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Wat Tyler, a Dramatic Poem by Robert Southey Electronic Edition Edited by Matt Hill

Introduction to the Critical Edition


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 The play remained unpublished until 1817, when a series of pirated editions appeared, printed by publishers intent on embarrassing the now Poet Laureate Southey.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 much—not 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.

Published @ RC

August 2004