The Works of Shakespear in Nine Volumes with a Glossary. Carefully Printed from the Oxford Edition in Quarto, 1744 (1747)

By M. L. Stapleton

I collect eighteenth-century Shakespeare editions, an outgrowth of my scholarship in this area, which in turn originated from my work as editor of the New Variorum Shakespeare Julius Caesar.  I recently acquired a 1747 reprint of the 1743-44 Oxford Shakespeare, a relationship that the former’s title page explicitly proclaims, albeit without the sumptuous typefaces and magnificent illustrations by Francis Hayman and Hubert Gravelot in the latter. Sir Thomas Hanmer’s name appears nowhere in the six volumes of the original or the nine of the reissue, but scholarly consensus decreed that he composed the preface preceding Alexander Pope’s and the Rowe biography of the playwright in the first tome. A second, corrected Hanmer edition appeared in 1745, and a third in 1770-71. 

In my group of nine, each except the first includes the handwritten name of its two probable owners, El[i]z[abeth] Philips and Maria Goodford Jun[io]r, the first in quill pen, the second likely in nineteenth-century steel fountain ink. In each signature, Philips commemorates her date of possession as 1756. Goodford simply identifies as herself. In every instance, someone has crossed out Elizabeth’s name.  There are no other annotations in the set: no significant passages marked out, no underlining, no starred lines or words.

Who were these women? The most recent seller of the set spells Elizabeth’s surname as Philips, but in some of her signatures, she seems to have spelled it Phelips, which would be an unusual, but not unheard of, variation. Philips, Phelps, and Phelips might have similar origins. Though Junior and Senior are traditionally male appendages, so to speak, some women named after their mothers adopted them in the nineteenth century, which might account for Maria’s form of self-identification.  An intriguing search revealed that an Elizabeth Philips in the late eighteenth century had a sister named Maria, who in turn married a Goodford. However, the dates do not match up well enough to make a sibling relationship probable.

That the otherwise unknown Philips and Goodford owned this pocket-sized reprint set of the Hanmer Shakespeare accords perfectly with what scholarship has uncovered over the last fifty years about English women’s readership in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries.  Many notable studies, such as those by Fiona Richie, have tended to concentrate on recognizable figures such as the Enlightenment actresses, critics, and playgoers who left the Shakespeare-imbued traces of themselves that a scholar would be delighted to unearth, analyze, and bring to light in print. [1] Yet a rise in the literacy rate from 25% to 40% among European women between 1714 and 1750 allows for the possibility that those who were not Elizabeth Pepys, Margaret Cavendish, Lady Montagu, or Sarah Siddons read the plays and poetry, as well. [2]

As most students of mid-eighteenth-century Shakespeare editions know, negotiating the relationships and rivalries between Pope, William Warburton, Lewis Theobald and Sir Thomas can be formidable. Accounting for their squabbles to an audience unfamiliar with them can only be more so, and inadvisable here as a result. However, the publishing history of the 1747 Hanmer reprint is less complex, and significant for my present task. 

The “Tonson cartel” considered itself the owner of the Shakespeare copyright throughout the century and guarded what it believed to be its proprietary interest in publishing the works. Warburton had been preparing his edition of the plays and signed over his rights to Jacob Tonson III in January of that year, a deal brokered in part by the publishers of his theological works, John and Paul Knapton, sub-proprietors of the family business that Jacob had inherited. The expensive nine-guinea Oxford edition was not under the firm’s purview but would prove to outsell Warburton’s less pricey eighteen-shilling publication. [3] Hence John Osborn, a London publisher, saw his opportunity, defied the status quo, and issued the more affordable nine-volume reprint delineated here that belonged to Philips and Goodford, variously described as duodecimo or octodecimo, but in any case, a small size. Predictably, the monopolists  “threatened, prosecuted, and tried every other artifice, to intimidate him from printing Shakespear.”  However, “Mr. Osborne having calmly answered, That, if they talked any more to him in that Style, he would print a Dozen of Books which they had such pretended Rights.” As a result, “They immediately, and justly took the Alarm, and were glad to take the half of the Impression off his Hands, at the Price he was pleased to put upon it, besides allowing him, as it is said, an annual Pension, which he enjoys to this Day, to buy him off from reprinting upon them.” [4] In other words, the Knaptons bought out Osborne’s copies and reissued them under their own names along with the Tonsons, thus re-cementing the monopoly, which could now boast of an inexpensive version for sale of the Hanmer production that had so eluded them.

Traditional textual editors, unlike most book historians today, have not often concerned themselves with material labeled “paratextual”—introductions, annotations, typefaces—though such divisions have become less distinct. As Georg Stanitzek drolly observed, these things “mean that no text ever has a truly paratext-free moment.” [5] Sociological theories of book production usefully attempt to account for other factors involved, e.g., the influence of stationers, printers, publishers, or how fluid these categories were three centuries ago; market forces; and, of course, the person identified as the editor and what he actually did. These are things worth considering, since they probably influenced the creation of the material text in ways we have yet to discover. Why did an editor make a choice to emend, or not? What did he think he was doing? If there was a theory behind what he did, did he always follow it?

Did contemporary readers care about such things? This economic competition in Shakespeare publishing doubtless favored the consumer. It shows there was a market for an affordable edition of the playwright who was becoming the National Poet some two decades before the Garrick Jubilee of 1769, such as the Osborne reprint of Hanmer’s edition. The books were small, designed for one hand if necessary, yet clearly printed in legible type, unencumbered with engravings and explanatory notes of warring commentators. Margins were large enough to allow for annotations, passages that could be marked out to be recalled or memorized. The 1747 set was one that women such as Philips and, later, Goodford could buy, keep, inscribe with their names, resell, and enjoy. 

[1] See Richie’s Women and Shakespeare in the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge, 2014).

[2] Christina de Bellaigue, Educating Women—Schooling and Identity in England and France, 1800-1867 (Oxford, 2007).

[3] A. W. Ward and A. R. Waller, eds., The Cambridge History of English Literature, v. 5, The Drama to 1642, pt. 1 (Cambridge, 1910), 303.

[4] Respectively, Some Thoughts on the State of Literary Property, Humbly Submitted to the Consideration of the Public (London: Printed for Alexander Donaldson, 1764), 20; and Considerations on the Nature and Origin of Literary Property (Edinburgh: Printed by Alexander Donaldson, 1767), 13-14.

[5] Georg Stanitzek. “Texts and Paratexts in Media,” Critical Inquiry 32 (1995): 30; 27-42.

Source: books privately owned. Photos by M. L. Stapleton, reproduced with permission.

Further Reading

Joan Acocella, “Turning the Page: How Women Became Readers,” The New Yorker, October 15 2012.

Giles Dawson, “Warburton, Hanmer, and the 1745 Edition of Shakespeare,” Studies in Bibliography 2 (1949-50): 35-48.

Donald W. Nichol, “Warburton (Not!) on Copyright: Clearing up the Misattribution of An Enquiry into the Nature and Origin of Literary Property (1762),” Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies 12 (1996): 171-82.  A website devoted to historic editions of Shakespeare

William Shakespeare, Comedies, Histories and Tragedies (1632)

We have seen several examples of female book ownership of plays lately, but this is a particularly interesting one, of the 1632 Folio of Shakespeare’s complete works. The wonderfully useful Shakespeare Census has located 53 copies of pre-1800 Shakespeare works owned by a woman and currently housed in libraries all over the world. But occasionally an example ends up for sale and thereafter possibly in private ownership.

This copy of Shakespeare’s Second Folio has a lovely binding and multiple ownership inscriptions.

A closer look at the title page, which I enhanced with Adobe Lightroom, reveals at least one female owner, Joanna White, who appears to be the person who has not only written her name, but also copied the title of the play that begins next to the page, The Winter’s Tale. The other name, Richard Carrington, seems to be written in a different hand than the one that wrote and practiced the title of the play. If it is Joanna, she might be marking a particular fondness for Shakespeare’s late romance.

Potential other female scribblings can be seen on the page, with some upside down (something we see frequently in early modern books). It is possible that one reads “mery” or Mary, a name we also see below Joanna White’s signature in the image above.

The bookseller has a blog and short video on their website, allowing us to see the book in more detail (including another page of pen trials with male names). This copy of the Folio was on the market earlier this year.

Source: book for sale on 26 February 2020 by Peter Harrington. Images reproduced with permission.

Richard Brome, Five New Playes (1653)

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As we have seen on this blog, women owned all kinds of books in the early modern period, including plays. Although we cannot date this particular signature with any degree of certainty, Mary Feltham wrote it in a copy (presumably hers) of a collection of plays by the popular playwright Richard Brome, published in 1653.  Rather than putting her signature on the title page, she put it above the Letter “to the Readers” by the person who put the collection together, the royalist poet Alexander Brome (who was not related to the playwright). Thus, she marks herself as one of the readers to whom the letter is addressed.

Credit: Early English Playbooks, 1594-1799. Owned by the Boston Public Library. Public Domain.

John Lyly, Sixe Court Comedies (1632)

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.

Further Reading

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).

Aphra Behn, The Counterfeit Bridegroom (1677)

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We have only showcased a few books on this website so far that were both owned and written by a woman, and as we have seen in the case of Hannah Woolley, attribution can be problematic. Here is another instance of problematic attribution: a play that has been attributed to Aphra Behn. The Counterfeit Bridegroom, published  in 1677, is an adaptation of No Wit, No Help Like a Woman’s (1613) by Thomas Middleton. However, the play was published anonymously and Behn’s authorship has been questioned, and we cannot know if this particular female reader even knew this was perhaps a play by Behn. A woman named Millisent Smith wrote her name twice on a page, once at the very top and once upside down next to the text. The handwriting looks as if it may be that of a young person. The positioning of the writing next to the prologue and the double presence of her name suggests she may have been practicing her signature, a way of claiming ownership that disregards the actual content of the book. It is difficult to date the handwriting, which may well be later than the seventeenth century.

Credit: book in the Boston Public Library collection. Images taken from Early English Playbooks, 1594-1799, reproduced with permission.

John Mason, The Turke: A Worthie Tragedie (1610)

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This is one of a few examples of early modern female book ownership of a play. The name inscribed on the front flyleaf seems to be “Mary Willson,” and clearly an attempt was made at some point to remove the inscription. Not much is known about the playwright John Mason, who was a co-owner of Whitefriars Theater where this, his best known play, was performed by the King’s Revels Children, a boy company. It was part of a fashion for plays featuring the exotic figure of the “Turk.” While the play reproduces stereotypes of the evil and cruel Muslim, it also, Claire Jowitt has argued, provided complex reflections on Jacobean foreign policy.

Credit: Book in Boston Public Library. Images taken from Early English Playbooks, 1594-1799. Reproduced with permission.


Claire Jowitt, “Political Allegory in Late Elizabethan and Early Jacobean ‘Turk’ Plays: Lust’s Dominion and The Turke,”  Comparative Drama 36.3-4 (2002-03): 411-43.