A Very Well-Preserved Copy of a Book that Cost its Author his Ears


(London: Printed by E. A. and W. I. for Michael Sparke, 1633). 198 x 140 mm. (7 3/4 x 5 1/2"). 17 p.l., 512 pp., 513-568 leaves, 545-582, [2] blank, 831-1,006 pp., [20] leaves (obviously erratic numbering, but complete). FIRST EDITION, Second Issue, as virtually always (with "Errataes" on ***4v).

Contemporary sprinkled calf, recently resewn and rebacked by Courtland Benson. Pforzheimer III, 809; STC 20464; Brunet IV, 618; Graesse V, 468. First few leaves with faint, inoffensive stain at lower inner margin, otherwise QUITE A FINE COPY, with only trivial imperfections--the expertly restored binding unworn, and the text consistently fresh, almost entirely clean, and with ample margins.

The Puritan divine William Prynne (1600-69) loosed his moral lightning upon the theater of his time in the present diatribe, a work that could not have been more unrestrained nor more ill-timed. This was no precision ideological sortie, but an unbridled surfeit of castigation. In the words of the Norton Anthology of English Literature, "in this passionate . . . tirade of over 1,000 pages larded with authorities in the text and margins--classical philosophers, Church Fathers, Protestant theologians--Prynne denounced stage plays, cross-dressed male actors, court masques, mixed dancing in masques and everywhere else, maypoles, wakes and other rural festivals, country sports on the sabbath, Laudian ritual, stained-glass windows and much more, staking out the most extreme Puritan position on traditional recreations at court and in the countryside." Prynne was also outraged by the favor shown to Shakespeare by printers, ranting, "Shackpeers Plaies are printed in the best Crowne paper, far better than most Bibles." The book would have attracted much less attention if it hadn't contained a number of stories of rulers and magistrates whose support of, or participation in, theatrical productions seemed to bring about their demise. It happened that Charles and his queen, Henrietta Maria, often danced in court masques, and Prynne's allusions to "scurrilous amorous pastorals" and to female actors as "notorious whores" struck way too close to the royal home. As a consequence, our author was imprisoned for life, eventually stripped of his academic credentials, disbarred, fined £5,000, placed in the pillory at Westminster and Cheapside, forced to watch his books being publicly burned (the first English books to go up in flames this way), and relieved of a portion of his ears. (This was before freedom of the press.) Like its author, this item (unlike the present copy) is almost always found in wretched condition.

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PJP Catalog: SE16BF.059