By Emily Fine
Sixe Court Comedies is only the third example on this website (so far!) of a woman owning a copy of early modern plays. Yet, as Kitamura Sae discusses, early modern women purchased playbooks, gave and received them as gifts and, in some cases, were involved in printing them. Clearly, we have more work to do to find these women and their playbooks!
Sixe Court Comedies is a collection of plays by English playwright John Lyly: Endymion, Campaspe, Sapho and Phao, Gallathea, Midas, and Mother Bombie. It was printed by William Stansby for Edward Blount, who, along with William and Isaac Jaggard, also printed Shakespeare’s First Folio.
This copy of Sixe Court Comedies has three indications of potential ownership. Thomas Baynard inscribed his name on the title page and the first page of Act 1, Scene 1 of Endymion. The title page also contains a faint “W,” perhaps belonging to the William Sainbourne whose name can be found at the end of the volume.
On the verso side of the final page, he wrote “M Willam Sainbourne his book.” Lower on the page, “Mr. William” appears again, presumably the same person. This final page also includes the name of a Mrs Mary Meller, who experimented with the style of her signature. She wrote her name out in full twice, and twice abbreviated it as Mrs M M. The stylistic variations of each of these signatures suggest she may have been practicing a new signature and perhaps, for that matter, a new name.
John Lyly, Sixe Court Comedies (1632). STC 17088 copy 2. title page recto, B1r, and 2D12v. Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC. Photographed by Emily Fine.
Kitamura Sae, “A Shakespeare of One’s Own: Female Users of Playbooks from the Seventeenth to the Mid-Eighteenth century.” Palgrave Communications 3, 17021 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1057/palcomms.2017.21