Bookselling at Paul’s Churchyard
As the title page of the first Quarto of Richard III shows us, the printed version of Shakespeare’s play was sold by Andrew Wise,
dwelling in Paules Church-yard, at the Signe of the Angell, 1597.Viewing the title pages of many plays by Shakespeare and his contemporaries, one is likely to find similar inscriptions. By 1597, St. Paul’s was used not only as a church; in fact, one might say it was used not even primarily as a church. It had become the bookshop of London.
Parts of the cathedral and its surrounding areas had been used as markets since the fourteenth century. By the beginning of the sixteenth century, St. Paul’s Churchyard was
the chief centre of the book trade, not only for London, but for the whole country(Mumby 45). Booksellers on Paternoster Row became a source of competition in the latter half of the century, eventually winning the prominent position in London bookselling, but Paul’s maintained its supremacy well into the seventeenth century.
The bookshops at Paul’s were populated largely by foreign booksellers in the sixteenth century. England did not have its own printing press until the 1490s, and in 1484 Richard III had passed an Act of exemption to foreign printers, encouraging them to bring their trade to London. The central settling point for these booksellers was Paul’s.
Foreign competition angered the members of the English printing organization, The Stationers’ Company, which did not obtain its charter until 1557 (47). Through a series of government interventions, control was shifted from the foreign printers to the Stationers’ Company during the course of the century. By Shakespeare’s day, power was firmly within their hands. Before a Shakespeare play could appear in the shops at Paul’s, it had to be approved and registered in the Stationers’ Register.
- Mumby, Frank Arthur. Publishing and Bookselling. 5th ed. London: Jonathan Cape, 1974.
Last modification: 2016-06-04 15:13:12 -0700 (Sat, 04 Jun 2016) (jtakeda)