nothing about thefts of this kind in play, prologue or preface of Shakespeare’s day (contemporary complaints of piracy are mainly concerned with poems or essays passed round in manuscript by men of fashion), and have to seek it in the much later prefaces of Heywood. Surely if piracy were thus frequent some honest apprentice must have brought down his cudgel on a cheating stenographer’s hand, and himself not have passed unsung.
In opposition to the theory that Shakespeare (that excellent man of business, as we have been taught to consider him) and his fellows submitted to being defrauded of their property fourteen successive times within thirteen years, it has elsewhere been contended, and will be contended as often as a hearing can be obtained, that while the pirates were able not only to get out editions of Henry V and the Merry Wives, but to convey copyright in them to their confederates, and had the profits of single editions of Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet, and possibly also of Love’s Labors Lost, the players after each of these attacks, as also after that on Pericles in 1609, can be seen protecting other plays by staying notices, sometimes openly of that character, more often in the form of entries on the Stationers’ Register, which while seeming to pave the way for publication were really meant to delay it. Here and now as much has been said as to this fight with the Pirates as there is space for. We must pass on from this negative and defensive support of the Quartos to claim for them positive qualities not easily compatible with piracy, and which give to them a much higher character than they have hitherto been allowed. In the passage already cited from Malone’s Introduction to his Shakespeare of 1790 that great critic wrote, with a truth only marred by his acceptance of the current application of the words “stolne and surreptitious”:
“Fifteen of Shakespeare’s plays were printed in quarto antecedent to the first complete collection of his works, which was published by his fellow comedians in 1623. . . . The players when they mention these copies represent them all as mutilated and imperfect; but this was merely thrown out to give an additional value to their own edition and is not strictly true of any but two of the whole number; The Merry Wives of Windsor and King Henry V. With respect to the other thirteen copies, though undoubtedly they were all surreptitious, that is, stolen from the playhouse, and printed without the consent of the author or the proprietors, they in general are preferable to the exhibition of the same plays in the Folio; for this plain reason, because, instead of printing these plays from a manuscript, the editors of the folio, to save labour or from some other motive, printed the greater part of them from the very copies which they represented as maimed and imperfect, and frequently from a late instead of the earliest edition; in some instances with additions and alterations of their own. Thus, therefore, the first folio, as far as respects the plays above enumerated, labours under the disadvantage of being at least