Monday, August 31, 2015

What's in a Title Page?

A lot of what we know about The Taming of A Shrew comes from its title page. But what is an early modern title page? What does it contain? What can we learn from it? Let's take a look at six features, and a seventh thing that it does not tell us.

1. The Title (with some strange typography) 

As the name suggests, a title page features the title of the work it covers. I am always surprised by the wonky sizing of the type on these things. Take a look at the detail:

From the way the sizing and capitalization looks, it seems like "Pleasant Conceited" is the main point here, and not what the history is called. It's like if "New York Times Bestseller" was more prominently positioned than the a book's title today. The only time I've seen something like that on a current book it was done as a clever twist on people's expectations in Susan Cain's book on introversion. Publishing style has changed a bit in the last 425 years. 

2. Buzz 

This sort of thing is still put on book covers today. Celebrity quotes, glowing reviews, all the reasons you should care about the book and buy it. Here's our detail on this topic:

For those of you who are rusting on reading early modern typefaces, in modern spelling that's "As it was sundry times acted by the right honorable the Earl of Pembroke, his servants." From this we know that this play was performed more than once by Pembroke's Men. Other title pages have less specific notes about the acting, so we could speculate that Pembroke's Men were well enough known and liked for that to be a selling point.

3. Woodcut decoration

Not all title pages get these sweet little decorations, but it's always a pleasure when they do. They usually don't have anything to do with the story and are more of a decorative symbol of the printer than anything else. For a project in grad school I looked at many title pages by the same printer, and it was fun to see the same decorative seal show up on the title pages of different books. 

4. The Printer, the Printer's city

These next three pieces of information are all packed in together. The printer here is Peter Short. Because there were strict laws on printing and printing houses, we still have extensive records of the books legally printed in London at this time, and anyone interested with access to some digital databases could look up the other books Peter Short printed.

5. The Shop

Today's books would never have the shop where you could buy them printed on the cover, but at this point in the history of printed books, that information could be useful. There are also scholars who think that printers made extra title pages and had them available as advertisements, much like publishers do today with extra large poster versions of the cover art. This information is given often enough that we can also reconstruct what books a particular bookseller (Cuthbert Burbie, in this case) would have had on his shelves. 

6. The Date

An very helpful piece of information. There is a lot of question about when this play in this form was written, but having a publication date lets us know that whenever it was written, it had to have been before 1594. 

7. The Author's Name

Why does the title page not contain the author's name? Was it not important to the people getting it published? Were there reasons to exclude this information? Would the people getting it printed even know the author's name? Many early modern texts were printed without the author's name. For this play in particular, having Shakespeare's name on the cover would mean a lot now, but it wouldn't necessarily mean much then. And so it remains a question.

Thanks for reading! Feel free to ask questions for me to answer in next week's post. 

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