John Trundle (1575 – 1629)

Hamlet by Shakespeare was first performed by the Lord Chamberlain’s Players at the Globe Theatre in 1602.  John Trundle was associated with fellow bookseller Nicholas Ling in the publication of a “pirate” copy of “Hamlet” in 1603. This was a ‘‘Bad’’ Quarto. (“Bad” does not refer to the printing quality, but to the fact that it was a reconstruction from memory by one of the actors. In fact, it only managed to contain about half the text, and with scenes in the wrong order). Obviously Trundle did not bother too much about copyright. Compare them below.

John Trundle was a bookseller and printer. He was the son of John and Joan Trundle of Chipping Barnet in Hertfordshire. His father died when he was two years’ old and his mother married Robert Law in 1577. Trundle probably went to Queen Elizabeth’s Free Grammar School in Chipping Barnet.

John Trundle decided on a career in books. But Star Chamber decrees of 1583 made it an offence for printers of books to use a printing press anywhere except London, Oxford or Cambridge. So at the age of fourteen, Trundle left Chipping Barnet and moved to London. He became an apprentice to Ralph Hancock, a London stationer. He worked for Hancock for eight years and became a qualified printer in 1597.

The same year, Trundle set up his own printing business in the Barbican. His shop was “at the Sign of Nobody”. It seemed he ran it as a tavern as well. Going by a 17th century print, the sign was a man in breeches which came up to his neck, his arms sticking out of the pockets, and a cap covering his face.

Trundle dealt in ballads, news, books, plays and ephemeral literature.

Trundle was a friend of Ben Jonson. He published at least one of his plays. Another of his friends was John Taylor, a minor poet. They went on a walking holiday to Edinburgh in 1618 and met Ben Jonson on the way.

From 1603 until 1626, John Trundle was active as a publisher and bookseller. His last book was called Three to One and recorded a battle between the English and Spanish off the Spanish coast . He probably died soon afterwards because in 1629 his widow Margaret sold his copyright to various books.

Not much more is known about him.

The real version (the Authorised Version of 1604)


To be, or not to be, that is the question,
Whether tis nobler in the minde to suffer
The slings and arrowes of outrageous fortune,
Or to take Armes against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing, end them, to die to sleepe
No more, and by a sleepe, to say we end
The hart-ake, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heire to; tis a consumation
Devoutly to be wisht to die to sleepe,
To sleepe, perchance to dreame, I there’s the rub,
For in that sleepe of death what dreames may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coyle
Must give us pause, there’s the respect
That makes calamitie of so long life:
For who would beare the whips and scornes of time,
Th’ oppressors wrong, the proude mans contumely,
The pangs of despiz’d love, the lawes delay,
The insolence of office, and spurnes
That patient merrit of th’ unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietas make
With a bare bodkin; who would fardels beare,
To grunt and sweat under a wearie life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover’d country, from whose borne . . . .

John Trundle’s 1603 version


To be, or not to be, I there’s the point,
To Die, to sleepe, is that all: I all:
No, to sleepe, to dreame, I mary there it goes,
For in that dreame of death, when wee awake,
And borne before an everlasting Judge,
Freom whence no passenger ever retur’nd,
The undisovered country, at whose sight
The happy smile, and the accursed damn’d,
But for this, the joyfull hope of this,
Whol’d beare the scornes and flattery of world,
Scorned by the right rich, the rich curssed of the
poore . . . .