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The Production of Early Printed Books

The production of early printed books is almost unrecognisable from the printing process of today.  Printing was an artisan skill as there was not the large scale production methods that are commonplace in the modern industry.  Books were printed sheet by sheet, rather than page by page and then these sheets were folded to form the book. The less times a sheet was folded, the more expensive the book was.  Folios, where the sheet was folded in half, were therefore the most expensive and quartos – a sheet folded four times – were cheaper. Books were printed on the Gutenberg Press with movable type, which was designed by Gutenberg (surprisingly enough) in the 15th Century but brought to England by William Caxton.

The printing of books was paid for by publishers.  Printers, who manufactured the physical book and stationers, who bind the pages and sell them to customers, were all instructed by the publishers, who would pay an author roughly £2 for a manuscript.  All of these professions had to belong to the Stationer’s Company, which the publisher paid a licensing fee for each text. The publisher also had to provide the printer with the paper and pay for a first run of 200 copies – an expensive business!  They then sold unbound copies directly to customers and stationers. Because they paid for this whole process, publishers determined the content of title pages, e.g. the advertising feature of the book.  They sometimes wrote dedications and commissioned dedicatory verses for their author.

  From the front cover we are provided with basic information about the book. We learn that the text is John Harrington’s translation of Ariostos Orlando Furioso, which was published in 1634. We also get an insight into that form, as it states that it is written in English, heroical verse. The cover states that it is “Printed in London by G. Miller for J Parker,” so we can understand that the printer was G. Miller and J. Parker was the publisher. It also states that it is “Thirdly Revised,” so we know that it is the third edition. Upon further research, we found that the editions were published in 1591, 1607, 1634. All three editions were dedicated to Queen Elizabeth the first, because she was his patron. 

The intricate illustrations show that there are clear classical and divine themes to Orlando’s Furioso, with the inclusion of Gods, cherubs and angels around the two figures. The way the two figures are positioned and the inclusion of what appears to be Cupid suggests the romance element to the narrative. There is a large illustration of Ariosto, showing that this is his original work and that this text is Harington’s English translation. The quite dominating illustration of John Harrington presents his want for authorship.

Further research on Early English Books Online proved that the title page was engraved, as were illustrations, with copper rather than wood – this would result in better quality, more intricate, more impressive illustrations with perspective and shading, which in turn would make it a more expensive text to buy. There also proved to be 142 copies of all 3 copies in existence, suggested it was a popular text as there still remains multiple copies across numerous countries’ and cities’ archives.

It would also seems that the only other surviving text Harington wrote was the ‘Metamorphosis of Ajax’, and paratexts of that such as ‘Apologie for Ajax’.

Phoebe, Holly, Pearl, Charlotte

In Defense of the theater


  • Audiences can learn from the imitation of the stage if they themselves imitate virtuous characters – plays provide a “map of morality” by showing which virtues to embrace and shows the ugliness of vices
  • All theatre shouldn’t be banned just because of a few immoral plays
  • Jesus and The New Testament never banned theatre
  • By acting out histories, it gains respect for forefathers: “every succeeding age hath recorder their worths unto fresh admiration.” The “wonder” and “valour” of figures of the past should be shown to others and this can only be done by acting. 


  • “Stage plays are the doctrine and invention of the devil.” 
  • “Plays are the proceedings and the practices of the gentiles in their idolatry” – worshiping something that isn’t God – the plague spreading in playhouses is punishment for this idolatry 
  • Plays do not teach the audience or actors anything – they serve no higher purpose
  • Men dressing as women may make the men effeminate, or confuse the audience – it is against God’s law
  • “comedies / tragedies/ romances teach us the wrong lessons- they are lecherous, desirous, unlawful, adulterous, murderous” 
  • Theaters are breeding grounds for the plague and “contemporary religious thought held that the plague was a punishment for sin”- therefore the theater and sin are intertwined. 
  • The theater allows entertainment to be available in the day time, it could lead to a lack of productivity and laziness. 


A: More mead, Sir?  I’ll call the serving wench.

D: Nay not for I, or I’ll be late to the theatre.

A: The theatre?!

D: Yes, that chap Shakespeare’s latest offering.  Sorry old boy, I’d have got you a ticket if I’d known you were interested.

A: I am as far from interested as the sun is from the moon.

D: No, well, more of a bear-baiting fan myself too, truth be told, but the missus likes it so to the theatre I go. Why are you so dreadfully opposed to a little theatre?

A: Because of the blasphemy, old friend, the blasphemy! How can we forget that all theatre is idolatry, and what’s more, the very embodiment of sinful deception. It’s like the saying goes, “Stage plays are the doctrine and invention of the devil.” Don’t you worry about catching the plague? It’s not just the close proximity with all those rough types – it’s the judgement of the Lord.

D: The plague, I shall grant you, is a fair warning against an evening at the stage. But after all, Jesus in the New Testament of the Holy Book never banned theatre, so who are we to condemn it so?

A: Those lazy, immoral ‘actors’ (I hasten to even suggest that title as a real profession) strut about the stage in the garb of a lord, all the while being a lowly peasant underneath! What’s to stop them thinking they can carry on this charade off the stage…or even worse, giving your labourers lofty ideas? A good portion of mine already leave their posts in the mid-afternoon to indulge in such silly fancies at the Rose. It’s a disruption to the workforce.

D: Ah, but you seem to be forgetting, rogues and knaves are punished for their wrongdoings in stage plays of the moment, and the noble, virtuous hero, he triumphs: a play can be the very map of morality if one reads it properly. And for those uneducated theater-goers in the audience, the performance provides a perfect display of what is true and proper: they only have to copy the virtuous characters to be moral members of our society. The theater isn’t all that bad, fine sir, but now, I must be off – the missus will chew my ear off if I’m late.

Charlotte, Holly, Phoebe, El, Pearl

What can historical documents like Philip Henslowe’s diary tell us about the experience of 

(a) performing

Actors’ experience of performing in early modern plays is in some ways incomparable to the experience of actors today. With senior actors forming theatre companies and performing  exclusively for this company – which they had a financial interest in, receiving shares of the profits from each play – the instability of freelance actors today was only experienced by young or unestablished actors hired only for walk-on parts in the final few days before performances. This company structure meant that actors were always working with the same people, and likely playing the same parts/types of parts due to typecasting  – Shakespeare often did not even name his characters, instead using their generic type, such as ‘Fool’, as their identifier in speech prefixes – with Stern explaining that modern editors “discover” the characters’ names for publication today, as modern readers have novelistic expectations (65). Stern also suggests that type casting lead to “Less need for any actor to work on issues of characterisation” (65), as actors essentially played themselves.       

Actors – or at least those who weren’t sharers in the company – were also trusted less, and therefore only given cue scripts with their lines and cue lines, and did not receive a full playtext. This was to ensure that were unable to sell the script to publishers for their own profit, rather than that of the company.   This also meant, however, that the actors did not know the full plot of the play before performances,which inevitably affected their performances. The celebrated style of acting in the early modern period was therefore very different to that which wins awards today, with actors focussing purely on the emotions displayed within their lines – for example, through the dialogue switching from prose to verse.  This is what actors would focus on in sessions with their instructors – more senior actors or in the case of the most established actors, such as Richard Burbage, the playwright himself who help them – when practicing their parts. This process of instruction, though, was often dictatorial – the focus was on showing the emotions, not discussing or understanding them. As Stern’s Stage Traffic states, it was in this way that “‘Correct’ action and gestures continued to be taught for the next two centuries”[p.83], and the ’passions’ these evoked were thus passed on & repeated to become characteristic of that part.

Early modern rehearsal practices, then, were very different to those of today.  There were no extensive group rehearsals – only one before performance night at a push.  It is almost unimaginable that this would be the cas today, except for specifically billed ‘24 hour plays’.

This was evidently in contrast to the way plays are treated in contemporary production companies today, where they are taken on tour for months and intensely rehearsed in a group dynamic.

(b) being in the audience of an early modern play? 

The theatre today is considered as a high-brow, formal institution, which differs from early modern theatre. As we can see from Philip Henslow’s diary, the theatre was cheap, so accessible to the lower classes. It was mass-produced entertainment, so less exclusive. There was the option to stand for the whole show, which would have been cheaper. Theatre was the main source of entertainment, so spectators would expect lots of variety and different plays everyday. Philip Henslow’s diary shows this, as everyday different plays were shown. There was also less etiquette in the theatre. For example, audience members would leave once the main character died, even if the play wasn’t over

Philip Henslowe’s Diary 

This historical document belonged to the owner/founder of the Rose Theatre in early modern London, and lists the dates, frequency and profits of the plays shown there. It also includes lists of props and costumes owned by theatre, and records of payments to actors and writers. This is valuable in not only showing the development of acting as an official/professional form of income, but also suggests that other contributors to the theatre experience existed offstage such as costume design, which was most likely done by women at the time.

(c) What strikes you as the most unusual aspect of the theatre from this period? 

The most unusual aspect of the theater from this period is the lack of full rehearsals prior to performing the play. This would have resulted in a performance that felt disjointed in comparison to the way we experience live theater today. The lack of full rehearsals would also have resulted in a play that wasn’t as cohesive as plays today – the play would feel, to a modern audience, more like a series of separate people reading parts.  

Phoebe, Holly, El, Charlotte, Pearl