"certaine homes amongst my bookes": Recreation, Time, and Text in 1580s London.
Before turning to such paratexts, it is important to note the transformation of the market for prose fiction and plays. In 1952, Charles Mish made a preliminary attempt to assess the comparative popularity of early modern fiction and drama and noted a large upsurge in fiction publication from 1576. More recent work, such as that on "structures of popularity" in the London book trade by Farmer and Lesser, has complicated the picture greatly by proposing a fine-grained analysis of the production of print over a longer stretch of time, but the rapid rise in production of prose fiction is undeniable in that analysis too. Farmer and Lesser classify literary prose as an "Innovative" popular genre, meaning that publishers were likely to respond to high sales with more and more new titles, not simply reprints of the existing ones. What emerges from studies such as the latter is the sense of the unprecedented scale of access to new printed fiction which, coupled with our emerging knowledge of the theatregoing culture, is compelling evidence for a fundamental change in available entertainment.
We can trace the links between early modern commercial drama and prose fiction in a number of other ways. As I have already noted, prose tales provided the bases of many early modern plays and it is in relation to drama that they retain their greatest critical currency today. Moreover, the popular writers of the time such as John Lyly, Anthony Munday, and Henry Chettle tended not to confine themselves to writing for one particular medium, producing work for the stage alongside prose fiction and various other forms. In fact, writers such as Anthony Munday and Henry Chettle were actively involved in other aspects of book production, beginning their careers as apprentices in the printing trade. The "trans-professional" work--to borrow John Jowett's term--of such writers embeds their later dramatic output even more firmly in the dynamics of the early modern printing house. But it is in the antitheatrical pamphlets and sermons that the association between play-going, print, and other forms of leisure activity is made most explicit, yoked together in the capacity to inspire "abuse."
Chloe Porter's essay in this Forum usefully illustrates the ways in which drama responded to, and indeed parodied, the antitheatrical attacks to which it was subjected in the late 1570s and 1580s. My analysis similarly takes as its starting point an "antitheatrical" text of the period but observes that many of these texts deal not only with plays but also with the wider question of suitable leisure activity. The title of John Northbrooke's much-cited treatise, c. 1577, covers a whole range of activities including "Dicing, Dauncing, Vaine playes or Enterluds with other idle pastimes &c." The title goes on to suggest that these activities are "commonly used on the Sabboth day," a phrase that signals the preoccupation with the appropriate use of time and the fixation on idleness that characterizes these texts. Northbrooke comments, "As farre as good excercises and honest pastimes & plays doe benefit the health of manne, and recreate his wittes, so farre I speake not against it, but the excessive and unmeasurable use thereof." (1) As many critics have noted, the distinction between "use" and "abuse" of pastimes is important in these texts, and here Northbrooke indicates the "good" and "honest" activities that "doe benefit the health of manne, and recreate his wittes." Recreation is inherently associated with health in early modern writing, and is understood in specifically psychophysiological terms. Recreational reading needs to be interrogated much further by historians of sixteenth-century reading; it still tends to be used to refer to any reading for pleasure, but it is a much more carefully determined concept for early modern writers and readers where it is always discussed within a framework of mental, physical, and spiritual utility. Recreation is an activity that provides refreshment or restoration of the mind and body and prepares them for further work and is always discussed as needing to be proportionate and time limited.
The dedication to Humphrey Gifford's A Posie of Gill of lowers (1580), a typical collection of prose and verse extracts, puts forward one mode of recreational reading and writing. In it, Gifford describes to Edward Cope how he came to produce his text in his own time: "Hauing by your worships fauourable permittance, conuenient opportunity in your seruice, to bestow certain houres amongst my books, with which exercise (of all earthly recreations I am most delighted), both reason[n] bids me, and duety bindes me, to make you partaker of some of the fruits of my studies." (2) Gifford claims to have used his time efficiently in judiciously selecting texts to share with his employer and, tacitly, his print readership. This portrait of the reader-writer contrasts strongly with one that emerges in other texts of the period in which a reader, confronted by the abundance of choice occasioned by the wealth of new material on the market, chooses poorly. A contemporary dedication to
Sir Thomas Parrat by Austin Saker in his euphuistic tale Narbonus: The Laberynth ofLibertie (1580) describes the nightmarish scenario in which "A young youth coming into the studie of Thalias, and behoulding (at full) his Librarie, began to peruse one booke, and then to looke in another: but not finding any for his reason, nor so mutch as one that he could reade: I had rather sayd he, haue my bookes which are toyes, for that I know their meaning, then these which are true, for that I vnderstand not their manners." (3) Overwhelmed by both the choice and the complexity of the library's scholarship, Saker's youth retreats to his comfortable and familiar "toyes." Contemporary commentators frequently worried about consumers gravitating towards the cheap and the novel for their entertainment, something which Saker here parodies and turns into a virtue.
Like Gifford's A Posie of Gilloflowers, many sixteenth-century book titles reflect the humanist fondness for horticultural metaphors --gardens, garlands, etc.--to describe the acts of gathering and presenting profitable and pleasurable material in anthologies and the further selective use that would be undertaken by their readers, but the increasing quantities of shorter prose fiction in the book market seems to have provoked a feeling that such material was becoming riotously overgrown and difficult to cultivate. The paratexts of H. C.'s The Forrest of Fancy (1579)--its very title an evocation of a vast and dense natural world of literary trifles--dwell on the anticipated reception of the variety of matter it contains. The title-page makes a conventional, if unusually large, advertisement of its "very prety Apothegmes, and pleasaunt histories, both in meeter and prose, Songes, Sonets, Epigrams and Epistles, of diuerse matter and in diuerse manner. With sundry other deuises ...". The "Epistle to the Reader," however, takes up this idea of diversity with some ambivalence as H. C. explains that it is because "so variable are the minds of men" that he has included such a range of matter for "the common sorte": "For one will peruse pleasant Histories, and other poeticall deuises, this man merry tales, and other like toyes: that man deuine and morrall matter, euery one seuerally, according to his seuerall affection, and natural inclination." (4) The many references to "sundry" and "divers" matters on title-pages seem to take on new significance when directed to "the common sorte," and, I want to suggest, more regulated representations of reading begin to be put forward to help counter the charges of triviality and idleness against leisure activity in attacks on popular entertainment.
The idea of textual profligacy sold on title-pages is tempered with discussions of circumscribed times for reading and the health benefits to be gleaned from good use of time. Undoubtedly, these are due in part to the wealth of Puritan critiques of the time-sapping quantities and illegitimate pleasures of popular entertainment, as we have already seen in Northbrooke's criticism of the "excessive" and "unmeasurable use" of pastimes that do not "benefit the health of manne and recreate his wittes." But, added to this is a socially agreed-upon framework of recreational activity which asserts itself for the first time. As spending time well was imperative, reading matter regularly advertised itself not only as a generally good use of the reader's time, but also often began to indicate specific times of the day or week, or the duration of time a reader ought to spend reading to gain benefits from it. As Robert Maslen has pointed out, the title Sir Thomas North gave to his translation of Antonio de Guevara's treatise, The Dial of Princes, first published in 1568, with its allusion to the sundial that marks the passing of the daylight hours, promises its readers that they can model themselves on Marcus Aurelius by means of a strict organization of the hours and minutes of their working day. North writes "the nature of this dyal of prynces is, to teache us how to occupye our selves every houre, and how to amende our lyfe every moment." (5) We can see further directions on the organization of time beginning to appear in titles in the following decade. When James Sanford's translation of Lodovico Guicciardini's L'hore di ricreatione was first printed in 1573, it had as its title The garden of pleasure. When it was reprinted in 1576, it had a new, more focussed (and faithful to the Italian) title, Houres of recreation. Moreover, it also had a new subtitle: or After dinners, Which may aptly be called The Garden of Pleasure. Not only was there a move away from the horticultural Garden of Pleasure to reinstate the temporal emphasis of the original Italian's Hours of Recreation, but a new clarification that these hours were "After-dinners," i.e., suitable for the sanctioned indolence after a main, usually shared, meal.
Contemporary attitudes to diet and health stressed the importance of resting after food. Plutarch's widely studied Moralia advocates leaving time between eating and sleeping in an evening so that "the meat bee well setled in the stomacke" and suggests that tales and light conversation are the best aid to digestion:
we ought to exercise our wits and minds after a dinner or supper, not about any affaires of deepe studie, and profound meditation, nor in sophistical disputes, [...] many pretie tales and narrations there are, out of which a man may draw good considerations and wise instructions, for to traine and frame our manners; [...] Moreover, there be other sorts of pleasant talke besides these, and namely; to heare and recite fables, devised for mirth and pleasure; discourses of playing upon the flute, harpe, or lute which many times give more contentment and delight, than to heare the flute, harpe, or lute it selfe plaied upon. (6)
A search of the collocation "after dinner" on Early English Books Online suggests that it was barely in use before 1576 but that it makes more frequent appearances from then through the 1580s and after. In prose fiction, it is incorporated into discussions of talk and reading. The frame narrative of George Whetstone's An heptameron of dull discourses (1582) contains the following episode complete with typographically demarcated dictum:
the company retyred towards the fyre, to pause a little after their dinner, obseruing therein an olde health rule. After dynner, talke a while, After supper, walke a mile. (7)
A similar point is made in the epistle to "The Ladies and Gentlewomen" in Lyly's Euphues and his England (1580): "Yet after dinner, you may ouerlooke him to keepe you from sleepe, or if you be hauie, to bring you a sleepe, for to worke upon a full stomacke is against Phisike." (8) Brian Melbancke's Philotimus: the War betwixt Nature and Fortune (1583), in its dedicatory epistle to the Catholic recusant, Phillip Howard, 20th Earl of Arundel, advises that the evening is the best time for reading his work; while allowing that the afternoon might also be used in pleasant activity, Melbancke reserves his apparently weak narrative for the weariest time in the reader's day: "The morning is meete for grauer studies, the postmeridian for pleasaunt solace, so that, PHILOTIMVS, which commeth limping at the latter end of the day, though he be no author for knowledge of importance; yet may some refection by reading his toies, lend recreation to your wearied Muses." (9)
It remains to be seen how such discussion of "postmeridian" "pleasaunt" activity fits into the scholarship on afternoon play-going, but we can see the temporal dimensions of popular entertainment appearing in dramatic paratexts. The prologue to The Three Ladies of London begins by modestly managing audience expectations, elaborately detailing the "loftie" matters they ought not to expect from the play It also figures them as impatient consumers who must delay their gratification as the play offers its wares ("Your patience yet we craue a while till we haue trimd our stall"), presuming that their pleasure will result in habitual custom ("We hope we shall your custome haue againe another time"). (10) The prologue to Lyly's Midas, which is included as part of the discussion of the mixing of genres set out in this Forum's introduction, presents a satiric image of accelerated consumption befitting the working days and appetites of its audience: "so nice is the world, that for apparel there is no fashion, for Musick no instrument, for diet no delicate, for playes no inuention but breedeth satiety before noone, and contempt before night." (11)
As I have been suggesting, new books and the changing dynamics of popular entertainment in the long 1580s generated new ways of conceptualizing leisure time. There is a marked increase in instructions for scheduled, and often communal, recreational activity in the prose fiction that emerges. While Puritan and humanist attacks on plays and pastimes stressed the idleness and time-wasting of its users, the burst of activity from writers, printers, and publishers provoked paratextual directions and narratives which themselves advocated such pastimes as part of a productive working day. I want to suggest that the unprecedented growth in short popular fiction in the 1580s does a great deal of cultural work to inscribe recreational reading as healthy and, in fact, necessary. Both paratexts and prose narratives themselves become increasingly fixated on the times and effects of reading in everyday life, offering fantasies of idealized leisure activity. By inscribing fiction within the discourses on time and health foregrounded by the attacks on its propriety, its producers aim to legitimize its use (or at least pay lip service to, or parody, this legitimacy) among a growing, heterogeneous audience. As the example from Lyly's Midas shows, and as Porter's essay here demonstrates, this evidently served as a provocation to authors to do the same in their plays.
(1.) John Northbrooke, A treatise wherein dicing, dauncing, vaine playes or enterluds [...] are reproued (London: H[enry] Bynneman for George Bishop, [c. 1577]), tp.
(2.) Humphrey Gifford, A Posie of Gilloflowers (London: Thomas Dawson for JohnPerin, 1580), *2r.
(3.) Austin Saker, Narbonus: The Laberynth of Libertie (London: Richard Jones, 1580), A2r-v.
(4.) H. C. The Forrest of Fancy (London: Thomas Purfoot, 1579), tp; A4v
(5.) Antonio de Guevara, The Dial of Princes, trans. Thomas North (London: Richard Tottell and Thomas Marsh, 1568), av* discussed in R. W. Maslen, Elizabethan Fictions: Espionage, Counter-espionage and the Duplicity of Fiction in Early Elizabethan Prose Narratives (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), 33.
(6.) Plutarch, The Philosophie, commonlie called the Morals, trans. Philemon Holland (London: Arnold Hatfield, 1603), 622-23.
(7.) George Whetstone, An heptameron of civill discourses (London: Richard Jones, 1582), Eiiir
(8.) John Lyly, Euphues and his England (London: John Cawood, 1580), [paragraph]iv
(9.) Brian Melbancke, Philotimus: the Warre betwixt Nature and Fortune (London: Roger Ward, 1583), [no sig.].
(10.) Robert Wilson, The Three Ladies of London (London: John Danter, 1592), A2r.
(11.) John Lyly, Midas (London: Thomas Scarlet for J[oan] B[roome], 1592), A2r
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|Title Annotation:||FORUM: Drama of the 1580s|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2017|
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