Academic journal article Shakespeare Studies

Studies in Books and Their People or, the New Boredom 2.0

Academic journal article Shakespeare Studies

Studies in Books and Their People or, the New Boredom 2.0

Article excerpt

"A book is never simply a remarkable object."--D. F. McKenzie

Erne, Lukas. Shakespeare and the Book Trade. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

Knight, Jeffrey Todd. Bound to Bead: Compilations, Collections, and the Making of Benaissance Literature. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013.

Straznicky, Marta, ed. Shakespeare's Stationers: Studies in Cultural Bibliography. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013.

In his essay "What Is an Editor?", published in this journal in 1996, Stephen Orgel described his understanding of the texts at the heart of the editorial project: "My basic feeling as an editor is that texts aren't ideas, they are artifacts, and I want to preserve as much as I can of their archeology." (1) His assertion measures the distance, in scholar miles, between his own scholarly moment and the present one. Orgel was right. Texts--by which he meant "what happened to come from the printing house"--are indeed artifacts whose history careful archivists, scholars, and editors strive to "preserve." However, Orgel's historicist gesture of treating the past as a set of immobile artifacts in an attempt to access it seems constricting in light of recent scholarly interest in the various agents involved in the production and reception of early modern texts. The scholarship reviewed here takes the work of these agents as its focus.

To think of books as mere artifacts (which of course they are) is partially to erase the complex set of events that embedded them as artifacts in the first place. It is to deny that books have what we might call an idea function, and, more important, it is to deny that their status as artifacts is bound up (sometimes literally) with their ideal and ideological status. To put the point more practically, even if early modern texts appear to us as artifacts, to those who wrote, revised, transmitted, invested in, registered, composed, inked, wholesaled, retailed, bound, collected, compiled, disbound, and cataloged them, what came from the printing house comprised an assembly of ideas. Books are indeed artifacts, but not as opposed to ideas; they are artifacts in part because they are ideas.

This is not to say we have now rejected Orgel's claims or those of others whose work over the last few decades inaugurated and expanded new ways of approaching early modern texts. (2) As the widespread influence of Orgel's essay indicates, the so-called New Textualist movement challenged longstanding editorial theories and critical practices emerging from the school known as the "New Bibliography." Graham Holderness provides a digest version of the shift:

   The basic parameters of New Bibliographical editing, which consist
   of a belief in the supremacy of the author as generator of the
   text, the assumption that surviving documents are likely to
   represent corrupt vestiges of the authorial utterance, and a
   confidence in the ability of the scholar and editor to recover from
   the surviving textual traces what the author actually wrote, have
   been turned upside down by the work of bibliographical
   theorists. (3)

For those keeping track at home, this means that the New Textualism (also known as "textual studies" and "new materialism") called into question the central, organizing tenets of the New Bibliography, which had remained dominant throughout much of the twentieth century. Rather than viewing the medium of print as a veil which the editor/scholar must peel back to access an ideal and presumably authorial text, textual studies of the 1990s and 2000s took, as Marta Straznicky puts it in the Introduction to Shakespeare's Stationers, "the material form of a text as inseparable from the meanings produced by its readers" (2). At the very least, the medium affects the message. This realization, which is actually an old one, has in recent years posed a challenge for literary and cultural studies of the early modern period. …

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