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Three Shakespeare Piracies in the Eighteenth Century by Giles E. Dawson
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Three Shakespeare Piracies in the Eighteenth Century
Giles E. Dawson

DURING SOME PERIODS IN THE EIGHTEENTH century it is difficult to decide just what constituted a piracy. The established, prosperous members of the Trade, who owned the most valuable literary properties, such as Shakespeare and Milton, were loudly insisting that the copyright statute of 1709 had had no adverse effect upon their perpetual rights in these properties. This view was strongly contested by the small fry among publishers, who took the position that the Act had put an end to perpetual copyright and hence that these old authors lay in the public domain. Now and again one of the little men ventured to publish Shakespeare or Milton, was hotly denounced by the 'proprietor' as a pirate, and as hotly denied the charge. But this controversy arose only after 1731, for the Act of 1709 was perfectly explicit in continuing the copyrights of old books in the hands of their then possessors for the term of twenty-one years from 25 April 1710. Any play of Shakespeare's published during this period by any stationer other than the Tonson firm or the Wellington firm—the lawful proprietors of all of Shakespeare's plays—was undeniably a piracy.

Three such piracies—the only ones known to me—form the subject of the present paper. But before we embark on the account of these three little spurious Shakespeares it will


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simplify matters to have before us a description of three other Shakespeares—irreproachable publications of the lawful owners of the copyrights, the Wellingtons:[1]
  • (1) HAMLET, | Prince of Denmark; | A | TRAGEDY, | As it is now Acted by his | Majesty's Servants. | [rule] | Written by | William Shakespear. | [rule] | LONDON; | Printed by J. Darby, for A. Bettes-|worth in Pater-noster-Row, and F. Clay | without Temple-Bar. M.DCC.XXIII. | (Price One Shilling.) 12mo. A-I6.
  • (2) OTHELLO, | THE | MOOR of VENICE; | A | TRAGEDY, | As it hath been divers times Acted at | the Globe, and at the Black-Friers: | And now at the Theater-Royal, by | His Majesty's Servants. | [rule] | Written by W. Shakespear. | [rule] | [ornament: a pair of quadripartite type blocks] | [rule] | LONDON: | Printed by John Darby in Bartholomew-Close, for | Mary Poulson, and fold by A. Bettes-|worth in Pater-noster-Row, R. Caldwell | in Newgate-street, and F. Clay without Temple | Bar. M.DCC.XXIV. Price 1 s 12mo. A-H6.
  • (3) MACBETH; | A | TRAGEDY, | As it is now Acted by His Ma-|jesty's Servants. | [rule] | Written by | William Shakespear. | [rule] | [ornament: rabbit with crossed sprays, triangular, 37 mm. x

    Figure I

    Page Figure I

    FIGURE 1

    Figure II

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    Figure III

    Page Figure III


    Figure III verso

    Page Figure III verso


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    24 mm.] | [rule] | LONDON, | Printed for J. Tonson; and also for J. Darby, | A. Bettesworth, and F. Clay, in Trust | for Richard, James, and Bethel Wel-|lington. M.DCC.XXIX. 12mo. A-G6.

Ford's bibliography[2] contains three entries corresponding to these. It ought to contain six, for there exist two editions of the 1723 Hamlet, two of the 1724 Othello, and two of the 1729 Macbeth to which the foregoing descriptions would in each case apply equally well. That Ford failed to recognize these duplicate editions is not to his discredit, for the duplication is so close that even when the pairs are seen together it is not easy at once to distinguish them. More conspicuous differences than those which they present have been overlooked in books of greater importance than these three insignificant duodecimos. Not until very recently was it recognized that the 1709 Rowe edition of Shakespeare and the 1765 Johnson edition were each two editions, actually, instead of one. And these pairs differ even as to collation. But their title-pages, their format, their illustrations—the points ordinarily observed by booksellers and collectors—differ only in such trifling details as no one but a prying bibliographer is likely to observe—or value.[3] This practice of making reprints duplicate their first editions might reasonably be taken to explain the reprints which we are now considering. A close examination of these, however, reveals certain features which clearly show such an explanation to be untenable and which suggest instead unlawful publication and an intent to deceive. It will make the detailed description of these features easier if we confine ourselves first to one of the plays—the 1724 Othello. In this description


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I use the letters A and B to designate the two editions (in what I believe to be their correct order).

Title-page. Comparison of the A and B titles in the accompanying reproduction reveals small typographical variations sufficiently apparent without further comment. But it also reveals a degree of correspondence too great to be the result of accident or of the natural desire of the compositor of a reprint to save time and trouble by following his copy as exactly as possible. The dimensions of the A and B type-pages, for example, differ by scarcely a hair's breadth.[4] The similarity of the pair of ornaments on A and B, each composed of four common stock pieces, is not remarkable; the close correspondence of their relative positions is more so.

Headband, A2 r. Again, it is not remarkable that the printer of B should have had in his shop, or have been able to obtain, the type sorts of which he found the A headband composed. These were standard ornaments, doubtless obtainable by any printer. The significant points are, on the one hand, that the two headbands are not exactly identical and, on the other, that they are so near alike that the differences can be detected only upon close examination. To make the rows of very small pieces which compose the outer border and separate the larger interior elements fill the required spaces, it was necessary to insert here and there thin types. In the top row are an exclamation point and a question mark; in the righthand side an exclamation point; in the lefthand side an 'i'. Exactly the same types appear in B as in A and in precisely the same positions—an effect which required careful calculation and counting.

Factotum initial, A2 r. The factotum of B is not identical with that of A but is sufficiently like it—and this is the important point—to be regarded as unmistakably an imitation. The A factotum having been a woodblock, the B printer did not have,


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and could not go out and buy, a duplicate, as he could the component parts of the headband. His alternatives were instead to use another factotum of similar size and character, or to have an imitation of A specially made for the occasion. The first of these alternative courses would not, it seems, answer his purpose, and we may assume that he chose the second. It is chiefly upon this factotum (supported by the tailpiece on H6v) that my determination of the order in which the two editions were printed rests. It is obvious that the A factotum is old and worn, while B appears fresh and clean.

Tailpiece, p. 96 (H6 v). Much of what I have said about the factotums applies to these tailpieces. B is of cruder workmanship than A, with heavy outlines and inferior draughtsmanship, but is clean and unworn.

Signatures. One of the easiest quick tests by which to determine whether two given copies of a book (of the 18th century or earlier) are printed from the same setting of type or whether they belong instead to two different editions is to compare signatures. Since compositors did not bother to center their signatures exactly in the lower margins, a signature in one edition will ordinarily occupy a different position in relation to the letters of the line just above it from that of the corresponding signature in another edition. The variation between the position of the 'A2' in A and B (see the reproduction) is so slight as to appear not to be the result of chance. A comparison of the other signatures of the two editions makes it clear that chance is not here the controlling factor—that, even in such a trifling and unobtrusive detail, the B compositor was consciously imitating his copy, A. Of twenty-three signatures in the volume the B compositor placed eighteen of them more accurately than he did the 'A2'.

Press figures. In many 18th-century books we find in an occasional lower margin a figure, asterisk, or the like—never more than one to a forme. These are believed to indicate the press or the pressman on which or by which the forme was


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printed. It seems probable that they were inserted by the pressman; they could not have been inserted until the formes were made up. And so there would normally be—and there normally is—no agreement whatever between the press figures of a first edition and those of a reprint of it. In the Othello there is such agreement. One press figure appears in A—a '2' on C6v. And B agrees with this, even down to the position of the figure on the page. This can only be intentional imitation.

So much for the 1724 Othello. The 1723 Hamlet and the 1729 Macbeth exhibit the same kinds of similarities in the two editions of each. Title-pages are copied with approximately the same degree of fidelity. Factotums and tailpieces of the two A editions are worn like those of Othello, while those of the B editions are new looking, heavy, rather crude in workmanship, and have the appearance of imitations executed by the same hand as those of Othello. Hamlet has at the head of its text a composite headband somewhat like that of Othello, the B edition showing the same care in the placing of the thin types needed to fill up that we found there. The Macbeth headpiece is, instead, a foliated woodblock ornament, B imitating A just as in the factotums and tailpieces. In its signatures Hamlet is almost as remarkable in the correspondence of B to A as Othello. Of a total of twenty-five signatures, eighteen agree more or less exactly in their relative positions. Likewise the Hamlet B press figures exactly duplicate the four in A—three stars and a '1'. In the 1729 Macbeth no press figures occur in either edition, and the B compositor failed to follow A in the placing of his signatures.

From this mass of evidence it will be quite clear that in the printing of the three B editions neither trouble or expense was spared to produce careful type-facsimiles. There could have been no reason for this if the B editions were ordinary reprints (like those of 1709 and 1765) produced by John Darby, who is named in all the imprints. Had Darby been responsible for these reprints, supposing that he had had any motive for producing


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exact facsimiles, he could have made them better and with less trouble by using the same factotums and tailpieces instead of only moderately good imitations. He retained these old factotums and tailpieces in his shop and used them later in other plays. Quite obviously, then, the three reprints are the work of a pirate. And from the great lengths to which he went to make his spurious products look exactly like the genuine it seems probable that he had reason to fear detection.

Were the evidence of piracy less conclusive than it is, one would be tempted to allow some weight to what appears at first sight to be a piece of contrary evidence, namely an advertisement appended to the 1729 Macbeth. In the 1723 Hamlet also, the original printer, following a common custom, filled what would otherwise have been a blank and wasted page at the end of the play by there placing an advertisement of 'Books printed for M. Poulson.' This our pirate, carrying out with complete fidelity the facsimile nature of his reprint, reproduces in its proper place (I6v), thus very honestly advertising the wares of his rival. In the Macbeth, Darby had a blank leaf at the end (G6), which he utilized by printing on the recto a list of 'Books printed for J. Tonson in the Strand' and on the verso one of 'Books sold by J. Darby in Bartholomew-Close, A. Bettes-worth in Pater-noster-Row, and F. Clay without Temple-bar, in trust for Richard, James, and Bethel Wellington.' Again, the pirate follows suit, reproducing the advertisements with close attention to details of typography, spelling, and punctuation. But there is a difference, and it is this that creates the difficulty. When we find, upon collating the Darby-Wellington list, that the reprint omits two titles, we need not attach much importance to the omission; it could, despite this printer's usual care, be a mere accident. But when, proceeding down the list, we find in the spurious reprint two titles not included in the genuine original, this is harder to explain. What we have seen of the pirate's work has not led us to expect from him any degree of carelessness that could have produced such a result. The only


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explanation which I have been able to evolve eliminates any carelessness on the pirate's part without, I hope, too great a strain upon our credulity. The two extra titles which appear in the reprint, 'Collier's Dictionary abridg'd, 2 Vol.' and 'Hartman's Family Physician,' were for many years among the Wellington stock. They appear, for example, together with most of the other titles in the Macbeth list, in a list of books printed for the three Wellingtons and sold by Darby, Bettes-worth, Clay, and R. Caldwell which is appended to a 1728 edition of Lee's Mithridates and in another Wellington-Bettes-worth-Clay list appended to a 1734 edition of Mithridates. Is it not reasonable to assume, then, that Darby omitted the Collier and Hartman titles from the Macbeth list by mistake, that he remedied this by a belated press correction, that copies were sold in both states, that the pirate had before him a copy with the list in the second state, and that the two copies known to me both belong, by an unhappy chance, to the first?

Three questions about these elaborately executed piracies remain to be considered: Who was the pirate? When did he produce his spurious reprints? How did he intend to dispose of them? While I can supply no confident answer to any of these questions, I can at least throw some light on all of them and suggest some plausible answers.

William Feales, who is first heard of in 1729, very soon established himself as a large dealer in plays. His name appears in the imprint of many plays between 1731 and 1736, never, so far as I have observed, as sole publisher, always in conjunction with such well-established capitalists as Bernard Lintott, the Wellingtons, or the Tonsons, particularly the last. From the first he appears to have been primarily a wholesale dealer in plays, especially remainders. Two receipts preserved in the British Museum[5] show him buying in October 1731 from Benjamin Motte 1950 copies of Crowne's Sir Courtly Nice for £13.11.0, and in July 1733 from Lintott 606 copies of Cibber's Love's Last Shift, the price not stated. Sir Courtly Nice was a


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fairly new play, published at some time in 1731, but the price of 1 2/3 pence per copy suggests a remainder stock. Though Feales sold plays separately, he also collected them into bound sets for which he supplied general title-pages. The first of these he called The English Theatre. This began as an eight-volume set, dated 1731, but additional 'Parts' of six or eight volumes extended the set by 1733 to twenty-six volumes containing 104 plays, which he advertised at £4.7.6 bound (which comes to 10d. per play). I do not know of any complete set of these; the Folger Library has a nearly complete set the only missing volume of which is supplied in another broken set.

The plays, which have their own titles, are chiefly old remainders, their dates going back as far as 1719 and their imprints representing many publishers. As a stock of old remainders became exhausted, Feales obtained other reprints to fill their places; in all probability he undertook for this purpose the publication of new reprints in conjunction with those publishers who controlled the copyrights. Thus in a volume with a general title-page dated 1731 we may find plays dated 1733. And in the two Folger sets, though they are alike in general titles and contents, a given play may be of two different editions, one 1728, the other 1733. With Feales's later ventures, The British Theatre, in ten volumes, and 'The Beautiful Editions of the Plays with Red Titles and Handsome Frontispieces'—the latter consisting of the old plays issued separately with new (cancel) titles—I am not now concerned.

Feales's method of play publishing bears upon our three pirated plays. For all three of them appear in the first volume of The English Theatre, 1731—the three counterfeit reprints, in the order indicated by their imprint dates, complete with titles and advertisements—together with a 1729 edition of Tate's King Lear. The two Folger copies of this volume are identical in every important respect.

Now I cannot say how Feales acquired the three reprints. He was not himself a printer, and when he required the services of a printer he usually employed Darby himself, who is in this


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case, as always so far as I know, above suspicion. Yet it is not impossible—or even unlikely—that Feales was the culprit. Nothing is known about him before 1731, except for the single imprint of 1729 mentioned before. He was not in any case a well-established member of the trade and may well, before he became respectable as the associate of the most substantial stationers of London, have been a shady character not above a barefaced piracy. He may have employed some equally shady printer to do the job for him and, experiencing difficulty in getting the pirated plays off his hands, may have kept them until the assembling of The English Theatre occurred to him. Or he may have acquired a large stock of miscellaneous plays with such a collection in view and, unable to obtain editions of the most popular plays of Shakespeare which he desired for his first volume, may have had them secretly printed for the purpose. On the other hand, it must be regarded as equally possible that Feales, a wholesale dealer in all sorts of plays, bought these three piracies from their real perpetrator, either quite innocently or with some degree of guilt. Perhaps, even, the real pirate was caught, and his stock confiscated, as the Act of 1709 provided, and then acquired by Feales. There seems little to choose between these alternative suggestions.

Whichever origin we choose, it seems to me very probable that the three plays were produced not earlier than 1729, and I see no good reason for assigning a date earlier than 1731. The dates on the title-pages of the reprints may of course be ignored. And the similarity of technique in all three, together with the uniformity in execution of the woodblock ornaments, supplies some ground for assuming that the three piracies were carried out by one printer and at one time.

When all is said, it must be admitted that we have here but few facts. All that can be said with complete confidence is that the three reprints are piracies, and that William Feales is the only man whom we can connect with them in any way.



The Mary Poulson of the imprints was the widow of Richard Wellington (d. 1715), who had owned some half dozen Shakespeare copyrights. A. Bettesworth and F. Clay appear to have been trustees of the Wellington estate on behalf of his three minor sons, Richard, James, and Bethel. On the Wellingtons' part in the Shakespeare copyrights see my "The Copyright of Shakespeare's Works", Studies in Honor of A. H. R. Fairchild (University of Missouri Studies, 1946), pp. 28-9.


H. L. Ford, Shakespeare 1700-1740 (Oxford, 1935), Nos. 47, 167, and 217.


No satisfactory explanation has ever been suggested to account for this 18th-century practice of disguising the fact that a reprint, when it follows close on the heels of the first edition, was a reprint. Why not openly denominate the reprint "Second Edition" and thus advertise the popularity of the work?


In contrast to this the type-page height of the general title to the second of the 1765 Johnson editions, printed in the same shop as the first and intended to imitate it closely, is more than 9 mm. taller.


Addit. MS. 28275, ff. 271, 287.