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Foxe's Book of Martyrs and Early Modern Print Culture.

John N. King. Foxe's Book of Martyrs and Early Modern Print Culture.

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. xviii + 352 pp. index. illus. gloss. bibl. $110. ISBN: 978-0-521-86381-0.

In 1993 the British Academy inaugurated the John Foxe Project. Its goal was to produce a modern edition of Foxe's Acts and Monuments, popularly know as the Book of Martyrs. This ongoing project and the subsequent publication of four groundbreaking collections of essays attest to a resurgence of scholarly interest in Foxe's magisterial martyrology. John N. King's Foxe's Book of Martyrs and Early Modern Print Culture represents a distinguished contribution to this revival. Based on his examination of multiple copies of the nine early modern editions of The Book of Martyrs (the last in 1684) as well as abridgements, King's research addresses questions that only an exhaustive study of this book's multiple editions, sources, models, and analogues could answer: what kind of book is the Book of Martyrs, and how did it come to "exert a greater influence on the consciousness of early modern England than any other book aside from the English Bible and the Book of Common Prayer" (2)? While other studies have examined the content of the Book of Martyrs, King approaches the Book of Martyrs as an exemplary early modern book, invoking Robert Darnton's concept of a "communication circuit" that "interlinks the interest of the author ... to those of publisher, printer, shipper, bookseller and reader" (14-15). Recreating this circuit, King is attentive to a "variety of intellectual, political, economic and social influences" that "impinge" upon it (15).

King's discussion of the communication circuit begins with Foxe, who, King argues, was not an author but a compiler; his text is a composite of the work of scholars, agents, reporters, transcribers, and other contributors. For example, Foxe's publication of many of the accounts of interrogations of the godly in consistory court, the textual "monuments" that Foxe memorialized, represents his collaboration with members of the persecuted church who authored these accounts. Collected by Foxe, they circulated in manuscript form in an age in which both manuscript and print form existed side by side. Foxe, nevertheless, asserts authority over the text: his powerful voice manifests itself, for example, in prefaces addressed to specific groups of readers, in the use of typeface to distinguish his words from his sources, in selective editing, and in ubiquitous glosses intended to reform readers by controlling their reading practices.

Providing a glossary of printing terms, King describes the contributions of London printer John Day, who collaborated with Foxe in the publication of the 1563, 1570, 1576, and 1583 editions of Acts and Monuments. Day responded to Foxe's agglomerate of English and classical documents with an innovative hybridizing of typefaces. Using both the traditional black letter for English texts and the italic type customary for the printing of Latin texts, he addressed a wide spectrum of literacy. King reproduces a number of the famous woodcuts designed by Day, discussing their compositional style and conventional motifs.

Important links in the communication circuit, generations of faithful readers poured over the dramatic illustrations by candlelight and read or heard read selections from the printed page. King argues that they were not only shaped by the Book of Martyrs, but active in shaping it. For example, filling in the banderoles on the woodcuts, readers assigned both verifiable and fictional speeches to the dying martyrs, placing them in a typological relationship to biblical figures like the first Christian martyr, Saint Stephen, or supplying formulaic words that attested to a "good death." The Book of Martyrs proves to be an exemplary text for the study of the sociology of early modern reading. King contends that its malleability accounted for its longevity and quasi-iconic status. Incorporating unfolding history, its multiple redactions instructed and delighted readers. It spoke to readers of varying levels of literacy, diverse social status, conflicting religious convictions, and disparate confessional affiliations, from high church to dissenter. It was endorsed by readers of conflicting political persuasions as the voice of English nationalism. Commended as a text suited for private devotion, it was appropriated in public debate up to the Civil War. King's learned and definitive study provides both an indispensable guide for scholars working with this text and a fascinating entree into the world of early modern printing and publishing.


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Article Details
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Author:Robinson, Marsha S.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2007
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