Academic journal article Explorations in Renaissance Culture

Patronage, Print, and an Early Modern "Pamphlet Moment"

Academic journal article Explorations in Renaissance Culture

Patronage, Print, and an Early Modern "Pamphlet Moment"

Article excerpt

I

THE ELIZABETHAN PAMPHLET has of late evoked wide-ranging scholarly interest for its participation in the Early Modern marketplace of print. This interest has identified and classified the different kinds of pamphlets that were written, reconstructed the cultural and economic contexts within which they were produced and read, investigated their relationship with patronage, religious and secular politics, governmental regulation of print, censorship, and the marketplace of print, and seen them as contributing both to the birth of an ironic and satiric prose style and the formation of a "pubic space." (1) Participating in this critical discourse, this essay identifies and investigates a "pamphlet moment," a textual and cultural juncture that captures the satiric pamphlet in an interesting and problematic relationship with declining patronage on the one hand and, on the other, a marketplace of print seen by writers both as an alternative source of livelihood and an independent, perhaps subversive, medium through which patrons could be satirized.

This moment is the death of Robert Greene. From Cuthbert Burby, a printer who published one of Greene's several posthumous pamphlets, we learn that around 5 August 1592, Robert Greene and Thomas Nashe sat down in an inn for a dinner of pickled herrings and "rheinish wine," probably surfeiting on it. Sometime after that, Greene took seriously ill and eventually died on 3 September. Greene had been sick for about a "month's space" with "a surfeit which he had taken with drinking"; he had been "continually scoured" with purgatives, "yet still his belly swelled and never left swelling upward, until it swelled him at the heart and in his face." (2) Gabriel Harvey, Greene's bitter enemy, describes his pitiful state with some relish, reporting that Greene's landlady "told [him] of his lamentable begging of a penny-pot of malmsey ... and how he was fain, poor soul, to borrow her husband's shirt, while his own was awashing: and how his doublet, and hose, and sword were sold for three shillings: and beside the charges of his winding sheet, which was four shillings: and the charges of his burial yesterday in the New-churchyard near Bedlam, which was six shillings, and four pence; how deeply he was indebted to her poor husband." The good woman apparently also showed Harvey a letter that Greene wrote to his wife (whom he had evidently left): '"Doll, I charge thee by the love of our youth, & by my soul's rest, that thou will see this man paid: for if he, and his wife had not succored me, I had died in the streets. Robert Greene"' (Harvey, Four Letters 21-22). (3)

This lonely and tragic death was also in some sense a public event, a clarifying moment in the evolution of the Elizabethan pamphleteer, because Greene in his death became a symbol of the "death of liberality" that artists were bemoaning in the latter half of Elizabeth I's reign. The decline in patronage was both a perception and a reality: the increasing number of literary works being dedicated to patrons would seem to indicate a healthy patronage system, but the reality was that, more often than not, these dedications brought little, if any, rewards for the writers. By the mid-1590s, patronage had declined because not only were the national coffers bare "but also a new breed of hard-headed administrators had replaced the former courtly patrons. Moreover, the explosion in the number of literary works and printed books meant that there were simply too many suitors for noble patrons to be able to satisfy them all" (Fox 235). This was especially the case for writers on the outer edges of the patronage system. Patronage for such marginal forms as popular pamphlets or romances was never very good, but the perception among writers, especially those who had a university degree and had high expectations of patronage from aristocratic families and others, was that the very fact of their writing popular pamphlets for the marketplace was a sorry comment on the lack of patronage. …

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