Bonus points for beginning with a great Hamlet quote (the best use of which I ever saw was a production that arranged the scenes so that when Hamlet disparages what he’s reading as “words, words, words” he is reading his letters to Ophelia, which she has returned to him).
Barbara Lauriat, Literary and Dramatic Disputes in Shakespeare’s Time
Journal of International Dispute Settlement, Forthcoming
Disputes over literary works and plays — between one authors and another, one publisher and another, and between authors and publishers — have arisen since the ancient world. This is to be expected, since publishing poems and plays and producing theatrical performances can have significant economic, political, and emotional implications all at the same time. The nature and legal frameworks governing these disputes have changed dramatically over the centuries, however, particularly with regard to the proprietary rights involved.
Though modern copyright law did not exist at the time, the Elizabethan age saw a high degree of professionalism of theatrical performance, book publishing, and dramatic authorship. When audiences are clamoring for novel entertainments, authorship is becoming a professional activity, and profits are to be made, customs and traditions inevitably arise — as do violations of those customs and traditions. This article discusses the framework of authorship and publishing in Shakespeare’s time and examines some of the disputes that arose and how they were resolved in a context where the legal remedies were limited. Methods from patronage to private guild “courts” to theft to public denunciation to outright violence were employed in attempts to maintain profitable businesses in publishing and theatre.
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