Richard Field (printer)

Richard Field (1561 – 1624) was a printer and publisher in Elizabethan London, known for his close association with the poems of William Shakespeare. [Kirkwood, A. E. M. "Richard Field, Printer, 1589–1624." "The Library" 12 (1931), pp. 1-35.]

Early life

Field grew up in Stratford-upon-Avon; his family lived on Bridge Street, close to the Shakespeares on Henley Street. His father was a tanner. It is often thought likely that Shakespeare and Field knew each other in Stratford, since they were similar in age and their fathers were in similar businesses (tanner and glover). After Henry Field died in August 1592, John Shakespeare was one of the local officials charged with the appraisal of the deceased man's property.

In 1579 Richard Field began an apprenticeship with the London printers John Bishop and Thomas Vautrollier. Vautrollier died in 1587; Field married Jacqueline Vautrollier, who was either Thomas's widow or his daughter, [Pogue, Kate Emery. "Shakespeare's Friends." Westpot, CT, Praeger, 2006; p. 22.] on January 12, 1588, and succeeded to his former master's business, "one of the best in London." [Halliday, F. E. "A Shakespeare Companion 1564–1864." Baltimore, Penguin, 1964; p. 165.] Field's shop was in the Blackfriars area of London, near Ludgate. He regularly printed works for the most highly-regarded publishers in London, including William Ponsonby and Edward Blount.

For his title pages, Field adopted an Aldine device, an anchor with the Latin motto "Anchora Spei," "anchor of hope."

In Field's era, the trades of printer and publisher were to some significant degree separate activities: booksellers acted as publishers and commissioned printers to do the requisite printing. Field concentrated more on printing than publishing: of the roughly 295 books he printed in his career, he was publisher of perhaps 112, while the rest were published by other stationers. [Kirkwood, p. 13.] When, for example, Andrew Wise published Thomas Campion's "Observations in the Art of English Poesy" in 1602, the volume was printed by Field.

hakespeare's poems

Field is best remembered for printing the early editions of three of Shakespeare's non-dramatic poems:
* "Venus and Adonis" — Field printed the first four editions of the narrative poem, the quartos of 1593 and 1594 and the octavos of 1595 and 1596.
* "The Rape of Lucrece" — Field printed the first quarto edition of 1594.
* "The Phoenix and the Turtle" — working for Edward Blount, Field printed the 1601 first quarto edition of the poem "Love's Martyr" by Robert Chester. In addition to Chester's poem, the volume contained short poems by other hands, including Shakespeare's work.

In contrast to the early printed editions of Shakespeare's plays, Field's texts for the two narrative poems meet a high standard of quality. Scholars have sometimes supposed Shakespeare's direct involvement: "The two early poems, both carefully printed by Field, are probably the only works the publication of which Shakespeare supervised." [Halliday, p. 165.] Others, however, have disputed the idea of the poet's personal involvement, arguing that Field, "a highly efficient printer with a reputation for honesty and scrupulousness," could have produced the high-quality texts on his own. [Shakespeare, William. "The Poems." John Roe, ed. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2006; p. 296. ]

Field entered "Venus and Adonis" into the Stationers' Register on April 18, 1593, and published as well as printed the first two editions; but on June 25, 1594 he transferred the rights to the poem to bookseller John Harrison ("the Elder"). Harrison published "Lucrece" as well as future editions of "Venus," and sold the books from his shop at the sign of the White Greyhound in St. Paul's Churchyard. Harrison later published editions of "Lucrece" that were printed by other printers. [Halliday, pp. 165, 207, 402, 513.]

Other connections

Another association between Shakespeare and Field has been theorized. It has often been noticed that many of the texts that Shakespeare used as sources for his plays were products of the Vautrollier/Field printshop. These texts include Thomas North's translation of Plutarch, Sir John Harington's translation of "Orlando Furioso", Robert Greene's "Pandosto", the works of Ovid, and possibly Raphael Holinshed's "Chronicles". Since Field would have kept a copy of each of these books in his shop, it has been theorized that Shakespeare used Field's shop as a library during his early career. [Stopes, Charlotte. "Shakespeare's Warwickshire Contemporaries." Startford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare Head Press, 1907.]

Richard and Jacqueline Field lived on Wood Street in the parish of St. Olave in the early 1600s; Shakespeare moved in with the Mountjoy family in nearby Silver Street in 1602. Mrs. Field and the Mountjoys were members of the community of Huguenot exiles in london, and likely knew each other on that basis — a further probable connection between Shakespeare and the Fields. [Pogue, p. 24.]


There is no direct evidence for a connection between Shakespeare and Field after 1601; but an indirect connection exists in a reference in Shakespeare's "Cymbeline." In IV,ii,377 of that play, Imogen gives the decapitated corpse of Cloten the name "Richard du Champ," French for Richard Field. (When printing Spanish texts, Field called himself "Ricardo del Campo.") [Shapiro, James. "A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599." New York, HarperCollins, 2005; p. 133.] Shakespeare's reason for giving his friend and colleague's name to the headless corpse of a villain is a matter of speculation.

Later career

Field rose to be one of the 22 master printers of the Stationers Company. From 1615 on he kept his shop in Wood Street, near his home. After Field's death in 1624, his business passed to the partners Richard Badger and George Miller, who continued to employ the Aldine device.

ee also


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