the „grand possessors“ of  Shakespearean manuscripts.[2]

Scholarly integrity means that we should not be led into mistaking a splendid assumption as a proof of evidence. It only can be an approach to evidence.


[1] Michael J. Hirrel, The Roberts Memoranda: A Solution. The Review of English Studies, New Series, Vol. 61, No. 252 (Nov. 2010), pp. 711-728

[2] There is talk of the „grand possessors“ of the manuscripts in the preface to Troilus and Cressida (1609).  The author of the preface (named “Never writer”) is Ben Jonson, revealing himself through a subclause. See 6. Ben Jonson’s Forgery.