Robert Southey's dramatic poem Wat Tyler was written, according
to his own account, in a span of "three mornings" in 1794 (Southey, 30).
The play remained unpublished until 1817, when a series of pirated editions
appeared, printed by publishers intent on embarrassing the now Poet Laureate
Southey. The subsequent legal battles over the work's publication and
its extremely partisan reception make it well worth study both as an example
of early Romantic drama and as an episode in the political upheavals that
followed Waterloo. The turmoil surrounding the play's publication and
reception can teach us muchnot only about the politics of Regency
Britain but also about the evolution of British copyright law and the
associated practice of radical piracy. These issues, and the lack of a
readily available edition of Southey's dramatic poem, provide the impetus
for this on-line edition.
As neither manuscript nor extant first editions were available, the editors
chose to use one of the first published editions of the play (W. T. Sherwin's
1817 printing) as a copy-text. We also have collated several other extant
versions of the work with our own.
For this edition we also have prepared several short essays on such topics
as the 1381 Peasants' Revolt,
Wat Tyler's Publication
and Reception, and its place in
the history of radical piracy and British copyright law.
We also have provided extracts from Southey's Correspondence,
from Reviews of Wat Tyler,
and from William Smith's Parliamentary
Address and Southey's response to it.
In the meantime, we feel it is important that Wat Tyler be available
to those interested in doing work on the play and its associated contexts.
Our hope is that this edition will spur further reading and enjoyment
of the play, for whatever purposes.
Eric Berlatsky, Claudia Bowe, Anne Benvenuto, Matthew Hill,
Lisa Delucia Lewnes, Jonna Perillo, Erin Sadlack, and Ingrid Satelmajer.