Printer Friendly

Elizabethan Publishing and the Makings of Literary Culture.

Elizabethan Publishing and the Makings of Literary Culture

By Kirk Melnikoff

Toronto, Buffalo, London: University of Toronto

Press, 2018

In Elizabethan Publishing and the Makings of Literary Culture, Kirk Melnikoff argues that we have been overlooking a critical agent and stakeholder in the formation of English vernacular literature in the mid-to-late sixteenth century: bookselling publishers. This six-chapter monograph contends that publishers engaged in a range of practices that went well beyond the tasks of acquiring texts and financing their material production. Bookselling publishers wrote, translated, and edited; they commissioned, compiled, and arranged; they reissued titles and invented generic categories; they responded to literary discourses and shaped them. With case studies exploring travel narratives, sonnet sequences, epyllia, and sententious drama, Melnikoff's monograph leaves little doubt that publishers from approximately 1550 to 1600 were making books and, in the process, participating in the "makings" of a rich literary tradition in England.

Melnikoff's work fits neatly into the growing field of "critical bibliography" in early modern literary studies. As Marta Straznicky explains in the introduction to Shakespeare and the Stationers (2013), critical bibliography highlights the agency of members of the book trade, recognizing that while they were often profit-driven, they were engaged in the cultural and political debates of the time.1 Zachary Lesser introduced this methodological approach in his monograph Renaissance Drama and the Politics of Publication (2004), which foregrounded English book publishers as discerning readers who assessed contemporary politics and trends and whose speculative investments in dramatic texts recorded their critical judgments. (2)

Melnikoff's methodology owes much to previous scholarship in this field (an earlier version of his fourth chapter, for instance, appears in Staznicky's 2013 collection), and yet his monograph also charts its own path. First, Melnikoff's chapters address English literary texts and culture, including but certainly not limited to professional plays by Marlowe and Shakespeare. Second, Melnikoff extends his analysis beyond the interventions of individual publishers, as he traces the rich networks that were forged by men and women in the trade at the time. What Melnikoff newly emphasizes is the collaborative nature of publishing: he notes partnerships among Stationers, Drapers, and Grocers, as well as with printers, booksellers, bookbinders, authors, translators, and editors. Consistent with this approach is Melnikoff's careful choice of terminology throughout the book. Namely, he describes those in the trade by their activities, differentiating the "printer publisher" from the "bookselling publisher"; or the "trade printer" from the "publishing printer"; or the "draper bookbinder" from the "bookselling stationer." The dual-term phrasing is stylistically clunky and somewhat pedantic, but it successfully underscores Melnikoff's commitment to descriptive accuracy, an invaluable feature of the book as a whole. Moreover, the terminology is vital to the book's central arguments, as Melnikoff depicts publishing as a series of activities that were taken on by a range of figures in the book trade. That said, his study primarily attends to "bookseller publishers," men and women who knew which titles and genres were selling and were thus best able to gauge how to select and market new literary texts. Melnikoff identifies the "bookseller publishers" as key players in the emergence of English vernacular literature and its conceptualizations.

After an introductory chapter that articulates the book's major claims, chapter 1 sets the groundwork by presenting an "unprecedented overview of various practices that constituted book-trade publishing" (24, my emphasis). This is not an overstatement. This chapter is currently the most thorough survey of the endeavors of late-Elizabethan English literary publishing, exploring six activities of English publishers: acquiring, compiling, reissuing, altering, translating, and specializing. Melnikoff infers some of these tasks from bibliographical and company records; others are explicitly documented in the publishers' own printed statements, including dedications, commendatory poems, and notes to readers. Melnikoff turns to these accounts as historical evidence of the conditions of literary publishing. In this way, his work departs from scholarly accounts that tend to dismiss publishers' testimonials as disingenuous or mercenary. While Melnikoff certainly acknowledges that publishers used paratexts to hawk their wares, his chapters demonstrate the value of carefully reading and interpreting these devices as publishers' self-representations of their labors and trends in the trade. Alone, this clear and well-written chapter would be useful to scholars or students seeking to learn about English literary publishing in the period, although the examples are all culled from latter half of the sixteenth century and hence should be understood within this temporal context.

Chapter 2, the first extended case study in the book, focuses on the bookselling publisher Thomas Hacket who was procuring and publishing travel narratives in the 1560s and 1570s. Melnikoff reveals that books on travel made up more than 33 percent of the edition sheets that Hacket published during his career, and Hacket himself provided translations of three travel accounts and part of a fourth. By fashioning travel narratives such as The Whole and True Discovery of Terra Florida (1563) and The New Found World of Antarctic (1568) for a wide English audience, Hacket departed notably from previously printed ones in the vernacular, which had targeted specialist readers, those planning to set sail or finance an expedition to the New World. Through close analysis of prefatory addresses and title page blurbs, Melnikoff asserts that Hacket was the first publisher to fashion travel narratives into pleasure readina paying careful attention to aesthetics of language in translations and stimulating delight and "wonder" at the novelty of new worlds and peoples. Melnikoff also asserts that Hacket's own Protestant leanings informed his framing of travel narratives as texts that could encourage moral reform, and in this sense, satisfy the Horation injunction to both delight and instruct.

The third chapter, the longest in the monograph and the most ambitious in scope, considers the understudied career of the bookselling draper, Thomas Smith, who was responsible for publishing George Gascoigne's Hundreth Sundry Flowers (1573), Aesop's fables rendered into English by Smith himself (1577), and Henry Constable's sonnet sequence Diana (1592, 1594?). Melnikoff argues that Smith prioritized multivocality and heterogeneity in his publications, rather than unity or coherence, and did so at a time when many poetry collections were trending towards the centralized and author centered. Through dedicatory and prefatory poems, Smith advertises his books as browsable, and he arranged and rearranged the contents in subsequent editions, inserting partitions to appeal to readers who wished to drop in and out of a given volume. Melnikoff finds that the heterogeneous design of Hundreth Sundry Flowers, although often attributed solely to Gascoigne, was influenced by Smith's marketing approach. Moreover, in both his translation of Aesop's fables and in the second and third editions of Diana, Smith rejects the stabilizing single-author model and instead offers his readers books from which they can pick and choose among various compiled options. The chapter's success is its demonstration of concurrent impulses. It shows both publishers following trends in shaping literary collections around authorial figures such as Sir Philip Sidney, and a publisher like Smith diversifying the contents of books to satisfy readers' tastes for literary variety under the title page.

In the fourth and fifth chapters, Melnikoff turns to specific editions of two works of professional drama, Christopher Marlowe's The Tragedie of Dido, Queen of Carthage (1594) and Shakespeare's Hamlet (1603), respectively. Readers will notice that both chapters follow a similar structure, beginning with an introduction to the practices of booksellers who developed publishing specialties in the book trade, followed by an argument situating each play within those publishers' specialties and, finally, new literary readings of the plays based on this bibliographical context. Although other chapters in the book also offered analysis of the literary works, these two final chapters are more deeply invested in producing new literary readings than others in the monograph. In chapter 4, Melnikoff takes on Marlowe's Dido (1594), arguing that after its initial publication, it was reissued by the bookbinder bookseller John Flacket and bookseller Paul Linley alongside Paul Dickenson's Arcadian prose narrative, Arisbas, Euphues Amidst His Slumbers, Or Cupid's Journey to Hell (1594). Melnikoff documents a record from 1600 in the Stationers' Register that suggests the titles were issued together. That, combined with Flacket's and Linley's habits of reissuing previously printed independent titles in nonce collections, allows Melnikoff to explore how Dido may have been read alongside Arisbas as Ovidian epyllion. In chapter 5, Melnikoff turns to the first quarto of Shakespeare's Hamlet (1603), published by Nicholas Ling, a bookselling publisher who specialized in both sententious texts marked for commonplacing and those with a republican political ethos. The chapter proposes that Hamlet Q1 reflects Ling's speculative reading of the play as a republican text, featuring carefully marked pithy phrases that reinforced the necessity of wise counsel and the limits of monarchial governance. Especially astute is this chapter's analysis of how "treason" is levelled against the king in Shakespeare's play, which Melnikoff claims may have appealed to Ling's interest in texts that explored the justifications for lawful resistance.

While both chapters 4 and 5 provide thought-provoking literary analysis of their chosen plays, they are more speculative in their assertions about how publishers approached the dramatic texts at hand. In chapter 4, for instance, Melnikoff's argument largely rests on his interpretation of a record from June 26, 1600 in the Stationers' Register that, he argues, conveys that the titles had been treated by the publishers as parts of one book--"Cupydes Journey to hell with the tragedie of Dido." Melnikoff offers other examples of multi-title books recorded in a similar way; however, with no extant copy of a bundled Dido and Arisbas, the foundation from which Melnikoff derives his literary readings somewhat falters, leading one to question whether the literary analysis has any historic basis. Similarly, Melnikoff's fifth chapter on Hamlet cannot produce statements written by Ling about Hamlet's republican themes or notes to the reader emphasizing how the stationer conceived of the play's political relevance in 1603. This lack of direct evidence might be seen as a weakness of the monograph, and yet, these final two chapters do make significant contributions to both Marlowe and Shakespeare studies, respectively, with their provocative new literary readings; neither chapter strains the limits of possibility in their textual interpretations of the chosen plays, and as chapters focused on individual plays, they demonstrate the rich cultural contexts in which plays as books might have been read. Furthermore, Melnikoff's speculative arguments on the bibliographical record serve as a necessary reminder that the archives of the early modern book trade were not constructed to provide contemporary scholars with neat answers to questions about literary texts by Marlowe and Shakespeare. To some extent then, making sense of publisher's intentions is always an interpretive act, a reading of available evidence. Melnikoff's monograph artfully demonstrates methods for facing those glaring gaps and offering wellreasoned, tentative answers.

The book lacks a concluding chapter or afterword, which could have synthesized Melnikoff's fresh and innovative findings across the book's chapters or offered a preview of literary developments in the next half-century. Such a chapter could have helped reinforce the larger implications of Melnikoff's research on why and how literary culture developed in the way that it did, which can often get lost within his tightly woven case studies. For instance, this book seems well positioned to define the "literary" in the late-Elizabeth period based not on the criticism of Sir Philip Sidney or George Puttenham, but on the activities of the bookselling publishers. Melnikoff certainly leans in this direction, identifying publishers who attended to the aesthetics of language, foregrounded texts that would teach and delight, prioritized pleasure over utility, or engaged in political or historical discourses; however, his chapters veer away from sweeping claims. As his introduction makes clear, this study "eschews a teleological account of the literary" (24). Melnikoff is comfortable interpreting the rumblings of an emerging literary culture, an archive that may simply refuse to conform to delineations about the "literary."

Indeed, one of the monograph's most notable accomplishments is bringing these many important but idiosyncratic moments of literary "making" into contact with each other and thus into the scholarly purview. Without a doubt, Melnikoff's archive testifies to the wealth of opportunities for further research on the intersections between multi-tasking publishers and the English literary tradition. This, combined with Melnikoff's impeccable research on the men and women of the booktrade, positions this book as essential reading for both literary critics and book historians for a long time to come.

Reviewer: Tara L. Lyons


(1.) Marta Straznicky, ed., Shakespeare's Stationers: Studies in Critical Bibliography (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013).

(2.) Zachary Lesser, Renaissance Drama and the Politics of Publication: Readings in the English Book Trade (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).
COPYRIGHT 2019 Associated University Presses
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2019 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Lyons, Tara L.
Publication:Shakespeare Studies
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 1, 2019
Previous Article:Antipodal Shakespeare: Remembering and Forgetting in Britain, Australia and New Zealand, 1916-2016.
Next Article:Shakespeare and Posthumanist Theory.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2020 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters