H-125. The Books of the Plays: Shakespeare & Print

David Scott Kastan

It is a cliché of Shakespeare scholarship that he was a “man of the theater.” But he was also a product of print. This class will be an intensive exploration of the ways in which print was responsible for Shakespeare (or better, for “Shakespeare”). No manuscripts of Shakespeare’s plays have survived, so print is what allows us to read and even perform Shakespeare now. But it wasn’t inevitable that his plays reached print, and, even when they did, it wasn’t inevitable that they would have survived. (Think about Love’s Labor’s Won, a title mentioned by Francis Meres in 1598, and which was owned and offered for sale by an Exeter bookseller in 1603.) The course will allow us to explore the conditions of print in early modern England, though mainly focus on the publication and circulation of Shakespeare’s plays in print—from the earliest quartos, to the aborted Pavier collection of 1619, to the four early folios (1623–1685), to the great eighteenth-century editions, to the “Globe” Shakespeare of 1864, and to modern editorial projects in which we all first encountered Shakespeare. There will also be some consideration of what it means to “edit” Shakespeare.

The course will be run as a seminar, and will be project-specific, drawing its focus in part from the interests of its participants, but with work depending upon the extraordinary resources of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, as well as the collections of the Elizabethan Club. Participants will have the opportunity to work closely with the early materials, do original research, and pursue topics of their own interest as they come to understand the ways in which print is what has allowed Shakespeare to become not just the name of England’s (the world’s?) most famous playwright but also the synecdochal name of a treasured book.

The seminar is designed for scholars, graduate students, librarians, and collectors, who are interested particularly in Shakespeare (and early drama), but interested also in the material and institutional practices of the early English printing trade and in thinking about how materiality might affect literary understanding.

In their personal statement, applicants are requested to summarize their background in the field, indicate any current research projects, and suggest topics or issues that they would particularly like the course to address.

Course History

David Scott Kastan teaches this course.
This course is not currently being offered. Please do not list on any RBS fellowship or scholarship applications.

Course Resources

  • Advance Reading List
  • Evaluations for this course:

Related Courses


David Scott Kastan

David Scott Kastan

David Scott Kastan is the George M. Bodman Professor of English at Yale University, having previously taught at Columbia University and at Dartmouth College. He is one of the General Editors of the Arden Shakespeare, the co-editor of the Bantam Shakespeare, and the series editor of the Barnes and Noble Shakespeare. He has produced scholarly editions of Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part One, Milton’s Paradise Lost, and Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus, and written widely on editing, textual theory, and early modern book history. His A Will to Believe: Shakespeare and Religion was published in 2014 by Oxford University Press and has just been reissued in paperback. Among his earlier books are Shakespeare and the Shapes of Time, Shakespeare after Theory, and Shakespeare and the Book. He also edited the essay collections, A Companion to Shakespeare, Staging the Renaissance (with Peter Stallybrass), and The New History of Early English Drama (with John Cox), as well as the five-volume Oxford Encyclopedia of British Literature. Currently he is working on two projects: one, with the painter Stephen Farthing, on a book called Living Color: A History to be published next year by Yale University Press, and a history of the book in twelve micro-histories for Princeton University Press, entitled Book Cases.

Full Bio »