Histriomastix

Making Shakespeare –  The Shakespeare Second Folio

#41 William Prynne, Histriomastix (1633)

In this massive anti-theatrical treatise the puritan polemicist William Prynne charged that plays were mere “vanities or idle recreations.” Because they possessed no ethical worth or value, he argued that “no price ought to be taken for them.” Unfortunately for Prynne, this is not how the book trade worked, for printed plays were indeed “vendible” commodities that were eagerly bought by customers (see item 43). In a footnote Prynne objected to the fact that more than 40,000 plays had been published and sold in the previous two years (a figure that scholars have found to be accurate) and he complained that some playbooks had “grown from Quarto into Folio,” a reference to the larger format of the Shakespeare and Jonson folio collections. He also lamented that “playbooks” were “now more vendible than the choicest sermons,” and protested (in another note) that Shakespeare’s plays were printed on better quality paper than most bibles. Once again Prynne was correct, and his note here likely refers to the Second Folio (see item 40) which was published the previous year.

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