Feature of the Month: Foure Prentises

In 2016 Senate House Library is commemorating the quartercentenary of the death of William Shakespeare. This year’s Features of the Month celebrate books published in the same year as Shakespeare’s first four folios: 1623, 1632, 1664 and 1685. From April until June, 1632 features.

The Foure Prentises of London: With the Conquest of Jerusalem
Thomas Heywood
London: N. Okes, 1632
[D.-L.L.] (XVII) Bc [Heywood]

Just as Shakespeare’s Second Folio of 1632 is an amended version of a text previously published in 1623, the 1632 edition of Thomas Heywood’s The Foure Prentises of London amends an earlier work, this time a single quarto play from 1615.

The playwright and poet Thomas Heywood (1574-1641) is thought to have written some 220 plays, of which only about twenty survive. Charles Lamb, in his Specimens of English Dramatic Poets (1808), called Heywood ‘a prose Shakespeare’; other connections between him and Shakespeare are that Heywood was influenced by Shakespeare, and that both are thought to have contributed to the play Sir Thomas More. The Foure Prentises of London may well have been written in 1594. Based ultimately on the life of Godfrey of Bulloigne, a hero of the First Crusade and one of the nine worthies of the world, it starts with Godfrey and his three noble brothers living in London after they have ben dispossessed by their father. Trailed by their sister Bella Franco in disguise, they embark upon a crusade to Jerusalem, carrying the arms of their respective trades of mercer, goldsmith, haberdasher and grocer. Separated by shipwreck, and each believing the others dead, after many adventures they are reunited and are victorious in battle in Jerusalem. The play is the first of a series of adventure-romances by Heywood written several years before their first publication. Combining history, romance, adventure, and domestic scenes, it capitalises on the current popularity of prentice ballads and of chivalric romances.

Changes to this second edition would have been made partly by Heywood, partly by a reviser in the printing house. In it profane oaths present in the first are removed, some obvious errors of spelling or sense are corrected, and some careless mistakes introduced. Although less rare than the 1615 edition, the 1632 edition is scarcely ubiquitous: ESTC records seven copies in the United Kingdom (not including the Senate House Library copy) and a further ten in the United States, of which four are in the Folger Shakespeare Library. This copy was formerly one of many seventeenth-century plays owned by Sir Edwin Durning-Lawrence. It is clearly the 1632 edition; however, he or another previous owner has scribbled on the title page, added a line to the prologue, and amended single letters in the list of characters and the prologue to reflect the 1615 edition. Here the manuscript emendation ends, belying in two respects a note pasted in: ‘Carefully collated with the later edition of 1632 …’.

Blog post details

  • 1 Apr 2016

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