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To see or not to see


You may well have heard about The Wicked Bible (also known as The Sinner’s Bible or The Adulterous Bible). Published in 1631 by Robert Barker and Martin Lucas, the royal printers in London, it was the notorious edition in which the Seventh Commandment was printed (at Exodus 20:14) as:

By order of King James I, whose initiative the new translation had been, the publishers were summoned to the Court of Star Chamber. Upon proof of the error (which didn’t take long, of course!) and their conviction, the whole impression was called in and they were fined £300 (conservatively calculated by to be worth £36,000 in today’s money). Eleven copies of The Wicked Bible escaped the ‘cull’ and are known to exist, and in 2010 a copy was being offered for sale at US$89,500.

Less well-known is the case of the 1989 edition of The Guild Shakespeare, edited by the renowned Shakespearian scholar John F. Andrews. In that edition, Hamlet’s iconic soliloquy (in Act 3, scene 1) began:

“To be, or to be, that is the question”

Six proofreaders had each gone temporarily blind and missed it.

In closing, let’s go back to the Scriptures. An edition of 1702 (now known as The Printers Bible) featured a delightful Freudian slip by a weary (or possibly aggrieved) typesetter. In Verse 161 of the 119th Psalm, “Princes have persecuted me without cause” was rendered as “Printers have persecuted …”.


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