#44 Gerard Langbaine, An Account of the English Dramatic Poets (1691)
In the 1650s booksellers began to produce catalogues of all the plays that had ever been printed. Because Shakespeare’s plays had been conveniently collected in one volume, he was granted a position of prominence in these catalogues. Other plays that had been attributed to him in print (but which scholars now know he did not write) were also counted as part of the Shakespeare canon, such as The Birth of Merlin, which was attributed to Shakespeare on the title-page. The bookseller Gerard Langbaine transformed the genre of the dramatic catalogue, extending it beyond the enumeration of printed plays by providing an analysis of the sources on which the authors had relied. His biographical account of Shakespeare begins with a brief outline of Shakespeare’s life (in part derived from Thomas Fuller—see item 45) but is mostly made up of a systematic examination of the plays attributed to him in print. Langbaine’s Account defined the criteria for a kind of criticism that first defined the practices of Shakespearean biography and dramatic history. Booksellers listed the books that—quite literally—made Shakespeare.