Stationers' Company



  • An organization, incorporated by royal charter in 1537, thatplayed a key role in the earliest literary censorship inEngland. Under the terms of the charter only members of the companyor holders of special patents could print any work for sale in thecountry.

    By the end of the 16th century state censorship was much inevidence. The activities of professional informers, employed by thestate to search out seditious meanings, were a particular source ofannoyance. In his Sonnets, written in the 1590s, Shakespearecomplains bitterly of "art made tongue-tied by authority".

    In 1599 the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London,who were mainly responsible for licensing books, issued an order forthe suppression and burning of seven satirical works, three booksof allegedly immoral tendency including Marlowe's poems, and all thecontroversial works of the feuding pamphleteers Gabriel Harvey andThomas Nashe. Verse satire consequently died out until after the deathsof these licensers, but the satirical spirit reasserted itself withextra vigour on the stage. At the beginning of James I's reign therewas a spate of prosecutions against Jonson and others (see EastwardHo!).

    The control exercised by the early censors did, however, haveone beneficial effect in that the register of published works compiledby the Stationers' Company provided the basis for the first rulesof copyright. The register has also proved an invaluable resourcefor scholars attempting to date the plays of the period.