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  • Print publication year: 1965
  • Online publication date: March 2007

‘The Great Variety of Readers’


John Heminge and Henry Condell seem to have had no doubt in their own minds about the composition of the public for which the First Folio was designed. They address themselves to readers ‘from the most able, to him that can but spell’, and mingle their natural wish that the venture shall be a profitable one (‘whateuer you do, buy’) with exhortations to ‘diuers capacities’ that they shall do their best not only to appreciate the plays for themselves, but also to help others to a similar appreciation. ‘Reade him, therefore; and againe, and againe; And if then you doe not like him, surely you are in some manifest danger, not to understand him. And so we leaue you to other of his Friends, whom if you need, can bee your guides: if you neede them not, you can leade your selues, and others. And such Readers we wish him.’ An estimated edition of about 1200 copies and a price of one pound a copy were no doubt limiting factors in its circulation, but its editors at any rate envisaged a wide enough market. More than 330 years later the publishers of an American paperback edition (one play per volume) echo basically the same sentiments, though in terms suggesting the influence of modern market research, for they offer Shakespeare ‘for the price of a coke and a hamburger’, in a form that will fit easily into the pocket, and anticipate a very high sale through book stores, news stands, drug stores, and railway stations.

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Shakespeare Survey
  • Online ISBN: 9781139052986
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