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Who were Shakespeare's first readers and what did they think of his works? Offering the first dedicated account of the ways in which Shakespeare's texts were read in the centuries during which they were originally produced, Jean-Christophe Mayer reconsiders the role of readers in the history of Shakespeare's rise to fame and in the history of canon formation. Addressing an essential formative 'moment' when Shakespeare became a literary dramatist, this book explores six crucial fields: literacy; reading and life-writing; editing Shakespeare's text; marking Shakespeare for the theatre; commonplacing; and passing judgement. Through close examination of rare material, some of which has never been published before, and covering both the marks left by readers in their books and early manuscript extracts of Shakespeare, Mayer demonstrates how the worlds of print and performance overlapped at a time when Shakespeare offered a communal text, the ownership of which was essentially undecided.