Books and Readers in Early Modern England: Material Studies

Books and Readers in Early Modern England: Material Studies

Books and Readers in Early Modern England: Material Studies

Books and Readers in Early Modern England: Material Studies

Synopsis

Books and Readers in Early Modern England examines readers, reading, and publication practices from the Renaissance to the Restoration. The essays draw on an array of documentary evidence--from library catalogs, prefaces, title pages and dedications, marginalia, commonplace books, and letters to ink, paper, and bindings--to explore individual reading habits and experiences in a period of religious dissent, political instability, and cultural transformation.

Chapters in the volume cover oral, scribal, and print cultures, examining the emergence of the "public spheres" of reading practices. Contributors, who include Christopher Grose, Ann Hughes, David Scott Kastan, Kathleen Lynch, William Sherman, and Peter Stallybrass, investigate interactions among publishers, texts, authors, and audience. They discuss the continuity of the written word and habits of mind in the world of print, the formation and differentiation of readerships, and the increasing influence of public opinion. The work demonstrates that early modern publications appeared in a wide variety of forms--from periodical literature to polemical pamphlets--and reflected the radical transformations occurring at the time in the dissemination of knowledge through the written word. These forms were far more ephemeral, and far more widely available, than modern stereotypes of writing from this period suggest.

Excerpt

David Scott Kastan

—Who’s that?
—No one. the author.

Shakespeare in Love

As is well known, Shakespeare, at least in his role as playwright, had no interest in the printed book or in its potential readers. Performance was the only form of publication he sought for his plays. He made no effort to have them published and none to stop the publication or distribution of the often poorly printed versions that did reach the bookstalls. His own commitment to print publication was reserved for his narrative poetry. His Venus and Adonis and Lucrece were published in carefully printed editions by his fellow townsman, Richard Field, and to each Shakespeare contributed a signed dedication. the published plays, however, show no sign of Shakespeare’s involvement. He wrote them for the theater and not for a reading public; for him they were scripts to be acted, not plays to be read.

On such seemingly solid ground, many teachers and scholars have rested their confidence that the proper focus of academic attention is on the plays in performance. Thereby we are assured that Shakespeare’s work is returned to the medium in which it lived. There is much to be said for such a focus, and much—too much, I often think—has been said for it. Shakespeare does, of course, “live” in the theater; there he becomes our contemporary, responsive to our needs and interests. and that seems to me to be the problem. Shakespeare in performance yields too easily to our desires. in the theater Shakespeare escapes his historicity, becoming for every age a contemporary playwright, and arguably its most important one. Like the promiscuous Hero of Claudio’s tortured imagination, he is not merely our Shakespeare, he is everybody’s Shakespeare.

But if age has not withered Shakespeare in the theater, it should not be forgotten that his theatrical vitality is possible only because the plays did reach print. If he does not “live” there quite as animatedly as he does in the theater, at . . .

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