I love it when my coworkers want to talk Shakespeare. Glad that I’m there to answer their question (because, if I hadn’t been there, would they have found someone else? Or just never asked it?) and also glad that here’s another person who wants to learn more about my favorite subject.
I’m especially pleased when they ask me questions I don’t know the answer to, because I get to post about it and we all get to learn something.
Today’s questions are about the publication of the First Folio, and the Quartos before that.
|I consider my copy a work of art.|
Q1: Why was there a market for quartos at all? We all seem to be in agreement that there was really no market for “casually read the play as literature” like we might do today. The market for them seems to have been purely Shakespeare’s competitors who were looking for new ideas, to put it generously (to steal his, to put it more realistically). But how is that a valid model, to go through all the trouble? If 100 people visit a bookseller but the market for a certain book is only 2 or 3 of those people, wouldn’t it be easier to shop your work around directly to the other theatres? Why print N copies if only a fraction of N will ever be purchased?
Q2: Before the First Folio, was “collected works” even a thing? This is an extension of the former question, because if there was no real market for “read the plays as literature”, and the only people who wanted the quartos were competing playwrights and theatre owners, then what in the world would have been the point of making an official, authorized version of the playwright’s entire work and making that available? Wouldn’t that just enable the problem all the more?
Was the whole idea new? Did Marlowe or Jonson or Fletcher or anybody else get their complete works published like this? Or was this the first milestone that said, “Shakespeare was different, Shakespeare’s contribution to the art deserves a memorial effort that has never been done before.”