- Marketing the Bard: Shakespeare in Performance and Print 1660–1740
The recently published "split" versions of the Norton and Longman Shakespeare editions considerably lighten the backpack burden for students carrying their texts to class. The marketing strategies that spurred these repackagings are obvious: professors can help prevent premature back problems; for a course that only studies one or two Shakespeare genres, students can save money; the ease of reading a Norton or Longman text can now compete with that for a single-play edition; and, in the case of the Norton editions, should people purchase the complete set of splits rather than the one-volume version, revenues rise for the publisher.
Don-John Dugas would pose additional questions about these paratextual issues. He reads the physical properties of Restoration and early eighteenth-century Shakespeare editions to ask how they influenced the frequency of performance of Shakespeare's plays and to ask the reverse: did performances affect the nature of editions? He also considers the extent to which publishers' marketing strategies, which include their design choices and selection of editors, helped people get to know Shakespeare.
Dugas brings to his analysis a sensibility shaped by late twentieth-century marketing, and he judiciously applies its terminology and concepts to an incomplete material record from an age controlled by very different legal and economic patterns. His goal is to remind us that publishers, often more than critics, editors, and even actors, played a central role in determining which people and how many were reading Shakespeare: publishers thus managed his reputation.
The first part of Dugas's analysis seeks to establish that theatrical audiences would not have been much aware of Shakespeare because his plays were mostly performed in adaptations and because people were more interested in performers than in authors. Although this part of the thesis has been established theoretically by Foucault and is fairly obvious in the material record, in which names are carelessly affixed to early editions, Dugas's work provides performance statistics that [End Page 255] should convince skeptics. For example, between 1660 and 1682, at least 72 percent of performed Shakespeare plays were adaptations. Dugas shows that the shifting economic fortunes of the King's, Duke's, and United Companies often determined the extent to which they put Shakespeare in their repertory: new plays were more popular but Shakespeare's were usually cheaper to produce.
Dugas's work is liveliest and most convincing in the latter part of his book when the Tonsons become his central figures. In chapter 4, Dugas advances Peter Seary's now-controversial claim that the Tonsons' choice of editors and copy texts for their editions grew from a strategy to extend their rights after the 1709 Copyright Act. He attributes to the Tonsons the first recognition that Shakespeare functioned as a brand; he sees much of Shakespeare's early eighteenth-century presence as the product of the Tonsons' desire to preserve the brand's nature, control its price, and target specific audiences. The Tonsons' expensive editions didn't, though, much affect performance until two changes occurred in the marketplace. In 1735, a price war between Jacob Tonson Jr. and Robert Walker flooded the market with cheap single-play editions. Drury Lane, Covent Garden, the Shakespeare's Ladies Club, and others then pushed for productions of plays long off the boards but now cheaply available in print, including nine that had languished unperformed since before 1642. The growth of Shakespearean performance also occurred because the 1737 Licensing Act established a theatrical duopoly. When the two theaters that dominated London recognized that using old plays, such as Shakespeare's, kept costs down, they squeezed new plays, preferred by the public, out of the market.
Although not as encyclopedic in his ambitions as Andrew Murphy, Dugas is astute at judging how the markets for print Shakespeare and performed Shakespeare functioned quite independently of one another during the Restoration. Ironically, one of Dugas's most convincing arguments is that admiring critics played only a...