Carter Hailey, Tiffany Stern, and Zachery Lesser present "On Paper: Documents of Performance"

Our partners in Mary Baldwin College’s M.Litt/MFA program have arranged for three of the worlds leading scholars on Early Modern theatre to lecture today at the Blackfriars. Carter Hailey, designer of the Hailey’s COMET portable optic collator, Tiffany Stern, the Beaverbrook and Bouverie Fellow and Tutor in English at University College, Oxford, and Zachery Lesser, author of the award winning Renaissance Drama and the Politics of Publication: Readings in the English Book Trade. Hailey and Stern both presented at our recent Blackfriars Conference, and we’re all eager to hear what their bringing to the Blackfriars this evening.

Paul Menzer introduces our guest scholars by pointing out that paper is one of the key raw materials and waste products of the world of performance, but that we make conscious efforts to remove any sign of paper from the world of the performance space. “The Playhouse is a virtual scriptorium,” Menzer says, noting that the backstage areas contain several computers, printers, and copiers, along with stacks of internal documentation, and books for sale in the lobby. Paper enables performance, facilitating and memorializing it, and today’s lecturers will help focus our attention on the raw material that we use to construct our theatrical world.

Carter Hailey: Artefacts of the Early Modern Professional Theatre: The Paper Trail
Hailey describes himself as a “book detective,” and introduces his studies as being akin to the way an archaeologist examines an artifact. He examines books in a similar way, “like archaeology without the mud.” In his analysis of books as physical objects, Hailey has been recently drawn to watermark designs. Watermarks are imprints in the paper (you may be familiar with the term from its usage in digital photography), and they come in a variety of characters including pots, crowns, and bears. Manuscripts and printed books, like other archeological artifacts, give us clues to the cultures that produced them, and the watermarks in the paper of the early modern period are a great key to understanding the process of manufacturing linen paper and books.

Paper was, in Early Modern London, a more consciously visible part of the book. In Histriomastix, William Prynne complains not just about the printing of play books in folio, but that the paper used to print them is of a better quality than in many Bibles printed at the time. References to quires can be found in Shakespeare’s 73rd Sonnet (“bare ruined choirs”), further implying a self consciousness of the process of book making.

Hailey describes the development in the time of a “turned chain quarto.” The description comes from the fact that chain lines in the paper of a folio usually ran vertically, whereas in quartos they tend to run horizontally. Turned chain quartos, comprising less than 1% of extant quartos, are slightly larger than the standard quarto format, and have vertical chain lines; Hailey describes them as resembling a folio in miniature. While some scholars dismiss the format as an anomaly resulting from a bad run of paper, Hailey dismisses this due to the breadth of authors and genres produced in the turned chain quarto format. The format was produced by different printers at different times, and it would have been impractical for printers (or anyone else) to keep a stock of “bad” paper like that over the period. The cost for a turned chain quarto would have been at least 50% higher than a standard quarto, making it further improbable that it was simply an attempt to eliminate bad stock.

Hailey argues that the slightly more rectangular shape of the TCQs, coupled with their vertical chain line, is made to suggest the folio format. There was likely a limited market for these TCQs, but they challenge the notion that early modern play texts were not considered material of literary prestige.

Tiffany Stern


Stern begins by showing us an example of differently offset text from the folio. The Song” and “A Letter” both appear in italics, suggesting stage directions, but they are not stage directions in the commonly understood sense. Stern contrasts these with the title of the epilogue of the play, which modern editors tend to accept as the title of a separate section and leave intact.

Stern goes on to call attention to the lost songs in Marston’s Antonio and Mellida and in Shakepseare’s Julius Caesar. In the former case the name of the song is printed large, but both the lyrics and the music are lost. In the latter case, a stage direction simply says a song is to be played without any indication of what it might be. Fro Jonson’s The Devil is an Ass, Stern refers to a stage direction “Hee gives him a paper wherein is the copy of a Song.” This argues for the separation of song text from play text within the playhouse, which indicates that the songs given to printers may have been separate.

Stern goes on to further show how printers have mislaid lines surrounding songs within the play text. She cites an example of an extant song compared to the song printed in the text of the play. The song in the play text includes additional lyrics, which is suggestive of a printer mis-setting text. The opposite is also true: songs within texts are sometimes set as lines of text and not as songs. A further example is a printed margin note of Webster’s The Duchess of Malfy “The Author disclaims this ditty as his;” which means that the author saw the song in the printing process when it was too late to remove it from the run, and so (in keeping with stop-press correction practices used at the time), the marginalia was added.

From Quarles’ The Virgin Widow, Stern offers the example of a bill, read by one of the characters, laid out in the same manner as an actual bill. She proposes that the bill may have been laid out in the prompter’s book to show how to make the property, or that the stage property was brought to the printer. In either case, the representation in print is a pointer to the representation of the object in performance.

“We’ve been tricked into thinking that the term stage direction is a stage direction,” Stern says. These are more often “scribe directions;” cross references to the inclusion of another textual object. Thus the “stage direction” “red ink” appears in The Spanish Tragedy: perhaps the letter is to appear as if it is written in blood and this is a reminder to the book-keeper, or perhaps there was a note in the printers copy indicating that this part is to be printed using red ink. Whichever the case, it is clearly not a playable action for the stage.

Prologues and epilogues suffer similar fates. They were paper documents of performance, like letters, notes, wills, and songs. From surviving wood cuts of the period, we can infer that prologues and epilogues were materials that were read on the stage. They were not always included with texts, and thus many are lost.

Zachary Lesser: 1594: When Plays Became Playbooks


Lesser begins by calling attention to the tongue in cheek nature of his title, saying that “printed playbooks, like sexual intercourse, had been there all along.” Many plays from the professional London stages of 1593 and before never made it into print, and even fewer of them have come to us in manuscript form. Lesser offers evidence demonstrating the number of plays printed in 1594 nearly quadruples from the next most productive year: 5 were printed in 1592, 18 in 1594. After 1594, numbers fell to single digits again. Why this spike in 1594?

Some scholars have argued that piracy was a key factor in the rapid explosion of plays in 1594, but others have argued that the publication of manuscripts might have served as advertising. Even if companies were more willing to bring their scripts into print, contrary to their previous practice, why would the stationers want them? There was no evidence of a high demand of playbooks before. Contradictorily, if there was no market for playbooks, why would London playing companies want to use an unpopular and untested market as advertising for their already popular offerings?

Lesser demonstrates that playbooks were not a risky investment for printers, which casts aspersions on the theory that the 1594 spike representing a glutting of the market. “Plays published in the 1590s were more likely to sell out within 5 years than other books were in 20 years,” he says. Sales and reprint rate of play texts should have dropped off if the 1594 spike represented an over supply in the market place, but this was not the case. From entry in the Stationers’ Register to availability for purchase usually happened within the period of a year, but entries made between June and May of 1594 often did not appear for several years. Lesser demonstrates this delay in publication as being the result of three printers with a large supply of titles in their companies not wanting to “hedge their bets by printing them all at once… In both cases, the publishers purchased a number of scripts around the same period, published some, and waited to see how they would perform.” There is the possibility that the publishers could simply not keep up with the demand of printing, or that they were being cautious in releasing their holdings. In either case, Lesser sees this as what one would expect to see at the beginning of a new market.

In the time between1598 and 1613, a significant number of first editions and reprints were printed. The marketplace for printed playbooks, young and developing in the early 1590s, had a chance to mature. Conventional wisdom, which says that playbooks were not popular commodities, does not hold up to the facts of the number of printed playbooks. This popularity of the medium is why most of the plays we know have come down to us today.

And with that, we’ll have to bring this forum to a close. To paraphrase Dr. Menzer, we must now repeat history and let paper yield to performance so the actors can get ready for tonight’s Twelfth Night, but just as I recall when from the Blackfriars Conference, my head feels full. I must beg pardon of our guest scholars, and of all of you: the notes that I have been able to take on their work tonight of necessity only reflects part of their work, and I doubt does justice to their scholarship. From their research however, I can derive some solace. The print artifacts of Renaissance London have left us with an incomplete picture of the world of performance, and even as this is about to enter the world of hypertext, apparently not a lot has changed in 400 years.