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Foxe's "Rook of Martyrs" and Early Modern Print Culture.

Foxe's "Rook of Martyrs" and Early Modern Print Culture

By John N. King

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006


Inventing Polemic: Religion, Print, and Literary Culture in Early Modern England

By Jesse M. Lander

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006

The remodeling of bibliography on the more demanding scale of cultural history has been proceeding apace with two new contributions from John N. King and Jesse M. Lander appearing recently from Cambridge University Press. Both authors explore religious literature published in England during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries: in King's case, the proliferating, protean text of John Foxe's Acts and Monuments, commonly known as the Book of Martyrs; in Lander's a range of works that recuperate the shaping influence of post-Reformation polemic on literary history. That religious conflict galvanized the printing presses of Europe has long been recognized and understood, but the gains of reconstructing theological controversies not just across different works but across different editions of the same work are still being measured. Such painstaking scholarship, especially when in the service of large-scale thinking, strengthens the connections between the history of the book and the history of religion and situates both within the broader political, cultural, and creative development of early modern England.

A renewed interest in religious controversy has been to the benefit of John Foxe, whose magnum opus is the subject of King's erudite monograph, Foxe's "Book of Martyrs" and Early Modern Print Culture. Tracing the publication history of the Book of Martyrs from its inception through successive editions, abridgments, and appropriations between 1563 and 1684, King argues for the collection's exemplary function "as a window" (3) through which to view the expansive, and expanding, landscape of early print culture. To complement his study's historical reach, and to signal his conceptual advance on the new bibliography, King introduces Robert Darnton's model of a "communications circuit" (14) which connects author, publisher, bookseller, and reader within a continual process of cultural, socioeconomic, and politicoreligious signification. The progression of chapters follows this model, starting with the book's conception and compilation of documentary materials (chapter 1), moving next to its physical production and print history (chapter 2), and finally to the woodcut illustrations and paratextual materials that sought to direct the understanding of early modern readers and, no less importantly, the response of readers themselves in annotations, excisions, excerptions, even in the candle wax and nutshells they left within the book's folds. (chapters 3 and 4). The result is a highly readable, generously illustrated, and well-documented companion to the Acts and Monuments in all its stages of production and across numerous editions, an indispensable resource for any scholar working on Foxe, on religious polemic on print technology in the hand-press era, or, indeed, on the cultural history of the book in early modern England.

Chapter 1, "The compilation of the book," opens with two claims: first, that Foxe is best viewed not as an author but as an author-compiler, tailoring existing manuscript and printed sources to the typographical and polemical aims of his larger narrative; and second, that the four editions printed in his lifetime consist "not of a single ever-expanding book, but of four distinctive constructions" (23), each exquisitely responsive to its own historical moment. These claims established, King reconstructs the editorial process from source to final version, emphasizing both the contribution of those who collected and verified accounts on Foxe's behalf and the influence of church histories and martyrologies already in print across Europe. Central to King's account is the interplay between scribal and print culture and its self-conscious exploitation by Foxe who, recognizing that the manuscript transcription and transmission of martyrological accounts lent authenticity to his printed narrative, took care to include the dramatic circumstances of their composition, circulation, and survival. Compiled from manuscript sources, Foxe's book is itself a source for those interested in reconstructing the scribal networks of imprisoned and persecuted martyrs.

Although chapter 2, "The Books of Martyrs in the printing house," begins with Foxe's continental education as a Marian exile, specifically, his association with two humanist printer-publishers, Wendelin Rihel in Strasbourg and Hieronymus Froben in Basel, its true protagonist is John Day whose technological and financial acumen saw the first four editions of the Book of Martyrs (1563, 1570, 1576, 1583) through the press and set new standards for the London printing trade. Documenting these early editions, King is especially fine at selecting material evidence--irregular pagination, narrower columns, smaller type font, and cramped text--that illustrates how Foxe's last-minute interpolations exercised the ingenuity of Day and his team of pressmen. Allying this bibliographical expertise to broader sociocultural considerations, King shows how the need simultaneously to attract two different groups of readers, those literate in Latin and those who were not, shaped the distinctive typographical conventions of the 1563 first edition, which used double columns for vernacular text printed in black letter, single columns for Latin text printed in italic type. Although much of this Latin material was deleted from the second 1570 edition, testifying to what King terms "the progressive vernacularity of the Book of Martyrs" (118), the work continued to grow, swollen by antipapal argument and invective whose inclusion struck a nationalistic chord with Foxe's English readership. Subsequent editions (1576, 1583, and, posthumously, those of 1596-97, 1610, 1631-32, 1641, and 1684), as well as several notable abridgments (1589, 1613-16), each sought to intervene within its own politico-religious moment, updating paratextual and prefatory materials to reposition the Book of Martyrs for new readers in a new age. Tracking these timely ideological adjustments, King's summary also highlights a broader shift in book manufacture and financing as master printers gave place to syndicates of booksellers who shared the expense and profits of publication. After the death of Day's son and business successor Richard (ca. 1606), the rights to the Book of Martyrs together with its distinctive woodblocks were acquired by the Company of Stationers whose shared ownership stands in pallid contrast to Day's entrepreneurial production methods and assumption of personal risk.

Woodcut illustrations, some drawn from Day's existing stock, but a majority (forty-five in total) commissioned for the first edition of the Book of Martyrs, are the subject of King's third chapter, "Viewing the pictures." King carefully describes how Foxe and Day laid out a "coherent pattern of illustration" (169), exploiting the dynamic interplay between text and image by inserting banderoles and cartouches (ribbon-like scrolls designed to bear inscriptions) that incorporated the martyrs' final words into depictions of their grisly deaths. Tending toward the formulaic, these embedded epitaphs enabled the woodcuts to function as both oral and visual stimuli, increasing the affect of the death scene itself. For the second edition, Foxe and Day embarked on a yet more ambitious pictorial program as they sought to ramp up the work's antipapal animus in the immediate aftermath of the revolt of the Northern Earls in 1569 and the excommunication of Elizabeth by Pope Pius V in 1570. Inaugurated by a spectacular three-leaf foldout titled "A Table of the X first Persecutions of the Primitive Church," an added sequence of woodcuts depicts the age-old conflict between crown and tiara, temporal power legitimately held and imperial pretensions to it. In brief, cogent analysis, King notes how different the Foxean illustrations are in their violent realism from either the beatific saints of Caxton's edition of The Golden Legend (1483) or the mannerist ones of the Catholic Counter-Reformation; how, as visual imagery, they aspire to remake the nature of sainthood itself.

But what did readers make of the illustrations and how did they react to them? King concludes his discussion of the woodcuts by surveying a range of responses, literate and non-literate, hostile and approving, from the formal rebuttal of the Jesuit Robert Parsons to the viewers who stabbed out the face of Edmund Bonner portrayed flagellating one victim in his orchard and burning the hand of another. Some readers scribbled in the margin, sketching their own portraits or practicing their signature; others added details to the illustrations themselves: a flag or beard or spurting blood. Still others supplemented image with text, identifying martyrs by name or filling in empty banderoles with their own choice of final words. The focus on audience continues into King's fourth and final chapter, "Reading the pages," which begins with Foxe's various attempts to shape readerly expectations in an array of prefatory addresses and finding aids and ends with records of individual reading practices, including those recorded in Nehemiah Wallington's commonplace book and in the diary of Lady Margaret Hoby. In between King raises the vexed question of access: how extensively was the Book of Martyrs read and by whom? Certainly, Foxe's envisioned audience was an inclusive one, encompassing laity and clergy, nobles and commoners, the wife at her domestic duties and, Erasmus-like, the ploughman at his plough. Surveying the available evidence, King concludes that Foxe's intentions for his book were generally met: the work was made widely available, if not through the state apparatus then through private bequests to parishes across the country, even finding its way into the George Inn at Norwich where it might be read in the anti-Puritan company of cakes and ale.

As this summary suggests, King carries his encyclopedic knowledge lightly, combining an impressive breath of information with a keen and patient eye for anecdotal detail. Although description takes precedence over argument, the study does promote the Book of Martyrs as a text designed (and redesigned) to travel across ideological and confessional boundaries, appealing to and provoking reactions from readers of quite different political and religious beliefs. In celebrating such diversity of readership, King at times underplays the sheer nastiness of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century confessional politics; his is a gentlemanly, domesticated Book of Martyrs shielded from the antipapal demagoguery it helped, and was no doubt calculated, to incite. Finally, and only fittingly for a book devoted to the history of the book, the study is handsomely produced, richly, but also judiciously, illustrated, and supplied with large margins, the better for its readers to indulge their own twenty-first-century predilections for doodles, annotations, and, it is to be hoped, manicula and pictorial art.

In Inventing Polemic Jesse Lander shares, and arguably sharpens, theoretical positions central to King's discussion, among them the need to complement an author-centered with a sociological and commercial approach to meaning and to weigh the specificity of the individual edition or "publishing event" (5) against the transtemporal pull of the canonical classic. But as his title suggests, Lander's reach is also more ambitious, aiming to show how "the consequential intersection of religious controversy and print technology" (1) produced polemic, a new category of writing that disturbed and ultimately reshaped the literary landscape of early modern England. This argument is pursued chronologically through individual case studies: two editions of Foxe's Acts and Monuments (1576, 1589), the Marprelate tracts (1588-89), the early quartos of Hamlet (1603-04), Donne's Pseudo-Martyr and An Anatomy of the World (1610-11), and Milton's Areopagitica (1644). Throughout, Lander's concern is to show how the discursive form of polemic is active within a wider range of genres than might be supposed, troubling the modern distinction between "the literary" and "the non-literary" in order to historicize its construction. For within his persuasive account of the centrality of polemical writing, Lander seeks to make a yet more consequential claim: that the ascendancy of new notions of literature as polite, decorous, and discriminating emerged in self-conscious opposition to the competing values of theological controversy, dogmatic, raucous, enthusiastic, over which they ultimately triumphed.

Lander begins his own battle of the books with a nod to Swift, but the focus of his first chapter returns his reader, and this review, to Foxe's Acts and Monuments; specifically, the contrast between two early editions in focus and polemical intent. Taking up the question of whether Foxe intended to promote England's exceptionalism as an elect nation, the chapter considers the divergent aims of the 1576 edition, which joined debate from within the Protestant community, and of Timothy Bright's 1589 Abridgement, which promoted Protestant unity in the face of recent Catholic propaganda and military campaigns. Read against each other, these two editions nicely illustrate Lander's main point: that a work need not always be dressed in the same controversial colors and successive versions require consideration on their own independent terms.

Chapter 2 turns to the Marprelate tracts, anti-episcopal polemic whose surreptitious printing on a private press within England coincided with that of Bright's patriotic Abridgement of 1589. Setting aside efforts to determine the historical identity of Martin, Lander focuses instead on the pamphlets' strategies of address and argument. Self-referential as to their own material form, the pamphlets attacked their opponents on material grounds, seizing upon printing errors and calculating paper costs with mischievous intent. They also pitched for a popular audience, appealing to readers uninitiated in the technicalities of formal theological debate in an ambitious attempt to win support for their reformist platform. That this attempt was cried down by conformists and Puritans alike suggests the degree to which it represented a new departure on previous publicity. Here, as elsewhere in his discussion, Lander reinforces the conclusions of Joad Raymond in Pamphlets and Pamphleteering in Early Modern Britain (Cambridge, 2003), a study surprisingly absent from his bibliography, arguing that the Marprelate tracts opened a popular front in theological controversy from which there would be no turning back.

Lander's third chapter will interest readers of this review for its bold recasting of the differences between the first (1603) and second (1604) quartos of Hamlet. Reorienting a discussion traditionally focused on issues of authorial intention, theatrical origin, or editorial practice, Lander concentrates on the competing fortunes of the two quartos, and of printed drama more generally, within the commercial marketplace. Marketing strategies, so Lander argues, bear upon textual content; a careful reading of variants demonstrates the divergent theological positions of the two quartos: Q1 hewing closely to a Calvinist consensus, Q2 espousing a more speculative, skeptical, and combative approach in "specific response to the problem of religious controversy" (112). By thematizing polemic the better to register its distance from it, Q2 successfully catered to an elite and literary readership, Q1, by contrast, to a popular and theatrical one. As such, the differences in audience between the two quartos stake out the terms of Lander's larger historical argument: that the category of literature consolidates itself through a repudiation of polemical culture, against which but also by means of which it comes to be defined.

In chapter 4 the focus moves from the beginning to the end of the first decade of the seventeenth century, a decade in which confessional conflict (the Gunpowder Plot in 1605 and the assassination of Henri IV in 1610) and political circumstance (the accession of James I and the Oath of Allegiance controversy) combined to create a charged polemical environment. Into that environment stepped John Donne with two very different works: one a religious polemic, Pseudo-Martyr (1610), the other an elegiac volume of poetry, An Anatomy of the World (1611). Taking issue with biographical or psychological explanations of Donne's embrace of print at this formative moment in his career, Lander turns to the material evidence provided by the books themselves, noting in each case Donne's willing, if often punning, investment in the conditions and possibilities of print publication. Perhaps more significantly, Lander also reverses the current terms of debate, asking not what print culture might tell us about Donne's authorial aspirations, but what those aspirations might tell us about the relationship among print, polemic, and poetry at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Persuasively situating An Anatomy within a larger "struggle over proper poetics" (176), Lander explains why Donne's volume was construed as a hostile act, asserting an elitism which, like Q2 Hamlet, defined itself through a rejection of "the interpretative certitude" (179) to which polemic routinely laid claim.

Readers, whether anticipated on title pages or voiced in reprisal, hold a prominent place throughout Lander's study which moves, in its fifth chapter, to the Restoration reception and revision of Milton's 1644 tract against prepublication licensing, Areopagitica. Both Charles Blount, a freethinker, and William Denton, an Anglican clergyman, follow Milton's argument in their responses to the lapse of the 1679 Licensing Act, but both also abandon its religious-charged rhetoric and millenarian expectations in favor of a more secular and protoliberal vocabulary of rights and interests. As a result, Milton's "polemic for polemic" (181), that is, a polemic that argues for the virtues of polemic as well as for a particular set of positions, marks "the zenith" (182) of public religious discourse as a positive good. Such optimism would no longer be forthcoming in the new public world of the Restoration.

The fortunes of polemical theology are reprised from a different angle in chapter 6 which traces the checkered history of Chelsea College, dedicated to the production of religious controversy, from its founding under James I through its long decline and eventual demise when its building and grounds were granted to the Royal Society in 1669. Lander entertainingly plots the various projects to revive the mission of the College or appropriate its assets, including George Cottington's scheme to divert funding to the refurbishing of St. Paul's Church in the 1630s and Samuel Hartlib's reenvisaging of the College as a center for international Protestantism in the 1650s. But his broader purpose is to show how the College's history reflects larger cultural and intellectual shifts across the seventeenth century, notably the Restoration reaction against religious enthusiasm and the emergence of a secular political discourse. Although Lander is cautious about sounding the death knell of polemic prematurely, he considers these developments as definitive in the long term, a claim he elaborates in an epilogue discussing new paradigms of sociability and polite letters that carries his argument forward into the modern era. Intercepting recent work on the establishment of the English literary canon and on the cultural category of literature more generally, Lander shows how Shakespeare and Milton were purged of polemical taint prior to their enlistment in the higher echelons of artistic achievement. As such, the final curtain call belongs to Jacob Tonson and Samuel Johnson, the kingmakers of literary culture whose legacy the Arnoldian humanists would inherit and invent anew.

Inventing Polemic is a learned, provocative, and rewarding book. If the eloquence and density of its individual chapters defy easy summary so too does its vast and heterogeneous subject: the history of polemic, material, cultural, and intertextual, from the mid-sixteenth to the end of the seventeenth century. Faced with such a rich and unruly archive, Lander's adoption of the case study is a pragmatic choice but it can be faulted for reinforcing a small canon of male writers, raising polemic by association with them rather than through its broader practice, innovation, and influence. New readings of Shakespeare, Donne, and Milton are, of course, welcome but to claim that "Milton is perhaps the only canonical writer of English literature who is celebrated for his polemic" (180) is disingenuous, overstating the critical prejudice against controversial writing by ignoring, for example, the case of Andrew Marvell whose prose works have received recent magisterial treatment in a new edition by Yale University Press and whose career usefully spans the Restoration watershed that Lander identifies. Nor is it simply that there are texts, authors, and actors whose contributions Lander does not engage. The chapters on Shakespeare and Donne are exhilarating but also troubling in the neatness with which they anticipate the historical conclusion toward which the study progresses; to locate the rejection of polemic and its corollary, the formation of the literary, within the second quarto of Hamlet and An Anatomy of the World as well as across the later seventeenth century is to assert a strong teleological pull that makes the prescience, the modernity, of these works practically a self-fulfilling prophecy. Finally, Lander's focus on "publishing events" appears to the detriment of historical ones, specifically the English Civil Wars which receive only passing mention despite their revolutionary influence on print media and public life. To these criticisms, it might fairly be objected that Lander has not set himself the task of offering a comprehensive, or perhaps even a representative, survey but of showcasing polemical insurrections where the literary critic has not thought to look for them. And on these terms his study succeeds quite brilliantly, opening a controversial world to compelling critical view.
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Title Annotation:Inventing Polemic: Religion, Print, and Literary Culture in Early Modern England
Author:Walkden, Andrea
Publication:Shakespeare Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2009
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