Nathaniel Butter (died 22 February 1664) was a London publisher of the early 17th century. As the publisher of the first edition of Shakespeare's King Lear in 1608, he has also been regarded as one of the first publishers of a newspaper in English.
Nathaniel Butter was the son of a Thomas Butter, a bookseller; the son followed the father's profession. Nathaniel became a "freeman" (a full member) of the Stationers Company on 20 February 1604, and registered his first title before the end of that year.  In his career, Butter concentrated on bookselling and publishing; as was a common practice in his era, he commissioned printers to print his books, and worked with most of the printers of his generation.
King Lear was entered into the Stationers' Register on 26 November 1607, by Butter and colleague John Busby. The first quarto edition of the play was published the following year, printed by Nicholas Okes, with Butter listed as publisher. Busby appears to have dropped out of the enterprise prior to publication.
Scholars have given Butter's volume intense scrutiny, since it, along with the contrasting First Folio text of the play, is crucial to the "textual problem" of King Lear. Q1 of Lear was the first play printed in Okes' shop; the origin and nature of the manuscript text that underlay the printed version is a matter of uncertainty. 
The case of King Lear Q1 grew complicated in 1619, when William Jaggard reprinted the play, apparently without Butter's permission, in his cryptic false folio affair. This problematic second quarto was issued with the false date of 1608 and the false inscription "Printed for Nathaniel Butter." Butter's London shop was at the sign of the Pied Bull, and the title page of his genuine 1608 Q1 is marked "to be sold at his shop in Pauls Church-yard at the signe of the Pide Bull neere St. Austins Gate."  To differentiate between Butter's genuine 1608 Lear edition and Jaggard's false one, scholars have termed Butter's volume "the Pide Bull edition" after its title page inscription.
In addition to Shakespeare's play, Butter published a range of other playbooks. One of these was the first quarto of The London Prodigal, one of the plays of the Shakespeare Apocrypha. The title page of Butter's 1605 edition assigns the play to Shakespeare – an attribution universally rejected by scholars and critics.
Similarly problematic was Butter's edition of Thomas Heywood's play about Queen Elizabeth, If You Know Not Me, You Know Nobody. Butter registered Part 1 of the play on 5 July 1605, and Part 2 on 14 September of the same year, and published the two parts in separate quartos in 1605 and 1606 respectively. In his 1612 prose work An Apology for Actors, Heywood complained that Butter's text of his play had been pirated from the theatre, by an audience member who recorded the play in shorthand – one of the few indications that such practices occurred in the era of English Renaissance drama.  Heywood's complaint did not prevent Butter from reprinting both texts, repeatedly, into the early 1630s. 
Butter published various other plays, including: 
He also published Dekker's prose work The Bellman of London (1608), and the 1607 second edition of Lawrence Twine's The Pattern of Painful Adventures , a source for Shakespeare's Pericles, Prince of Tyre.
On 21 May 1639, Butter left the playbook business: he transferred all his copyrights to plays to fellow stationer Miles Fletcher, and for the remainder of his career concentrated primarily on the news.
17th-century stationers not infrequently got themselves in trouble with the strict censorship rules of the Stuart monarchy, resulting in fines, or, in rare cases, imprisonment. Butter got into significant trouble when he published a quarto pamphlet criticizing the 1619 accession of the new Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand II, titled A Plain Demonstration of the Unlawful Succession of Ferdinand II, Because of the Incestuous Marriage of His Parents (1620). This document, printed for Butter by William Stansby, falsely claimed to be printed "at the Hague" to avoid trouble – a gesture that proved fruitless. (In the complex religious politics of the time, radical Protestants and Puritans were hostile to Ferdinand, and the Stuarts were hostile to Puritans.) The London authorities pursued the matter vigorously: by the spring of 1622 Butter was petitioning to be released from prison, pleading for mercy on behalf of himself, his pregnant wife, and their three children. The printer Stansby followed Butter into custody, and in petitions of his own he blamed the whole affair on Butter. The petitions of both men were successful, and they were released, after short incarcerations, to continue their careers.
Until Butter's historical era, news in England was transmitted primarily in manuscript form; early circulating news manuscripts – rather like hand-written newspapers, available by subscription from the earliest news services – were becoming more common in Butter's generation, and Butter himself was actively involved in their creation and dissemination. He also printed pamphlets on topical and controversial subjects, like the Calverley murders that were dramatized in A Yorkshire Tragedy, as well as international reporting like News from Spain and News from Sweden.  Butter's shop at the Pied Bull was itself a kind of early news agency; news correspondent (in the literal sense) John Pory sent and received his communications from there, and news-conscious customers came in to find the latest tracts and pamphlets.
The next step in the evolution of the modern newspaper occurred at the start of the 1620s, when a group of London publishers and printers began disseminating printed news sheets based on the Dutch style of news bulletin, called a "coranto," that was a recent innovation at the time. This group included Butter, Thomas Archer, Edward Allde, Bartholomew Downes, William Newberry, and William Shefford, with Archer and Butter as apparently the most prominent participants. Archer was jailed for printing corantos without permission in 1621 – but in the same year a license to publish the news bulletins was issued to an "N. B.," most probably Butter. All of the extant copies of the Corante, the "earliest English newspaper" (1621), bear the initials "N. B." 
On 23 May 1622, Butter published the first edition of a periodical variously called News from Most Parts of Christendom or Weekly News from Italy, Germany, Hungaria, Bohemia, the Palatinate, France and the Low Countries. "From its miscellaneous contents and periodicity of production, it is regarded as the true forerunner of the English newspaper."  In 1624, Butter partnered with colleague Nicholas Bourne  to continue publishing the Certain News of the Present Week, or, more succinctly, the Weekly News. Butter's innovation of a regular printed news journal caused an explosion of imitators, most of which were far more sporadic, temporary, and ephemeral than Butter's effort. "Nathaniel Butter's Weekly News was the first English newspaper which appeared duly numbered like our newspapers of the present day." 
(The Weekly News was printed as a small quarto-sized pamphlet or booklet, in contrast to the earlier single-sheet corantos. These "newsbooks" remained the dominant form until the mid-1660s, when the more modern newspaper format appeared. Butter's periodical reported only foreign news; for which they subscribed.)
Butter's achievement was controversial in its time; among other hostile responses, one critic, playing on Butter's name, referred to his publications as "Batter" that "besmear each public post and church door...."  Ben Jonson in particular was hostile and dismissive toward the new enterprise, and ridiculed Butter in his 1625 play The Staple of News.  In a nice irony, Jonson borrowed the plot for his play from The London Prodigal, issued a generation earlier by Butter. Jonson's play, seasoned with "butter" puns, caricatures Butter as Cymbal, the head of the news agency the Staple of News. Jonson also mocked the nascent news industry in his 1620 masque News from the New World Discovered in the Moon.
In the early 1630s, Butter and Bourne reached the peak of their success with newsbooks selling well as a result of the successes of Gustavus Adolphus's campaign. They additionally began a news magazine series called 'The Swedish Intelligencer' that ran successfully under variant titles to 1634. Their enterprise was controversial, however: in October 1632, their weekly publication was banned all "gazettes and pamphlets of news from foreign parts." (In their mere existence, news reports of the combat of the Thirty Years' War were seen as implicit criticisms of the royal policy of neutrality.) In 1638 they were granted a patent from King Charles I for the publication of news and history, in return for a £10 annual donation toward the upkeep of St. Paul's Cathedral.  Butter remained committed to reporting news of the war – until the start of the English Revolution in 1642. 
Butter's publications often carried verbose titles, like A True Relation of a late very famous Sea-fight, made betwixt the Spaniard and the Hollander in Brasil, for many days together: Wherein the odds was very great, which made the success doubtful, but at last the Hollander got the Victory (1640).
Among the varied products of Butter's enterprise, his editions of George Chapman's translations of Homer – the Iliad in 1611, and the Odyssey in 1614 – stand out.
And in his long career, Butter published a wide range of other material: from joke books like The Cobbler of Canterbury (1608), to Tobias Gentleman's England's Way to Win Wealth, and to Employ Ships and Mariners (1614), to religious works like Abraham Darcy's The Original of Idolatries (1624), to polemics like Joseph Hall's An Humble Remonstrance to the High Court of Parliament (1640) – and virtually everything in between.
After 1642, Butter declined into obscurity. According to his terse 1664 obituary, "Nath: Butter an old stationer, died very poore."
The earliest texts of William Shakespeare's works were published during the 16th and 17th centuries in quarto or folio format. Folios are large, tall volumes; quartos are smaller, roughly half the size. The publications of the latter are usually abbreviated to Q1, Q2, etc., where the letter stands for "quarto" and the number for the first, second, or third edition published.
This article presents a possible chronological listing of the composition of the plays of William Shakespeare.
The London Prodigal is a play in English Renaissance theatre, a city comedy set in London, in which a prodigal son learns the error of his ways. The play was published in quarto in 1605 by the stationer Nathaniel Butter, and printed by Thomas Creede. In 1664 it was one of the seven plays that publisher Philip Chetwinde added to the second impression of his Third Folio of William Shakespeare's plays.
The Stationers' Register was a record book maintained by the Stationers' Company of London. The company is a trade guild given a royal charter in 1557 to regulate the various professions associated with the publishing industry, including printers, bookbinders, booksellers, and publishers in England. The Register itself allowed publishers to document their right to produce a particular printed work, and constituted an early form of copyright law. The company's charter gave it the right to seize illicit editions and bar the publication of unlicensed books.
Thomas Thorpe was an English publisher, most famous for publishing Shakespeare's sonnets and several works by Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson. His publication of the sonnets has long been controversial. Nineteenth-century critics thought that he might have published the poems without Shakespeare's consent; Sidney Lee called him "predatory and irresponsible." Conversely, modern scholars Wells and Taylor assert their verdict that "Thorpe was a reputable publisher, and there is nothing intrinsically irregular about his publication."
If You Know Not Me, You Know Nobody; or The Troubles of Queen Elizabeth is a two-part play by Thomas Heywood, depicting the life and reign of Elizabeth I of England, written very soon after the latter's death. The title deliberately echoes that of Samuel Rowley's 1605 play When You See Me You Know Me.
False Folio is the term that Shakespeare scholars and bibliographers have applied to William Jaggard's printing of ten Shakespearean and pseudo-Shakespearean plays together in 1619, the first attempt to collect Shakespeare's work in a single volume. There are only two complete extant copies. One is part of the collection of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC. The other is held in the Special Collections at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas.
Thomas Creede was a printer of the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras, rated as "one of the best of his time." Based in London, he conducted his business under the sign of the Catherine Wheel in Thames Street from 1593 to 1600, and under the sign of the Eagle and Child in the Old Exchange from 1600 to 1617. Creede is best known for printing editions of works in English Renaissance drama, especially for ten editions of six Shakespearean plays and three works in the Shakespeare Apocrypha.
Cuthbert Burby was a London bookseller and publisher of the Elizabethan and early Jacobean eras. He is known for publishing a series of significant volumes of English Renaissance drama, including works by William Shakespeare, Robert Greene, John Lyly, and Thomas Nashe.
William Aspley was a London publisher of the Elizabethan, Jacobean, and Caroline eras. He was a member of the publishing syndicates that issued the First Folio and Second Folio collections of Shakespeare's plays, in 1623 and 1632.
Richard Meighen was a London publisher of the Jacobean and Caroline eras. He is noted for his publications of plays of English Renaissance drama; he published the second Ben Jonson folio of 1640/41, and was a member of the syndicate that issued the Second Folio of Shakespeare's collected plays in 1632.
George Eld was a London printer of the Jacobean era, who produced important works of English Renaissance drama and literature, including key texts by William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Christopher Marlowe, and Thomas Middleton.
Nicholas Okes was an English printer in London of the Jacobean and Caroline eras, remembered for printing works of English Renaissance drama. He was responsible for early editions of works by many of the playwrights of the period, including William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, John Webster, Thomas Middleton, Thomas Dekker, Thomas Heywood, James Shirley, and John Ford.
Edward Allde was an English printer in London during the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras. He was responsible for a number of significant texts in English Renaissance drama, including some of the early editions of plays by William Shakespeare.
John Waterson was a London publisher and bookseller of the Jacobean and Caroline eras; he published significant works in English Renaissance drama, including plays by William Shakespeare, John Fletcher, John Webster, and Philip Massinger.
Thomas Pavier was a London publisher and bookseller of the early seventeenth century. His complex involvement in the publication of early editions of some of Shakespeare's plays, as well as plays of the Shakespeare Apocrypha, has left him with a "dubious reputation."
Thomas Walkley was a London publisher and bookseller in the early and middle seventeenth century. He is noted for publishing a range of significant texts in English Renaissance drama, "and much other interesting literature."
William Stansby (1572–1638) was a London printer and publisher of the Jacobean and Caroline eras, working under his own name from 1610. One of the most prolific printers of his time, Stansby is best remembered for publishing the landmark first folio collection of the works of Ben Jonson in 1616.
Augustine Matthews was a printer in London in the Jacobean and Caroline eras. Among a wide variety of other work, Matthews printed notable texts in English Renaissance drama.