Many of us first encountered Shakespeare’s plays as text before experiencing them as theater. Shakespeare is textual. He’s also typographic. In this free public lecture, Claire Bourne illuminates how typographic decision-making—from typefaces to page design—has shaped how we read and engage with Shakespeare.
The print publication of Shakespeare’s drama, including single-play quartos printed during his lifetime and the now-iconic folio collection of plays published seven years posthumously, is credited with transforming Shakespeare from a successful playwright in his own time into an author “for all time.” The proliferation of Shakespeare editions from the seventeenth century onwards testifies to the staying power of Shakespearean drama as reading material.
The earliest texts by which we know Shakespeare’s theatrical craft are defined by the page-design decisions, print-shop practices, and type-setting conventions behind their making. This lecture weaves together stories of typographic innovation and improvisation. These stories include the first attempts at mediating Shakespeare’s plays via moveable type technology as well as efforts to establish authoritative editions of those same texts via typographic experimentation from the eighteenth century onwards.
With a focus on the uses specific typefaces and their fonts in this editorial tradition, these stories will illuminate the formative role of typographic decision-making and effect in the production and reception of Shakespeare’s dramatic writing.
Claire M. L. Bourne is Assistant Professor of English at Pennsylvania State University. She is author of Typographies of Performance in Early Modern England and editor of the essay collection Shakespeare/Text.
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