Re-imagining Cardenio

At Stationers' Hall

January 12, 2011

Recently I visited the Library and Archives of the Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers, at the Stationers' Hall, at Amen Corner on Ave Maria Lane in London to view the Register for 1653, in order to find out a bit more about the publisher Humphrey Moseley who registered Cardenio in that year.

I decided to walk down the hill from Islington as it was such a beautiful morning. It took me about half an hour to stroll from the Angel to Smithfield. Halfway down St John's Street before you cross the Goshawk road, the dome of St Paul's comes into view. Through the central Grand Avenue that cuts through the Smithfield Market, dividing the poulterers from the butchers, and across to St Barts, and down Guiltspur Street, past Pie Corner and Cock Lane to the corner of Newgate, where the church of St Sepulchre-Without stands. Then down past the Old Bailey, and the end of Limeburner lane, to Ludgate Hill. I turned right into the ward of Farringdon Within, and turn into an alley way. There across the yard in front of me stands Stationers' Hall.

The Stationers Guild, was set up to represent the interests of the booksellers who had their stalls (or stations) in nearby St Paul's Churchyard. The Stationers bought their first premises, St Peters' College in the 1500s. It was one of the many pieces of church property being sold off after the reformation. They then moved into Abergavenny Hall, on this site, which was largely destroyed by the Great Fire of London, along with forty thousand pounds worth of books. The Stationers immediately built this grand edifice before me. I wonder if it was here, outside Hall that the bonfire of books took place on June 4th 1599. Archbishop Whitgift and Richard Bancroft Bishop of London ordered all unlicensed plays and unapproved histories to be burnt alongside a number of satires and elegies. So into the flames went John Marston's The Scourge of Villainy, Thomas Middleton's Six Snarling Satires, Kit Marlowe's raunchy translations of Ovid's Elegies, and all the books of poor Thomas Nashe, whose work was forthwith banned from publication.

I follow signs for the offices and make my way inside to be greeted by a city gent straight from central casting, with a pin stripe suit, and loud pink tie, who greets me cheerily and shows me through to an office where I am welcomed by Deborah Rea, the recently appointed Head of Communications. Deborah shows me the backstage route upstairs to the library through the magnificent livery hall where they are putting out tables for a banquet this evening.

It occurs to me that it must have been in a room on this site four hundred years ago that the representatives of the twelve companies charged with the new translation of the King James Bible had met together to review the whole book. Apparently they tested the efficacy of the translations by reading the text out loud, to hear what it sounded like, and therefore how it would land on the ear of their congregations.

There is a smoky smell in the air. 'We had a fire over the summer' says Deborah, when I ask what it is. It occurred during an event when the hall had been hired out, and the oak screen was badly damaged. Part of it has had to be replaced. Much of the renovation has already been carried out but I can still smell scorched timber. The odd job man who is setting out the tables says: 'It's still all charred at the back. We haven't had time to clean that yet.' When I check the details on the Stationers' Hall website later, I read a note from the clerk, William Alden: 'At one point the flames were floor to ceiling high. It looked as though the whole Hall might be lost. The accident is obviously a tragedy and it is so sad that the 350-year-old screen, which survived the Blitz, should have fallen foul of 21st century electrics!' It strikes me that fire flickers around this story. If the midsummer blaze had got out of hand, even the evidence for Cardenio's existence might have gone up with it.

Deborah shows me up a short flight of stairs into an attic room, where the librarian, Sue Hurley, is on the phone. Her volunteer assistant, a retired gentleman called John, politely waits for Sue to finish her call. There on the table in the middle of the room is a large, calf-bound book on familiar grey foam book rests. It's open at the page I want to see.

At the top of the page it reads 'September 9th 1653', then next to Mr Moseley's name in the first column it says: 'Entered for his copies a play called Alphonso Emperor of Germany by John Peele 6d' and then further down the page under Die Eadem (the same day): 'Entered also for his copies the several plays following' – and the sum of twenty shillings and sixpence. Sue explains that it cost sixpence per entry to register a work for publication which effectively secures the publisher's copyright on that work. The Stationers had a monopoly on book production. So if anyone tried to publish something already registered by another publisher, the company were legally empowered to seize the offending books.

So Moseley was making a considerable investment. 20 shillings and sixpence gives him the copyright of 41 items. And they are listed below. Most are plays even whose titles I am unfamiliar with: Two plays by Ben Jonson's apprentice Richard Brome: Wit in Madness, and The Lovesick Milkmaid; Osman the Great Turk; The Jew of Venice by Thomas Dekker, Davenant's The Siege ( presumably The Siege of Rhodes). I detect a theme emerging in some of the titles: The Puritan Maid, Modest Wife and Wanton Widow; TheWidow'sPrize by Mr Wm. Samson; The Woman's Mistaken by Drew Davenport, and then there it is: The History of Cardenio by Mr Fletcher & Shakespeare.

The secretary's hand is light and efficient. I wonder if Moseley himself was dictating his list, while the clerk copied down the titles. It strikes me that paying over a pound to secure the right to publish these plays is quite an investment. It also makes me wonder if the reason he wants to make sure that he has the right to publish The History of Cardenio is that there are other copies around and someone else might decide to publish theirs.

Sue and Deborah begin pulling tomes from the shelves to see what else is to be found out about Humphrey Moseley. He was bound to the Company as an apprentice in 1620 and freed in 1627 (from his apprenticeship). He married Anne, and had four children, the last of whom would be still born within a month of this date, on which he was here, registering his list of plays. He set up his first independent shop at the sign of the Three Kings, against the north-eastern wall of St Paul's cathedral, in 1634, but four years later he had acquired premises at the sign of the Prince's Arms, across the churchyard, which he occupied for the rest of his life. When he published Milton's poems he started to become really successful and over the next fifteen years until his death, the list of poets and dramatists whose works appeared under his imprint included Beaumont and Fletcher, Middleton, and Massinger, Shirley, Brome, Davenant, and poets such as Cowley, and Crashaw, Suckling, and Vaughan. By the time of this entry, Moseley was a member of the governing body of the Stationers' Guild, and attended meetings at the Hall.

The surge of excitement I felt at seeing the actual written proof that a play called The History of Cardenio by Mr Fletcher and Shakespeare existed in the possession of Humphrey Moseley is tempered a little when I follow the list down and turn over the page. At the bottom plays by Thomas Middleton are listed, including Women Beware Women, and over the page there are ten by Phillip Massinger . But then there is an item which reads The Merry Devil of Edmonton by William Shakespeare, and under that Henry I & Henry II by Shakespeare and Robert Davenport.

Now the first is perhaps a simple misattribution of a title to Shakespeare. It is regarded as an apocryphal play which was very popular in its day, and went through a number of anonymous quarto editions since its first appearance in 1608. Does Moseley genuinely think it is by Shakespeare, or does the entry suggest that he is just hoping to cash in on his name by attributing the play to him once he publishes it? But what about the second entry - Henry II?

Sue also gets out another register to show me. It is the entry for the First Folio of Shakespeare's works in 1623. The date is November 8th. The ink is noticeably faded on this spread. It has been put on display too often, she says, and deteriorated. We'll only get it out now for particular requests. Someone has even inked their initials next to the entry: GS. Sue says they initialled every Shakespeare entry in that register. Perhaps the Stationers' Library needed an oath like the Bodleian's.

The entry does not include all the plays in the first complete works, only the plays listed are those which have not hitherto been registered for publication. So here are The Tempest, TwoGents, Twelfth Night, Macbeth (spelled with a K), AntonyandCleopatra. It is strange to think that as none of these plays had previously appeared in quarto, they might never have survived, had Hemminge and Condell not brought them to Messrs Jaggard and Blount to publish in the First Folio. And like Cardenio we would know them only in adaptations. What would we think of The Tempest if we only had Davenant's The Enchanted Island? I drag myself away from The Stationers' Hall, pondering about how important to our heritage the work of the Stationers is.

Humphrey Moseley died in 1660, before, it would seem, he had chance to publish Cardenio. Six years later the Great Fire of London razed his city to the ground.

by Greg Doran  |  No comments yet

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