The Discoverie of Witchcraft and Coryat’s Crudities

The Discoverie of Witchcraft, Reginal Scot, 1584, PI1599614 

Printed in 1584, the first edition of this book provides very little detail on how it actually came to light. Albeit presenting the author’s name on the title page, other information appears to be surprisingly absent. Neither location of print or printer’s name are included, possibly because, as clarified by the ODNB page on Reginald Scot, the work was published without a licence. I would speculate however, that the controversial topic may have also played a role in the publisher and printer – identified as William Brome and Henry Denham (EEBO) – wishing to conceal their identity and involvement. This view could also be supported by the emphasis on justifications that is present throughout the book. The title page includes a bible quote, which could easily be interpreted as the author attempting to connect his claims with a divine purpose. By including this verse, Scot compares his writing to a quest for the truth, focused of exposing “false prophets” – specifically witches and magicians – as liars. However, the biblical reference also functions as a defence against censorship and critics, concept which is later repaired during the dedication to the author’s patrons.  

Overall, the text is dedicated to four people – excluding readers – and all the dedications seem to navigate the thin line between praising the individuals dressed and asking for their mercy. Scot directly writes to his cousin – his financial backing, for lack of better words – and to three additional contemporary figures: Sir Roger Manwood Knight, Lord Chief Baron of the Majesty’s Court, a judge, asking for his comprehension in reading his book, and Doctors Coldwell Deone of Rochester and of Canterbury, asking for their courtesy and understanding. The topic itself, considering the context, seems divisive. the early modern population seems to have had very clear concepts of witchcraft as being a human manifestation of the devil, and a work which attempts to debunk these views could easily be interpreted as going against both religion and kingdom and promoting blasphemous and deviant behaviour. Scot’s work, after all, presents arguments that go completely against works like the Démonomanie of Jean Bodin (printed 4 years before) and even the views of King James VI (who later published a work which claimed to denounce witchcraft as a true malevolent practice and directly mentioned and headily critiqued Scot’s views).Not many copies remain of this first print, however, the existing documents provide some evidence of their “provenance” in the form of different inscribed signatures or initials and underlined sections throughout the text. Additionally, evidence present in other texts suggests that Scot’s work was well known: as explained in the ODNB entry, Scot “was very widely read in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries”, with other authors referring to him and his Discovery in their works or seemingly using it as reference material. Despite its unlicensed beginnings therefore, The Discoverie of Witchcraft had a substantial role in the early modern world, passing from hand to hand and having been taken under consideration by a number of Renaissance figures. 

Thomas Coryat’s Coryat’s Crudities (1611) 

The most obvious paratext seen in Coryat’s epynomous travel account Coryat’s Crudities is the elaborate title page. Each of the many illustrations on said title page are numbered, with each number correlating directly to a chapter in the account. Each illustration is extremely intricate and a print of a metal engraving, allowing for elaborate and fine detail. A further paratext is the ‘key to the title page’ (A1R) which follows the aforementioned illustrations, and gives a summary of what each chapter entails. This is then further reiterated in the following paratext, a second ‘key to the title page’ which summarises the initial description in rhyming couplets. One of the most interesting aspects of the 1611 copy of Coryat’s Crudities is its evident provenance, with a previous owner making notes in the margins drawing attention to particularly favourite lines, and asking questions as to what they mean. 

The early modern printing process

During the module we’ve had the chance to engage in many aspects of the Early Modern Theatre, one of these has been the printing process of the Renaissance. Having just recently been introduced in England by William Caxton, the printing press quickly became a necessary tool for many daily activities, including the theatre. Plays began to be produced for the population and printed in – what probably would at that time – a large number of copies. In a way, this allowed for the further commercialization of drama, that not only remained a performative art but also became a profitable publishing activity. However, as shown by the Folger Library and other entities, printing during the Renaissance was a wildly different process than modern audiences might imagine. 

Relaying much more on manpower – and as a result suffering more from human error – the printing process began with the organization of individual letters on a press. What would today be quickly accomplished on a computer was instead a much more complex job during the 16th century. Texts were meant to fit within a certain amount of space and this wasn’t always possible or easy to accomplish. Many texts, therefore, would have to receive extensive alteration. This process of what we could now call pagination could then lead to a number of mistakes, either in the form of missing spaces or letters and misspelled words.  

The letters would then be covered in ink, a page would be set on top of them and the entire piece would be inserted in the printing press and the ink transferred through pressure on the page. It may all seem very straightforward now, however, the process could take long amounts of time and could lead to an imperfect of unsellable product: ink could easily be smeared and – if not followed correctly – the page order could cause the entire print to be mistaken. Because printers worked with large pieces of paper, it was necessary to fold them in order to achieve the desired page dimensions. Like shown in the brief activity we completed during lecture, this folding would cause the folded pages to be in the right order, but this order was not reflected any more ones the paper was once more unfolded and spread out for the print: pages would be printed in reverse and in different orders. 

Another important aspect that came to light during the discussion on the printing press was the author’s role in the production of his works. Whilst some authors – like Ben Jonson – were involved in the production of his Folio, others –like Shakespeare, in fact – were not. Shakespeare’s First Folio was in fact published posthumously by a few members of the King’s Men. Similarly, many theatre companies and groups were the only ones to own the complete version of plays (actors having only received their parts and cues) and as such, appear to have been the ones to “own the rights” to those texts. We see, then, that the author may not have been involved in the printing process of their texts. This has to severely alter our approach to the study of these sources since we have to keep in mind that the final product we have in our hands – and it may well be the only copy available – was not necessarily moderated by the author but rather passed through the editing hands of theatre companies, editors and printer, all of whom may have altered it. 

Reflection on early modern printing

Abi, Ellie, Leanne, Soso, Raveena & Sophie

As a group we learned many things about early modern printing and the printing of the first folio. While all of us carry around books on a day to day basis, we’d never really considered the complexities that go into making them, especially for early modern printers in regards to folios and quartos – folding paper in the lecture was hard enough for us so it really brought an appreciation to the process. One of the most interesting things we also considered as a group was when we considered what was in Shakespeare’s first folio in comparison to what had previously been published. Shakespeare’s first folio contained around 18 new plays, including Macbeth and The Winter’s Tale, which was surprising considering those are two of his best known plays. 

Something we also found surprising was that, though the paratext claimed Shakespeare’s folio was complete, and that all other copies of his plays were pirated (“stolne, and surreptitious copies, maimed, and deformed”), the catalogue was actually incomplete. Troilus and Cressida does not appear in the catalogue but is included at the very end of the folio, which suggests there may have been an issue with getting the printing rights for the play, and so it was added in at the end just before the folio was published. The folio does not include the plays Pericles and The Two Noble Kinsmen, perhaps for the same reason, or possibly because these plays were created in collaboration with other writers. 

Learning how to interpret the paratextual content for various collections, such as The Discoverie of Witchcraft, which we looked at in the Robinson Library, has enabled us as a group to understand early modern printing on a deeper level. The paratext in early modern books was often used for different purposes: to introduce the text, market the book, and provide information on the publisher. Moreover, in our study of early printed works, we also examined annotations placed in the margins of primary material, which sometimes alluded to ideas of censorship or previous ownership. We learnt that all of this information, which we sometimes overlook as readers, is vital to our understanding and interpretation of many older texts. 

By observing secondary sources on paratexts, such as the documentary ‘The Secret Life of Books’, which shows how the language in the paratext of Shakespeare’s first folio was most likely a marketing ploy due to its use of imperatives and emphatic language, we have discovered just how influential the prefatory material can be. The documentary also suggested that Shakespeare’s works weren’t entirely his, but made in collaboration with others. This came as quite a surprise, since the general impression of Shakespeare was that he was responsible for all of his work.

As a group, our approach to reading has changed dramatically. The importance of examining source texts in great detail, with a thorough approach, is now something we all wish to take onboard for each of our different modules. Our long term goal is to approach each new text with great scrutiny, considering the meaning and hidden clues behind paratexts. After learning the intricate and time-consuming process behind the ‘moveable type’, which enabled us to have access to so many of Shakespeare’s plays, we are now even more appreciative of early printed works. This module has taught us how to interpret older – and even newer – texts but also the value of the early printing process.

reflecting on early modern printing

Learning about the printing process and the production of Shakespeare’s First Folio has made us aware of how commercially charged and collaborative the composition of a book was. We found that commercial value and shared authorship were most vital for understanding the functioning of the literary sector in the early modern period; we were not aware of how important these aspects were prior to studying the module. 

The significance of the paratextual material included in books illuminates the collaborative effort of printing; the sections from other writers discussing the text, notes from the ‘author’ and title pages to publicise printing houses (to name a few paratextual inclusions) simultaneously remove value from the text and insert value into the paratext, which suggests that books were not only produced for distributing single texts but for distributing ideas, concepts, and advertisements of services. 

The printing of a book was not the organised process that it is today and edits had to made to rectify the countless mistakes that had occurred. Signature marks, pagination, and press-figures distinguish printing houses and individual printers. These are key indicators for identifying whether a book is authentic or not; for example, signing a book with an asterisk suggested that although the text was in English, it wasn’t originally and was therefore a translation. This is extremely important to note when analysing a text, because editorship becomes transnational, and therefore possibly biased. Frequent edits by the Master of the Revels, Tilney, constituted a large part of the paratext of early modern books. The extent of Shakespeare and his contemporary’s play’s censorship is identifiable from the annotations, attached notes, or in some cases large marks of crossing out. 

The small annotations and scribbles seen in early modern printed books adds humanity to the collaborative nature of printing, helping a 21stcentury viewer of the pages be able to imagine the reality of the different people involved in printing a book. We didn’t realise that Shakespeare wasn’t involved in the composition of the First Folio, which brings into question the validity of his ‘works’. Since the paratextual collaborations were such a major part of early modern books, we can infer that a large amount of collaboration went into producing Shakespeare’s works; since Shakespeare himself wasn’t alive to contest editing of his material we view his plays less as beacons of his sole genius, but as confirmation that he was a hard-working but collaborative author. 

Going forward, we will approach early modern books and Shakespeare plays differently, seeing them as demonstrations of compiled talent, as opposed to a creation of a single author. Since books were subject to alterations due to lack of quality, we want to remove our subconscious belief that a published early modern book is superior to an unpublished manuscript. This principle can also be applied to other modules like Women on Trial; performance pieces that aren’t included in books can be viewed as equally as valuable as published pieces. 

Elli, Becky, Kelly, Sophia, Luke