February 23rd

1609 was a good year for Shakespeare in print. In addition to the two quartos of Pericles, quartos of Romeo and Juliet and Troilus and Cressida also found their way into booksellers’ shops. Two issues of the same quarto of Troilus and Cressida were even released within the space of a single year, both by the same printer, but that abundance has made the play’s history all the murkier. Thankfully, this copy of the play at Shakespeare at Yale condenses that multiple history into a single quarto, since somewhere along the way the title page and prefatory epistle of one issue were inserted over the title page of the other issue. The strangeness of these two issues, then, becomes apparent in flipping through the quarto’s first pages. Consider the first title page:

While it advertises authorship and quality—“Written by William Shakespeare,” “Excellently expressing the beginning of their loves”—it is unusual in withholding information conventionally boasted on the upper margins of such quarto’s, the play’s performance history. The Globe, the Kings men, even the mention of recent acting—these facts have been strangely suppressed. Their absence becomes both odder and more explicit with the epistle of the printer, one G. Eld, who styles himself a “never writer” writing to a “never reader”:

“Eternal reader, you have here a new play, never stal’d with the Stage, never clapper-clawed with the palmes of the vulgar, and yet passing full of the palme comicall”—these are curious words to preface a play. Why might Eld propose such a thing?
One answer might be that the play was in fact performed, as the second title page, coming on the heels of the first, attests to–

–but that by fashioning a fictive, reader-oriented history for the play, Eld was executing a shrewd advertising maneuver. The private activity of reading the play—which title pages, by boasting of the play’s performance history, tended implicitly to cast as a secondary experience to witnessing the play on the stage–became primary to Troilus and Cressida. By advertising this history, Eld could assure his prospective readers that they were purchasing something that was intimately meant for them–meant, that is, to be read. There was, by this logic, a kind of privilege to be had in reading Troilus.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s