This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Saturday Rave: the legacy of Thomas Thorpe.

Who was Thomas Thorpe?

Well, the chances are that you've never read a word he wrote - as far as I know none of his words have survived - and some people regard him as a great villain.

On the other hand...

Thomas Thorpe was the son of an innkeeper. Born in 1569 in a small town north of London, he was apprenticed to a bookseller, and after his apprenticeship ended Thorpe became...well, something that hadn't really existed in Elizabethan England before, but which today we'd probably call a publisher. That is, he arranged for works to be printed and sold, while not being a printer or owning a bookshop himself.

No one knows how that worked as a commercial enterprise, but he seems to have stayed in business reasonably successfully all his life.

So why do some call him a villain?

Well, he published, and therefore saved for posterity, several of Christopher Marlowe's and Ben Jonson's plays, and, most famously, he also published Shakespeare's sonnets. 

And what was so villainous about that? 

The thing is, it's been claimed that the sonnets were published without Shakespeare's permission (though that wasn't Thorpe's general way of working: Jonson's play Sejanus His Fall is so carefully reproduced that it was almost certainly prepared for printing by Jonson personally). 

Mostly, nowadays, though, Thorpe is reckoned to be a man deserving of our gratitude. One thing's for sure: if he was a crook then he was a crook who had some popular and longstanding friends.

Thorpe may have dedicated Shakespeare's sonnets to the mysterious Mr W H, and decided on the order in which they were printed in the book. If he did, then all I can say is that he could presumably have dedicated them to someone a lot richer than Mr W H, and that the order of the sonnets seems to be about as logical anyone can get them.

So here's to Thomas Thorpe, publisher, and probably one of the good guys.

Thank you.

Word To Use Today: publisher. This word is to do with making things public. It comes from the Latin pūblicāre.

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