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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.