David M. Bergeron. Textual Patronage in English Drama, 1570-1640.
This challenging book explores the diverse commercial and cultural strategies through which dramatists and their stationers sought to disseminate printed texts of English plays between 1570 and 1640. Rather than assuming that the printing of play-texts was merely utilized as a means of eking a few more financial rewards from a drama no longer required for performance, David M. Bergeron demonstrates that during this period the publication of plays was increasingly focused upon the benefits to be derived from court, city, and personal patronage, in ways that endowed the dedicatory epistles, addresses, and other preliminaries preceding the texts of the plays with special importance. Following an informative introductory chapter on "The Printing House and Textual Patronage" (which should become required reading for all students of early modern English drama and bibliography), seven other chapters investigate a wide range of related topics, including the publication of pageants and masques, the patronage of drama by women, the printed circulation of the plays of John Marston, Ben Jonson, William Shakespeare, and Thomas Heywood, and the range of patronage sought by dramatists and their stationers during the 1630s.
The evidence provided by dedications and prefatory addresses to patrons included in dramatic texts from the 1570s onwards offers a wealth of evidence for tracing a developing sense of self-conscious concepts of authorship among playwrights, as well as confirmation of the growing potency of their stationers in responding to increasingly eclectic literary tastes among the book-buying public. By maintaining a dual focus on both influential patrons and individual book-buyers, Bergeron seeks to offer a much clearer definition of the "textual economies" of dramatic publication in early modern England. He is also especially sensitive to the taxing question of exactly how modern readers should interpret the often epigrammatic or lushly fulsome modes of high-flown panegyrics so often found in dedicatory epistles. Throughout his chapters, he consistently seeks to tease out what kinds of rewards and responses those who drafted these preliminaries hoped to elicit. Far from assuming that purely financial rewards were usually the primary desired objective, Bergeron makes a strong case for considering how playwrights grew to believe strongly in the less tangible efficacy of addressing the printed texts of their plays to prominent men and women. Above all, he demonstrates how issues of the social and cultural status of both dramatists and the theater lay at the heart of this increasingly thriving tradition of dedicatory address.
As an appendix, Bergeron includes a useful fourteen-page listing of all the plays, masques, and pageants with dedicatory epistles or addresses to readers discussed in the preceding chapters. Even a cursory glance at the earliest entries demonstrates the importance of female patrons during the late Elizabethan and Jacobean periods, beginning with Henry Cheeke's dedication in 1573 of his translation of Free Will to Lady Cheynie of Toddington; Abraham Fraunce's Amyntas's Pastoral (1591) and William Gager's Ulysses Redux(1592), both dedicated to Mary Herbert, countess of Pembroke; Robert Wilmot's Tancred and Gismund (1591), dedicated jointly to Mary Lady Petre and Anne Lady Gray; Thomas Kyd's translation of Garnier's Cornelia (1592) to Bridget Radcliffe, countess of Sussex; Samuel Brandon's The Virtuous Octavia (1598) to Lady Lucia Audeley; Samuel Daniel's The Vision of the Twelve Goddesses (1604) to Lucy Russell, countess of Bedford, and his The Queen's Arcadia (1606) to Queen Anne; and Ben Jonson's The Alchemist (1612) to Lady Mary Wroth. It is interesting to note, however, that women patrons of printed dramatic works seem to have become rather less common after this period, since they are represented in Bergeron's listings only by John Middleton's dedication of The World Tossed at Tennis (1620) to Mary Lady Effingham (jointly with her husband); Philip Massinger's The Duke of Milan (1620), dedicated to Lady Katherine Stanhope; James Shirley's Changes (1632) to Dorothy Shirley (no relation); The Workes of John Marston (1633), dedicated to Lady Elizabeth Carey by the stationer William Sheares; and the second part of Joseph Rutter's The Cid (1640) to Theophila Cooke.
Why, then, did dramatists choose to dedicate some of their works to women, especially during the pre-1620 period? Bergeron's sensitive analysis of this often elusive question exemplifies the assiduous and balanced nature of his broader enquiry into the functioning of late Tudor and Stuart literary patronage. To begin with, it is clear that the hope of financial rewards alone was not usually the driving momentum within these relationships. Instead, while some playwrights could point to previous benefits deriving from their chosen patroness, it seems more likely that they often "simply sought recognition, hoping that the patroness's name would lend a kind of luster to their effort" (78). Similarly, others found in the publication of their play a means of celebrating either a particular event or their genuine appreciation of female interest in literary and dramatic pursuits. In the concluding paragraph to this chapter, Bergeron rightly argues that in terms of assessing the impact of patronage on literature, a concentration upon purely financial and other tangible rewards is no longer adequate:
[R]ather it must take into account reputations secured, possibilities gained, doors opened, and the more intangible qualities of guiding and supporting spirits. The evidence makes clear that these women actively participated in the social energy of drama and enriched and enhanced the circulation of authority. They gave vitality to the ideas of obligation and reciprocation essential in the textual economy of patronage. (89)
It hardly needs noting here that this invaluable encapsulation of the importance of female patrons to the Renaissance of English literature during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries could be readily applied to other nondramatic literary writings, in both manuscript and print circulation.
In conclusion, this intelligent and meticulously researched book is to be commended for the sheer range of its textual materials and its sustained spirit of analytical enquiry into the often uneven and fragmentary surviving evidence about the patronage of English printed drama between 1570 and 1640. In particular, the chapters focusing upon the career of Ben Jonson; the activities of the King's Men and two of their actors, John Heminge and Hednry Condell; and the broad range of Thomas Heywood's addresses to his readers and patrons between 1608 and 1638 are especially well constructed and revealing in their findings. Throughout this study, Bergeron is helpfully concise in supplying his readers with the requisite historical, biographical, and literary information relating to his chosen dramatists and patrons and, similarly, he is always alert to the purely practical benefits to be reaped by ambitious authors and stationers from the patronage networks of the late Elizabethan and Stuart court and metropolis. But this book is perhaps at its best in exploring the more abstract concepts of early modern literary patronage, including issues of the growing social status of dramatic endeavour and the sheer diversity of the various concepts of authorship held not only by writers but also by their readers and patrons. This book offers a major new addition to our knowledge of the possible definitions of literary patronage and will undoubtedly serve to stimulate further research into the various topics raised.
MICHAEL G. BRENNAN
University of Leeds
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|Author:||Brennan, Michael G.|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2006|
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