- The Publication of Plays in London 1660-1800: Playwrights, Publishers and the Market by Judith Milhous and Robert D. Hume
Judith Milhous and Robert D. Hume
The British Library, 2015
£45 hb, xxvi + 483 pp., 111 ill.
Milhous and Hume's book is a comprehensive and detailed addition to the limited scholarship concerning late seventeenth and eighteenth-century theatre, drama and publication history. Tackling key questions relating to the financial history of drama publication, the work seeks to provide clarity on what made a play a financial success for the playwright and publisher.
The list of questions outlined in each chapter gives a clear sense of what will be the focus of each section, and acts as an indication of the numerous gaps in our knowledge and understanding of this period of theatre history. These signposts highlight the formidable task undertaken by Milhous and Hume. After a prologue which provides a history of publication before 1660, the work is divided into three parts. The first considers the publication of new plays, dealing separately with the quarto and duodecimo publications and addressing questions such as what constitutes a "new play". Part two discusses the financial benefits and risks of plays, their staging and publication. This section attempts to explain the value of money in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and despite the well-known historians' problem that financial values are incommensurable across centuries, Milhous and Hume succeed in making the essential economic realities intelligible to a modern readership. This section also considers the financial benefit to the playwright and queries whether or not a playwright could make a living from plays. The final section turns again to the publication of plays, this time concentrating on reprints, and the evidence from catalogues and collections. One of the most dynamic parts of the book is the research on illustrations in playbooks, a under-explored area of publication scholarship.
The scholarship and discussion within this work is greatly enhanced by the numerous tables which convey statistical information and numerical [End Page 197] support relating to, for example, publication history, financial income and number of illustrations. The statistical detail provides a more complete sense of the publication landscape while the wealth of illustrations taken from publications provides a clear and detailed representation of the plays and the development of their publication. These also allow scholars to follow the change in style of theatre costume and fashion in the late-eighteenth century. Milhous and Hume provide an opportunity for such comparison in a series of illustrations printed beside one another (326-327).
This book is invaluable to scholars interested in the many aspects of theatre history and play publication. The detailed scholarship that considers the printing, dissemination, and economics of drama helps to determine a clearer and more comprehensive history of play publication, and the financial benefits or losses to both the playwright and the publisher.