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Early modern printing: Processes

Watch Jonathan Culpeper explain the processes involved in printing early modern texts.

The processes involved in printing early modern texts had some impact on the language, as we will discuss in the following video.

The first step in printing, even today, is the “copy-text”, the text the print is copied from. As mentioned in a previous video, we do not have Shakespeare’s original manuscripts. For the First Folio, for some plays the copy-text could have been a manuscript, but for others it was probably a quarto edition that had been printed earlier.

The next step was composition, which was process of replicating the copy text in metal type. Then there was the actual printing, followed by (possible) proofreading, and finally binding the sheets altogether.

At each step, there is potential to depart, accidentally or otherwise, from what is in the copy-text. In particular, the composition step was liable to error, not least because the compositor had to set the metal letters of the print upside down so that they would appear the right way when printed. A recipe for error indeed!

We’ll talk more about these difficulties in the next video-talk. For now, add any thoughts you might have about the processes involved in printing in the comments.

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Shakespeare's Language: Revealing Meanings and Exploring Myths

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