ON THE IMMORALITY OF THEATRE
Histrio-Mastix, The Players Scourge, or, Actors Tragaedie..London, Printed by E. A[llde A. Mathewes, T. Cotes] and W[illiam]. I[ones]. for Michael Sparke, 1633
FIRST EDITION 4to. pp (xxxiv) 512; ff. 513-568 pp. 545-832 (ii) 831-1006 (xl). Roman and Italic letter, head- and tail-pieces. Slight age yellowing, the odd little waterstain towards end, light and mostly marginal. Tear to head of t.p without loss, two small marginal excisions, ancient repair to blank verso, couple of minor paper flaws to text. Contemp. MS annotations to initial blank, partial contemp. ms. index to final e.ps. A good copy, in handsome contemp. binding of thick dark calf, covers triple ruled in blind, 4 raised bands, decorated bands at head and tail of spine, small repair to former.
FIRST EDITION of a work begun by Prynne in 1624, condemning stage plays as “the very Pompes of the Divell”. The argument for the immorality of theatre is drawn from an exhaustive number of sources which Prynne lists on the title page: Scripture, 55 Synods and Councils, 71 Christian Writers, over 150 Protestants and Papists, and 40 “Heathan Philosophers” and emporers. Prynne apologizes in his introduction for the length of the work, which he claims is absolutely necessary if he is to adequately combat such an “infectious leprosie” that has spread to City, Court and Country. The size of the treatise also relates to the size of the market for printed plays: Prynne reckons generously that over 40,000 had been printed in the past two years, and worse, that they are in better quality than other books: “Shackspeers Plaies are printed in the best Crowne paper, far better than most Bibles”. Ironically, the text is divided into Acts and Scenes. “Despite its unreadability as a whole this book still exercises a very genuine fascination” (Pforzheimer cit. infr.).
William Prynne (1600 – 1669), puritan polemicist and sometime barrister, did not so much live as rage throughout the major political upheavals of 17th century England. “The Cato of this age” at the best of times, “an indefatigable and impertinent scribbler” at the worst, his prolific output ranging from the sinfulness of toasting one’s health to more topical take-downs of Milton, lead Anthony Wood to remark: “I verily believe…he wrote a sheet for every day of his life” (DNB cit. infr.). This work, about a thousand pages longer than Prynne’s usual printed pamphlets, marked the beginning of his notoriety: “For the publication of this work the author was sentenced by the Star-chamber to pay a fine to the King of 5000l., to be degraded from his profession of the law and to lose his ears in the pillory” (Lowndes cit. infr.), reputedly because the publication coincided with the staging of “Shepherd’s Paradise”, in which Queen Henrietta Maria and her ladies featured. Distinct from Prynne’s overall hatred for the theatre, was his seething disapproval of female actors (“imprudent strumpets”). Not one to give up, Prynne continued to write tracts against Laud and episcopacy within prison and without. By the Civil War he was restored to his degree and to Lincoln’s Inn, was an ardent defender of the legality of Parliament, and spearheaded Laud’s prosecution, becoming something of a political figure. During the interregnum he found himself in and out of prison, remaining a key intermediary between politics and the public through his continuous outpouring of pamphlets. After the restoration he lived the rest of his life according to Wood as a very affable keeper of the records and archives in the Tower of London, receiving visitors “with old-fashion compliments such as were used in the reign of King James I”.STC 20464a "Anr. issue, w. 'Errataes' on ***4v". Pforzheimer II 809. Lowndes 5 p. 1987. DNB XVI 432-37. Not in Groiler.