Academic journal article Bulletin of the Comediantes

Selling Shakespeare: Biography, Bibliography, and the Book Trade

Academic journal article Bulletin of the Comediantes

Selling Shakespeare: Biography, Bibliography, and the Book Trade

Article excerpt

Adam G. Hooks. Selling Shakespeare: Biography, Bibliography, and the Book Trade. CAMBRiDGE UR 2016. 207 pp.

IN 2013, THE UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA PRESS published a volume titled Shakespeare's Stationers, edited by Martha Straznicky, which comprises some ten contributions from British, Canadian, and American professors. The volume draws attention and lends a voice to this central figure-at once publisher, pressman, and bookseller-of the early modern book world. To quote the subtitle, the essays presented in the book form part of a new discipline-the Cultural Bibliography-advocating greater emphasis on the motivations-the "policies," cultural or otherwise-behind the various stakeholders involved in the production, distribution, sale, and consumption of printed works, with acknowledged inspiration from the career paths of major book trade and reading researchers such as Zachary Lesser, D.F. McKenzie, Robert Darnton, and Roger Chartier.

One of the contributors to the 2013 volume, Adam G. Hooks, recently released Selling Shakespeare, an example of this recent trend for bibliographical studies. Hooks's goal is to present "a new story about Shakespeare's life and career in print, a story centered not on the man or writer himself, but on the reputation and authorial personae created, bought, and sold by the early modern book trade" (3). He seeks to examine the circumstances under which the transition from writer to author (37) took place and the role-in his judgment of underestimated significance-played by the editorial processes, which are manifold by definition and carry their own patently economic logic in this evolution: "Shakespeare's aesthetic value and authorial reputation were inextricably intertwined with the commercial value of his name, his poems, and his plays in print" (27). Hooks points to-we could even say condemns-an account founded on the relationship between Shakespeare and the book trade, not always in keeping with hard facts and characterized by certain unproven inferences or assumptions stemming from the powerful influence exerted first by the figure of William Shakespeare and his huge subsequent literary destiny and second by the fervor surrounding the First Folio of 1623, often presented as the outcome of stationers' endeavors at the time.

Based on this statement of principles, and following in the critical tradition of recent contributions by Lukas Erne (Shakespeare as Literary Dramatist, 2003; Shakespeare and the Book Trade, 2013) and Andrew Murphy (Shakespeare in Print, 2003), Hooks's cleansing function entailed conducting an in-depth review of a large body of known information, casting doubt on or, at the very least, casting a shadow over certain claims deemed as true. He is thus breaking the vicious circle that, in his view, has been forged between biography and bibliography, in which the latter shores up an account based on the former. Indeed, he manages precisely this, in an exercise shrouded in nuances. Accordingly, on the matter as to whether Shakespeare strived to become a published author-as Erne has maintained-after careful examination of the data at hand, he points out the lack of evidence for this; quite the opposite in fact: "Shakespeare, or rather, the various versions of Shakespeare in print, were created and circulated by commercial networks whose motives were independent of any he may have had" (27). Even in the introduction, he conducts an excellent analysis of the possible motivations underlying the 1622 edition of Othello by Thomas Walkley. It has conventionally been noted that this publication indicated that "Shakespeare" already benefited from authorial reputation: the First Folio was already in process, and Walkley would merely have forestalled this print. On the other hand, Hooks diverts our attention from the authorial figure and the great collection of 1623 to highlight the target readerships of this stationer during the 1620s: the Westminster elite, absorbed by political affairs. …

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