Shakespeare’s Buddies

I heard a line from The Tempest about eyes that turned to pearls (or something like that) and decided that I needed to read the play, because that’s the kind of weird thing I do. Frankly, it’s a miracle I ever finish reading anything with all the tangents I get led off to. I probably abandon half the reading material I pick up in any given year, usually because it will reference something else that sounds more interesting.

I found my old college Riverside Shakespeare and was thumbing through it when I happened upon some photocopies of the First Folio. This was the first “official” copy of Shakespeare’s plays, and it was published in 1623, a few years after his death. His friends published it.

As you might expect, there are plenty of forewords lauding the poet, thanking his noble patrons, etc. Ben Jonson wrote a sweet poem to him, with lines like, “…Or for the laurel he may gain a scorn,/ for a good Poet’s made, as well as born/ and such wert thou. Look how the father’s face/ Lives in his issue, even so, the race/ of Shakespeare’s mind and manners brightly shines/ in his well-turned and true-filled lines…”

Just so you know, I updated the spelling and didn’t use f for s or u for v, ’cause that’s really hard to read.

It’s all very high-minded, lots of tributes … and then we read John Hemmings and Henry Condell, two of Shakespeare’s friends and fellow actors. Theirs is the most honest of all the prefaces, and one I found quite funny.

“To the great Variety of Readers. From the most able, to him that can but spell: There you are numbered. We had rather you were weighed. Especially when the fate of all books depends upon your capacities — and not of your heads alone, but of your purses. Well! It is now public, and you will stand for your privileges we know: to read and to censure. Do so, but buy it first. That doth best commend a book, the Stationer [bookseller] says. … Judge your six pence’ worth, your shilling’s worth, your five shillings’ worth at a time, or higher, so you rise to the just rates, and welcome. But, whatever you do, Buy.”

You can criticize Shakespeare’s plays all you want, they say, just so long as you buy the book.

“It had been a thing, we confess, worthy to have been wished, that the Author himself had lived to have set forth and overseen his own writings. But since it hath been ordained otherwise, and by death he departed from that right, we pray you do not envy his Friends the office of their care and pain to have collected and published them…”

Don’t get mad at us for trying to make money off him. We wish he could have done this himself, but he’s dead now. So he can’t.

“…before, you were abused with divers stolen and surreptitious copies, maimed and deformed by the stealth of injurious impostors…”

Don’t be fooled by those pirated copies you bought before. This is the one and only genuine article.

More evidence that nothing ever changes.

Categories: Brain Workouts

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