King's College London
Exhibitions & Conferences
'The very age and body of the time': Shakespeare's world

Nicholas Okes, printer

Title page from a medical textbookTitle page from a medical textbookThe well-used medical textbook featured here was printed by another printer associated with editions of Shakespeare’s plays, Nicholas Okes.

Okes printed the first edition of King Lear in 1608 for the bookseller Nathaniel Butter and was also responsible for the first edition of Othello, printed in 1622 for Thomas Walkley. Both these editions were quarto in format (in other words composed of sheets of paper folded twice to form gatherings of four leaves each), as is the medical textbook, Enchiridion medicum, shown here.

The imprint statement of Enchiridion medicum identifies Okes only by his initials, giving prominence instead to the two publisher-booksellers, John Royston and William Bladon; even in the early 17th century the future diminution of the role of the printer, whose name would all but vanish from the title page in the machine-press era, is foreshadowed.

Royston and Bladon give the address of their bookshop as ‘at the great north-doore of Pauls’; St Paul’s churchyard was the epicentre of the London book trade in Shakespeare’s day and remained so until the Great Fire of 1666 ushered in a general shift westward of much of the capital’s business and cultural life.

In comparison with that of other Western European countries, English printing in Shakespeare’s day was generally of poor quality, and this book is no exception. The title page displays an untidy mixture of type fonts and sizes, some of the italic letters are printed from worn type and several words are split between lines, which does not contribute to ease of reading.

In this exhibition

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