Studies in books and their people or, The New Boredom 2.0.
Erne, Lukas. Shakespeare and the Book Trade. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.
Knight, Jeffrey Todd. Bound to Bead: Compilations, Collections, and the Making of Benaissance Literature. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013.
Straznicky, Marta, ed. Shakespeare's Stationers: Studies in Cultural Bibliography. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013.
In his essay "What Is an Editor?", published in this journal in 1996, Stephen Orgel described his understanding of the texts at the heart of the editorial project: "My basic feeling as an editor is that texts aren't ideas, they are artifacts, and I want to preserve as much as I can of their archeology." (1) His assertion measures the distance, in scholar miles, between his own scholarly moment and the present one. Orgel was right. Texts--by which he meant "what happened to come from the printing house"--are indeed artifacts whose history careful archivists, scholars, and editors strive to "preserve." However, Orgel's historicist gesture of treating the past as a set of immobile artifacts in an attempt to access it seems constricting in light of recent scholarly interest in the various agents involved in the production and reception of early modern texts. The scholarship reviewed here takes the work of these agents as its focus.
To think of books as mere artifacts (which of course they are) is partially to erase the complex set of events that embedded them as artifacts in the first place. It is to deny that books have what we might call an idea function, and, more important, it is to deny that their status as artifacts is bound up (sometimes literally) with their ideal and ideological status. To put the point more practically, even if early modern texts appear to us as artifacts, to those who wrote, revised, transmitted, invested in, registered, composed, inked, wholesaled, retailed, bound, collected, compiled, disbound, and cataloged them, what came from the printing house comprised an assembly of ideas. Books are indeed artifacts, but not as opposed to ideas; they are artifacts in part because they are ideas.
This is not to say we have now rejected Orgel's claims or those of others whose work over the last few decades inaugurated and expanded new ways of approaching early modern texts. (2) As the widespread influence of Orgel's essay indicates, the so-called New Textualist movement challenged longstanding editorial theories and critical practices emerging from the school known as the "New Bibliography." Graham Holderness provides a digest version of the shift:
The basic parameters of New Bibliographical editing, which consist of a belief in the supremacy of the author as generator of the text, the assumption that surviving documents are likely to represent corrupt vestiges of the authorial utterance, and a confidence in the ability of the scholar and editor to recover from the surviving textual traces what the author actually wrote, have been turned upside down by the work of bibliographical theorists. (3)
For those keeping track at home, this means that the New Textualism (also known as "textual studies" and "new materialism") called into question the central, organizing tenets of the New Bibliography, which had remained dominant throughout much of the twentieth century. Rather than viewing the medium of print as a veil which the editor/scholar must peel back to access an ideal and presumably authorial text, textual studies of the 1990s and 2000s took, as Marta Straznicky puts it in the Introduction to Shakespeare's Stationers, "the material form of a text as inseparable from the meanings produced by its readers" (2). At the very least, the medium affects the message. This realization, which is actually an old one, has in recent years posed a challenge for literary and cultural studies of the early modern period. Scholars and teachers who have no purchase on the technical knowledge of bibliography must nevertheless come to grips with the fundamentally unstable and social dimensions of texts. Close reading and cultural critique cannot afford to ignore the material conditions of production. Digitized research on the period must reckon with the question of how textuality affects data curation. Editors must un-edit. (4)
The three books reviewed here demonstrate the extent to which the New Textualism has become orthodoxy in early modern literary study and in Shakespeare studies in particular. The groundbreaking work of Jerome McGann, D. F. McKenzie, Roger Chartier, and others has become required reading for students of the early modern period. In these two fine monographs and a well-curated collection, however, the concern for the social lives of books is no longer simply a creed but a reflex, no longer a concern (as it was for Orgel) to be established over and against other approaches but an assumption on which to build. That three such closely related studies appeared within a year of each other suggests as much. That they differ greatly in critical disposition, rhetorical structure, and style while also emerging from the same set of principles testifies to the growth of the field. All three studies focus not merely on what Orgel might call the artifactual qualities of the early modern books in question but also on the interactions between their intellectual, ideological qualities and the eventfulness of production and consumption. They share a methodological concern with the relationship between the symbolic capacity of books and the place of those books in a culture of exchange. Lukas Erne shows the extent to which Shakespeare's books and brand name circulated in the book trade and among other early readers. Jeffrey Todd Knight illuminates the way publishers, readers, and writers combined and compiled books, acts which shaped the possibilities of meaning. And the contributors to Shakespeare's Stationers foreground the institutional and personal agency practiced by stationers and others as they made Shakespeare's books, and made them available.
The efforts of Erne, Knight, and Straznicky to demonstrate the formative social dimensions of early modern books underpins a more specific interest these volumes share: the question of value. References to social and economic theory remain light in all three, despite the extensive use of concepts such as commodity exchange, speculation, branding, supply and demand, and consumer desire. Erne alone cites the writings of Pierre Bourdieu, even though much of this scholarship rests on the foundation of Bourdieu's thought. Admittedly, the so-called "Bourdieuian Turn" in literary study has led to something of a backlash against casual use of concepts such as "field of cultural production" and "cultural capital," but for research so steeped in the way books accrue value, the omission seems worth noting. Nevertheless, Erne, Knight, and the Straznicky contributors explore how books gained and lost exchange value in the trade, how books developed particular values among stationers and other readers (e.g., "literary" values of different sorts), and how the evaluative orientations of later readers have affected our view of early modern book culture. Kirk Melnikoff's essay in Shakespeare's Stationers provides a good example: Melnikoff studies the Hamlet first quarto (1603) alongside Nicholas Ling's other publications, many of which take a strongly republican political stance. In that context, the play's republicanism stands out clearly. The essay illuminates how the playbook appeared to Ling as a valuable commodity, and how he marketed it with a particular premium in mind. Melnikoff manages to add complexity to what had seemed like an exhausted topic after an important article by Zachary Lesser and Peter Stallybrass. (5) Even where these studies do not explicitly address questions of value, they do so implicitly. They assume, with Bourdieu, that "the agents involved in the literary or artistic field may ... have nothing in common except the fact of taking part in a struggle to impose a legitimate definition of literary or artistic production." (6) They presuppose, in other words, that the question of what makes literary value is always at stake in a book marketplace. Here we encounter one way in which these studies represent both a culmination and an extension of the agenda set by the new textualism. Their astuteness about value, made possible by earlier generations of textual scholarship, does not displace or reject what came before.
As they maintain the new orthodoxy, these books nonetheless present a range of styles and methods. Erne's book surveys and synthesizes huge amounts of information with careful attention. His aim, reminiscent of Francis Bacon's inductive method, is to amass so much data that his claims become incontrovertible. He includes three appendices, all rigorously researched and illuminating quite apart from the argument of the book. Likewise, Shakespeare's Stationers features a great factual apparatus: the book runs to 374 pages even though the final essay ends on page 196. The remaining pages include two appendices, one on Shakespeare's publications and another profiling, in extraordinary detail, the stationers involved in publishing books associated with Shakespeare. This amount and quality of data greatly enhances Straznicky's accomplishment, bringing into unprecedented view the literary agency of the people responsible for publishing Shakespeare's books. Unlike Erne, however, who explicitly avoids case study in "an attempt to gain an overall picture," the Shakespeare's Stationers contributors embrace the case-study method (5). Knight, meanwhile, plays the role of revisionist, challenging the longstanding focus among scholars on the single book as the standalone object of inquiry. Bound to Read contains no appendices but rather a series of case studies designed to illuminate how "the printed work was relatively malleable and experimental--a thing to actively shape, expand, and resituate as one desired" (4). Thus understood as varied expressions of a new materialism, these books will likely elicit two responses in readers: first, to note that after centuries of institutionalized bibliographical study these scholars are actually producing new insight. Why, we might wonder for example, has no one compiled the publication records of early modern playwrights as Erne does to great effect? Second, one might note the remarkable consensus about the intellectual trajectory of textual study. However pronounced their differences, these books work hard to create an ethos of straightforward earnestness with respect to the material past, and they implicitly agree on what kind of work matters. Erne's positivism, Knight's poststructuralism, and Straznicky's storification of the Stationers' Company convey a knowing optimism about what the field David Kastan referred to as "the New Boredom" can accomplish. (7)
In the context of this broad agreement about what early modern textual scholarship should be doing, a problem becomes visible. To their credit, these books explicitly announce their intellectual debtors. Straznicky, for instance, names Robert Darnton, McKenzie, Chartier, and Lesser, whose 2004 book Renaissance Drama and the Politics of Publication she cites as having provided the conclusion which her collection takes as a starting premise. (8) Erne cites his own Shakespeare as Literary Dramatist (2003), which he says poses the question Shakespeare and the Book Trade attempts to answer. He also fills 727 footnotes with references to the scholarship on which his synthesis depends. Straw men emerge, however, if only for rhetorical flare. In her introduction, Straznicky announces the volume's attempt to view stationers as literary agents making interpretive choices rather than merely the money-hungry media bosses Alfred Pollard portrayed them to be. This stance seems perfectly fair, but one wonders: does anyone continue to hold the view that stationers maintained only a fiduciary interest in books (especially Shakespeare's books)? Knight, discussing the so-called Pavier Quartos, the group of playbooks thought to be an abortive collection of Shakespeare's plays, writes that "the Pavier Quartos might be more profitably understood and read as a consumer-driven compilation rather than a never-realized 'Works' " (69). Knight suggests that some believe the Pavier Quartos were a "never-realized 'Works,'" when in fact most scholars have proven capable of much greater nuance. (9) Again one wonders, does anyone think of the Quartos as aiming for the same monumental status as Ben Jonson's Workes or Shakespeare's First Folio? What's more, could we not regard even those realized "Works" as "consumer-driven compilations"?
The point here is not to lambaste the scholarship advanced in these three volumes. It is, rather, to introduce the possibility that the authors have few strong claims to argue against. The argumentative rigor mustered in these books falls most forcefully against positions not held or no longer defensible. Whether or not critique has run out of steam, as Bruno Latour has suggested, it may have run out of controversies to investigate and perpetuate. (10) Here lies the important difference between Orgel's position and that of these books: the first wave of the new textualism opposed what it perceived as the wrongful, prevalent thinking about texts. The mode of critique that energizes textual studies depends upon the rejection or displacement of a prior orthodoxy (e.g., Orgel's "texts aren't ideas, they are artifacts"). These three books, even the most forcefully argued (Knight's), maintain an additive rather than an agonistic approach. They work hard to justify their existence even as they produce some of the most exciting, nuanced scholarship of recent decades. In what follows, I will discuss each book in turn, starting with Erne who deserves pride of place because he's a big reason these books were written in the first place.
Lukas Erne does not like to argue. He often lets evidence speak for itself, leaving unspoken those claims which one might infer from the evidence. His previous book, the field-changing Shakespeare as Literary Dramatist (2003), introduced this habit to a huge number of readers. This second book, which Erne positions as a follow-up to and extension of Literary Dramatist, follows much the same pattern. Erne does not so much posit as he does present, even when his claims are positivist. This habit has the great virtue of leaving readers the (usually accurate) impression that what Erne writes must be true, and the retrospective impression that he made his arguments much more forcefully than he actually did. Indeed, many write about Literary Dramatist as if Erne asserted that Shakespeare wrote and revised his plays the way Ben Jonson did, with a clear literary readership and evaluation in mind along with a suppression of the plays' stageworthiness. Yet a rereading of that book, a second edition of which the press published alongside Shakespeare and the Book Trade, reveals that Erne rarely makes such claims explicitly. More often he mutes the grand thesis, allowing readers to make strong inferences. The book's far-reaching influence has as much to do with its implications as with its assertions. The same promises to be the case with Book Trade.
There's another sense in which Erne does not like to argue: much of Shakespeare and the Book Trade comprises an impressive assemblage of the scholarship about Shakespeare's relationship with the book trade and print culture. A look at the footnotes gives a good clue: the names Lesser, Stallybrass, Kastan, Blayney, Tiffany Stern, Alan Farmer, Paul Voss, Sonia Massai, Alan Nelson, and Heidi Brayman Hackel appear frequently. Literary Dramatist helped generate much of this research. Indeed, a great irony pervades Shakespeare and the Book Trade that in gathering evidence of Shakespeare as authorizer of and commodity in his printed works, Erne has rendered himself an author-function, collecting and redistributing various pieces of scholarship under the unifying rubric ERNE, which exists first and foremost on the book's spine. This all goes to Erne's credit, of course, because the chief accomplishment of this book is its comprehensive synthesis of information. Erne does not paint a Holbein portrait. He arrays a Brueghel. Shakespeare and the Book Trade will serve as the standard account of its subject because it actually gives such an account in careful, clear detail, not because it makes any great theoretical leaps. That fact must not detract from what Erne has done, but rather amplify the sense in which this book belongs on the shelf next to E. K. Chambers's William Shakespeare: A Study of Facts and Problems and Andrew Gurr's The Shakespearean Stage: 1574-1642.
Erne's synthetic impulse, combined with his stated preference for comprehensiveness over case study, explains what readers may find frustrating about the book. However informed on conceptual questions, Shakespeare and the Book Trade does not place those questions front and center (a move which, as we will see, Knight makes repeatedly). The Introduction lays out the book's straightforward main argument: "Shakespeare's place within early modern textual culture made of him a surprisingly prominent man-in-print" (2). Shakespeare's canonization and global centrality, in large part a function of later British imperialism, actually has its foundations in the book trade. Each chapter takes up a single dimension of the market for printed books in early modern London, tracing Shakespeare's books and name as marketable, profitable, and collectible items. Chapter 1, the most rewarding one of the book, quantifies Shakespeare's place in the book trade vis-a-vis other playwrights. Prolepsis occupies much of this chapter, with Erne anticipating various objections to his claims. After a careful description of his methodology, he compares Shakespeare's playbook output to that of other dramatists to argue that Shakespeare was the best-published dramatist of his time: "Shakespeare, with seventy-four editions of playbooks, out-publishes all his contemporaries by more than 50 per cent" (37). When play texts are counted (as opposed to books, so that the First Folio counts as one book but thirty-six texts), Shakespeare again out-publishes his contemporaries. Erne then looks at reprint rates, drawing on Lesser's and Farmer's claim that reprints offer a reliable view of print popularity. (11) Francis Beaumont heads the list of average reprints per play (with 2), with Shakespeare coming second (1.6). Never fear, however: Erne claims that Beaumont's output was so small (nine plays) as to be statistically insignificant, and thus we should only count reprint rates for dramatists with more than ten plays. This seems statistically questionable because it lets output determine popularity (in the sense that Beaumont published fewer plays which received more reprints, yet Erne considers him less popular than Shakespeare, who published more plays with fewer reprints than Beaumont but still more reprints than his high-output contemporaries).
Erne's findings are compelling, but they do suggest the crucial importance of situating data. In the example cited above, Erne tends to treat popularity as an objective phenomenon (with reprint rates acting as its index). But popularity is a situated quality, even when quantifiable. (12) Here, a recourse to economic theory may have clarified Erne's claims. The numbers allow us to see that gross demand for Shakespeare's many plays exceeded gross demand for Beaumont's few, but they also allow us to view the average demand for a Beaumont (or, more accurately, a Beaumont and Fletcher) playbook as greatly exceeding the average demand for a Shakespeare playbook. Less writing at a greater premium leads to highly concentrated demand. More writing at a slightly lower premium leads to less concentrated demand but greater market visibility. Erne is thus right--but for the wrong reason--that comparing Shakespeare's reprint rates with Beaumont's is like comparing apples to oranges. Early modern repeat buyers of playbooks probably knew the difference between a more common Shakespeare playbook and a less frequently available one by Beaumont and Fletcher. I like hamburgers as much as the next meat-eating American, but I spring for sushi when I have the choice.
The subsequent chapters address other categories of relationship with the book trade, "at the heart of which" Erne places Shakespeare's books (20). Chapter 2 takes up the question of pseudoepigraphy, the act of misattributing written work. Erne unpacks a simple, powerful observation: in the period between 1584 and 1633, "no professional play has been identified as being wrongly attributed to anyone other than Shakespeare" (56). In the period 1634-60, meanwhile, no plays were misattributed to Shakespeare. Erne spends most of the chapter going through each misattribution in medium-scale detail. Based on this evidence, he argues that Shakespeare's name acquired something of a brand name status, a cultural commodity with predictable value (59). Impressively, Chapter 3 does something no one has done before: it surveys the various features of Shakespeare's playbooks as a kind of mini-archive. Erne describes the playbooks' inclusion of Latin epigrams, dedications, epistles to the reader, commendatory poems, arguments, dramatis personae, continuous printing, act and scene division, and sententiae. Then he surveys their paper, format, and type. This evidence points to a tension in which Shakespeare suddenly became an "author" in the book trade yet his playbooks lacked the trappings of most literary playbooks. "Shakespeare" is present in the books, but "authorial inscription" is absent (122). Erne concludes that unlike Jonson, who wished to associate his plays with literary culture, Shakespeare's books enacted "the immediacy and directness of the theatrical experience" while the playwright himself avoided the ordinary markers of authorial self-presentation (123).
The final two chapters focus on early traders of Shakespeare's books. Chapter 4, like the others, offers long sequences of information. Erne surveys every Shakespeare publisher with the aim of showing that the Company of Stationers "took his plays and poems very seriously and repeatedly invested in them" (135). Erne helpfully educates readers in how the stationers worked, then surveys the market for playbooks throughout the period. He goes one at a time through Shakespeare's publishers, first of the poems, then of the plays. Erne concludes that "the view that, prior to 1623, Shakespeare was a quantite negligeable for publishers ... is a myth" (183). Although one detects a straw man argument here (does anyone believe Shakespeare had no presence in the book trade whatsoever prior to 1623?), the chapter traces in detail how the people of the book trade bought and sold Shakespeare. Finally, in Chapter 5 Erne surveys early owners, collections, and readers of Shakespeare's playbooks. Once again synthesizing previous scholarship, Erne claims that Shakespeare's playbooks mattered to people more than we think. Oddly, he positions his thesis not against any specific modern scholar, but against Thomas Bodley, who famously called playbooks (though not all playbooks) "baggage books." This chapter is the odd one out because unlike the others, each of which is in its own way comparative, this one simply calls attention to how many people knew Shakespeare's books existed.
The absence of a conclusion to Shakespeare and the Book Trade confirms its virtues and drawbacks. Once Erne reaches the end of live fact-filled chapters, he simply runs out of things to say. His comprehensive, synthetic work done, what better way to end the book than to move immediately into the appendices, which contain so much helpful information that the press should consider selling them separately as laminated posters? Although I myself found it frustrating that Erne failed to take the opportunity to conceptualize his arguments and examine their stakes for our understanding of Shakespeare, such reflection would not fit the mode of inquiry in which this book operates. Shakespeare and the Book Trade is a magpie's nest, a gloriously detailed, carefully executed, impeccably researched magpie's nest.
Like Erne, Jeffrey Todd Knight examines books as objects constrained within networks of exchange and evaluation. That is, both scholars refuse to approach printed works as merely "remarkable objects," in McKenzie's words, but rather as parts of a mutually determining social framework. (13) In this regard, both view books as a Bakhtinian approach tends to view words--as richly dialogized in and with their environment. That drive leads Erne to attempt a comprehensive account of Shakespeare's emergence in the early print market, and it leads Knight to bear witness to the early modern culture of material compilation. In that culture, books existed as "fluid, adaptable objects, always prone to intervention and change" across the zones of consumption and production (4). Sammelbande, bound collections of separately printed texts, make up Knight's primary inspiration, though much of his book actually addresses questions which spring from those bound multitext volumes, recently popular among scholars of the early modern period.14 His argument has three components. First, Knight claims that bound books formed "customized assemblage[s]" compiled by readers and collectors who did not think of books as self-contained unities (5). Second, the early modern "compiling culture" remains largely invisible because later collectors disbound and reorganized those assemblages according to modern systems of classification and evaluation. Finally, in what I find to be the most exciting part of the book, Knight shows how the compilational impulse shaped early modern writing practice, so that intertextuality and imitation become "habits of the book, profoundly connected to the material organization of knowledge" (10). Readers compiled, and so did writers.
Like Erne's book, therefore, Knight's promises to make a lasting impression on how we think about early modern books. In most ways, however, Bound to Read presents the conceptual opposite of Shakespeare and the Book Trade. Whereas Erne explicitly avoids case study, Knight indulges in it, often leveraging a handful of cases to make claims about the whole of literary culture. Whereas Erne doesn't argue very much at all, Knight does so frequently. Most often that argumentation proves winning and brilliant, as when he argues that we view books from the early modern period in a way fundamentally different from their earlier existence because subsequent librarians and collectors stripped them apart, alienating them from their early literary contexts. Whereas Erne proves hesitant to offer strong conceptualizations warranted by the evidence presented, Knight persistently and eloquently theorizes, to the extent that he risks overcorrection. For instance, his constant reminder that modernity is responsible for the erasure of the compiling culture focuses exclusively on the damage done to our understanding of the past. If Bound to Read is any guide, we have not yet arrived at a post-revisionist moment in which we can both ascertain how extensively modernity skewed the materials of the past and acknowledge that without those librarians few books would have survived at all. (15)
The edginess of Knight's claims makes them genuinely exciting. If Erne's book goes on the reference study shelf, Bound to Read goes with Political Shakespeare. The book contains two parts, the first two chapters focused on the readers' side of the early modern compiling culture, the latter three on the writers' side. Chapter 1 draws on two Cambridge collections of books (and their catalogs) to describe how readers, publishers, and collectors thought of books as flexible strands for assemblage rather than discrete, individuated units. The AB class catalog, which records the contents of bound volumes when they entered the library in the early modern period, permits fruitful comparison to what form those books now take, having been disassembled and rebound into single volumes. As this reclassification took place, one main division occurred between incunabula and early printed book, with the valuable incunables extricated and bound more elegantly (36). By contrast to the AB catalog, the Matthew Parker collection contains books still in their composite states. Knight describes how Archbishop Parker would "take apart, rearrange, and fuse together [texts] into diverse configurations" (41). Although this focus on Parker's peculiar habits of compilation potentially undermines Knight's totalizing gestures--how can Parker act as a representative for a culture and yet also have such singular habits?--the account of Parker's meaning-making assemblies proves compelling. Chapter 2 continues this literary excavation by surveying early compilations that included Shakespeare's books. Most such collections have been disbound, the Shakespeare books removed and rebound singularly. Based on these histories, Knight argues that the "frameworks for reading and interpreting Shakespeare emerge out of the productions of collectors and conservators who make Shakespeare's books" (16). In this context, the Pavier Quartos, like compilations organized by criteria other than author, reflect a "set of desires less familiar to us because of biases inherent in modern ways of making ... Shakespeare's books" (65). Finally, in the best part of the chapter (70-84), Knight looks at five compilations whose "composite materiality is ... almost never discussed as an aspect of meaning-making by literary critics" (70). These case studies explore the way compilations change the emphasis of the Shakespeare books collected inside. For instance, one Sammelband which includes a 1609 Quarto of Pericles represents a "sourcebook on the theme of incompetent leadership and the constant threat of chaos and corruption that lies beneath the political surface" (77).
Part 2 focuses on writers, for whom the practices of book assembly and literary imitation went hand-in-hand. In Chapter 3, the most rewarding of the book, Knight examines John Lilliat's manuscript book of poetry, which is interfoliated with Thomas Watson's printed sonnet sequence Hekatompathia (1582), to show how compiling could become poetically generative. In Lilliat's book, Knight argues, the "malleable, recombinant text of the handpress era" acted as a "template for composing" (88). Lilliat borrows from, transforms, interfaces with, and diverges from, Watson's printed book in what Knight calls "transformative imitation." The best move comes when Knight, drawing on the work of Mary Thomas Crane, turns to Watson's book and shows how writerly interaction is implicit in the construction and presentation of the book and its poems (109). In Chapter 4, Knight argues that Edmund Spenser and Michel de Montaigne styled themselves as assemblers of texts. Spenser's The Shepheardes Calender thus "becomes less an unsettling array of materials than a skilled textual assemblage" (127). Montaigne's Essays shows the writer as a "synthetic organizer of literary and philosophical material" (140). Finally, Chapter 5 examines the notion of a vernacular collected works. In response to Jeffrey Knapp's claim that the collected English works of Chaucer (1532), Samuel Daniel (1601), and Spenser (1611) established a precedent for the collections of Jonson (1616) and Shakespeare (1623), Knight argues that in fact those collections belong in "a tradition of vernacular literary collecting that went back to late medieval Sammelband culture and beyond" (177). While modern readers find it puzzling that Chaucer's 1532 collected works feature texts not written by Chaucer, in a compiling culture such an addition makes perfect sense (160). Spenser's and Daniel's collections advertise their "detachability" and flexibility rather than absolute unity, as do the Pavier quartos. By the end of Part 2, readers will have gained an energizing new sense of how the material conditions of reading impacted the activities of composition.
Modernity plays the bogey man in Bound to Read, not without good reason. In voicing his critique, Knight asks powerful questions:
How does the administration of texts for careful scholarly use in today's libraries conceal the work of earlier readers and collectors, who were sometimes more likely to reshape books according to their own desires than to venerate them as reservoirs of literary content, frozen in time? More gravely perhaps, how did the work of earlier collectors--in wresting texts from their contexts, in building volumes of one author's collected verse--conceal even earlier forms of textual organization that may have seemed to them unprofitable, distasteful, or not worth saving? (55)
Readers in history "remake what they acquire according to their own historically situated notion of the book" (56). This goes for early modern readers, governed by "nonteleological notions of book assembly," and later ones who did not share the same impulses. These claims strike me as persuasive, yet one might wonder, what counts as other than a nonteleological notion of the book? If the only alternative is the eighteenth-century drive to isolate and privilege which Knight adduces, then it becomes difficult to explain how many early modern readers, writers, and publishers had little trouble conceiving of single books as self-contained units, even within the compiling culture. Knight suggests as much when he argues that Watson's Hekatompathia models "what would become tacit in the more revered sequences of Sidney, Spenser, and Shakespeare: the embodied practice of writing, indeed making, a book" (113). Despite Knight's accurate implication that we have been thinking wrongly about early modern books all along, the three "revered" sequences furnish evidence that books-as-assemblages and books-as-self-contained-unities need not be viewed as totally divergent "historically situated notion[s] of the book." That the combinatory qualities of those sonnet cycles became "tacit" (implicit, but also silent) suggests that at least someone valued self-containment over fungibility. These sequences were printed and sold as parts of compilations sometime during the period. (16) But each also retailed on the book trade as a separate, self-contained (and perhaps even pre-bound!) item. (17)
In his Epilogue, Knight notes that "for every luxuriously rebound work suggesting a hermetic literary commodity, there are untidy amalgams, or records of them, that witness compiling and combining as modes of writerly production" (182). This lyrical sentence poses the modem "literary commodity" in opposition to the "untidy amalgams" of early modern writing. But as the other two books under review here demonstrate, early modern books also existed as literary commodities which, for all their flexibility and untidiness, nevertheless enable a hermetic treatment. For every untidy amalgam, there was also a tidy one. The potential drawback to Knight's brilliant, searching treatment of book assembly is that, in indicting modernity for its erasure of earlier practices, it may skew too far in the opposite direction. Then again, considering how eloquently Knight argues in Bound to Read, perhaps such rough chastisement does justice to hitherto invisible aspects of early modern culture.
Business as Usual
Given the opposing styles of Erne and Knight, one might expect Shakespeare's Stationers to offer an Aristotelian mean between argument and evidence, revisionism and traditionalism. Would that it were so neat. The volume itself makes up an assembly, similar to Knight's Sammelbande in that the compiled value of the whole makes each part more significant. Its contributors, like Knight, explore the meaning-making potential of the contexts in which books exist. At the same time, as its lengthy appendices attest, the volume shares with Erne a considerable investment in comprehensive evidence-gathering and an interest in the book trade as a signal of emergent capitalism. Shakespeare's Stationers hardly splits the difference between the two monographs, however. It primarily aims, in and through its stories of books and their people, to explore how the Stationers' Company did its cultural and commercial business. Often maligned or simply overlooked, the Stationers interpreted, evaluated, and invested in the very printed texts that make up so much of the cultural archive of early modern England. If this point seems obvious, it is largely because of such scholarly work as that represented in Straznicky's collection.
However much it may reify the textual studies orthodoxy, the book has a serious, albeit muted, politics. As I mentioned above, in rejecting Pollard's characterization of the Stationers as "thieving, small-time capitalists" and "unscrupulous stealers of England's most revered textual property," Straznicky creates something of a straw man (3). But perhaps she does so necessarily. To achieve the stated goal of investigating the aspects of the Stationers' "business history that are not satisfactorily explained by profit-making alone," she must negotiate the tension inherent in the term "culture industry" between an emphasis on culture and an emphasis on industry (5). In other words, Straznicky and her contributors must (and do) treat the early modern book business as an expanding commodity market. This task involves creating uncanny parallels between early modern and twenty-first century economies, resemblances which some may find distasteful. At the same time, the volume must (and does) reckon with the fact that in a way almost completely unrelated to analogues in later capitalism, the corporation was people too. Straznicky's introduction makes this case with clarity and ease while providing a history of scholarly opinion on the Stationers' Company. Of course, the volume concerns the stationers of Shakespeare in particular, and Alexandra Halasz's chapter provides an impressively efficient description of Shakespeare's relationship with the book trade. Those who have read Erne's book will find in Halasz's piece a digested version of much of the same information. (I intend to assign it the next time I teach a course on book history; I have not encountered a more concise explanation of the quotidian operations of the book trade.) What is more, Halasz elaborates on the introduction's commitment to studying a business that is also a guild. The following sentence provides a great example of how the whole volume performs this balancing act:
If the pretense that print is the arbiter of the literary field is perhaps premature, such trade practices nonetheless established a virtuous circle for the Stationers by affording alternate modes of consumer entry into the marketplace of print and by creating synergy between titles. (22)
The keyword here is "synergy," which invokes the parlance of twenty-first-century global capitalism even as it points to a real phenomenon in Shakespeare's time. Halasz and the other contributors use such concepts to articulate how books circulated on the market as carriers of ideas. The appeal to synergy, for example, yields new insight about the Pavier Quartos, which presented themselves as a book repertory and thus implicated the interests of the King's Men. The First Folio, by contrast, satisfied the "property regimes" of the playing companies and the book trade.
"Synergy" would make a good heading for the chapters by Holger Schott Syme and Adam G. Hooks. In their respective treatments of Thomas Creede and Andrew Wise, the two explore how a stationer could strategically invest in products to create interesting (and profitable) combinations. Syme narrates how Creede, like the draper-bookseller William Barley, began his career in 1594 as a small-book publisher specializing in plays. But unlike Barley, whose business did not thrive particularly well, Creede succeeded because he diversified his range of books to include bigger, higher-net-profit volumes such as Anthony Munday's romances. Syme computes the net profits for smaller and larger books to conclude that short books had a higher profit margin but a much lower overall profit. Longer books, meanwhile, had a slightly lower profit margin but produced greater net profit over the whole print run. Creede and his partners sought just such "high-risk, high-yield projects," almost as if trading in mutual funds. Hooks finds similar strategies in Wise's Shakespeare books. He argues that Wise actively promoted the plays of Shakespeare alongside the sermons of Thomas Playfere, who like the playwright was frequently associated with mellifluousness, eloquence, and a sweet style. Much of the essay consists of a well told story and an argument that seems effortless. Initially, Wise published Playfere's sermons without the preacher's permission, but Playfere subsequently cooperated. The trajectory Hooks traces for the preacher (initial indifference to print, then resistance, then participation) resembles the one traced by Erne and others for Shakespeare. But Hooks resists such identification, noting that "Shakespeare left no record of involvement in the publication of his plays"--none, Erne might add, except the plays themselves (60). One unfortunate omission in the essay is any close comparison of Playfere's and Shakespeare's styles; Hooks supplies only a comparison of their styles' reputations.
Two essays in the volume do not focus primarily on stationers. Ironically, these regulation-breaking chapters address questions of regulation. Douglas Bruster considers Shakespeare's self-regulation in the book trade, while William Proctor Williams calls attention to the understudied work of book licensers. Bruster, suggesting that Shakespeare took note of the responses of book buyers and stationers to his plays, speculates that the playwright altered his writing practices according to shifting demands in the market. Bruster takes the year 1602 as a test case; he argues that Shakespeare, seeing the lackluster sales of playbooks featuring lots of prose, began to write more verse plays. Of the playbooks that saturated the book trade, Bruster observes, those that sold best featured lots of verse. The prose-heavy plays of 1598-1602, however, either received no reprint or never appeared in the first place. (18) Bruster thus concludes that "the trigger for the switch back to verse, then, arguably came from outside the playhouse, form the bookshops of London" (129). While Bruster illuminates Shakespeare's awareness of playbooks' marginal value, Williams focuses on the regulatory officials who licensed those books for the press before the Master of the Revels took over the duty in 1607. The essay makes no argument other than that the work of licensers deserves closer attention than it has received, but Williams nonetheless details the operations of the group of men responsible for regulating the book trade in one of its most flourishing periods. Williams tells the story of Zachariah Pasfield, who licensed more plays than anyone else before 1607. Several stationers, including Simon Waterson and Edward Blount, seem to have preferred Pasfield's licensing services, while others such as Blount's master William Ponsonby avoided him altogether. If basic trends such as the Ponsonby/ Blount connection have any significance, Williams does not attempt to unearth it. One imagines a kind of stationer's anxiety of influence, in which aspiring literary publisher Blount trades on his former master's legacy while forging new connections among licensers and other stationers. Perhaps for good reason, such speculation never enters Williams's chapter.
Some stationers' activities fall under the rubric of combination. Wise coordinated honey-tongued Shakespeare and Playfere to market books by both writers. Pavier sought to combine Shakespeare's plays. Other stationers established investment and publication patterns, many of which went beyond mere profitability. William Stansby, for instance, publisher of Ben Jonson's folio Workes (1616), specialized in books of a boutique, antiquarian sort, a fact that may have motivated Jonson's decision to work with him. (19) Two chapters of Shakespeare's Stationers emphasize such continuities. Kirk Melnikoff, as I mentioned above, places Q1 Hamlet in the context of Ling's strongly republican publications and offers a reading of the play from a republican reader's (i.e., Ling's) perspective. In many of Ling's books, "authority is not identified with a monarch but instead is assumed to be diffuse, disseminated in a number of possible 'Gouernours,'" (99). Melnikoff forges a compelling conceptual link between this pattern and the critical questions of the play as the 1603 text presents it. Building on the argument of Lesser and Stallybrass that Ling inserted commonplace markers in the text to associate it with "literary" values, Melnikoff argues that the sententiae of Corambis (whose name would become Polonius in subsequent editions) "advanced a familiar republican code, one furthered by Corambis's almost universally accepted reputation in the play ... as a wise and active counselor" (106). Unlike the other chapters in the volume, this one offers a new reading of a much-discussed Shakespeare play.
Sonia Massai, by comparison, offers a reading of the much-discussed First Folio prefatory materials. Massai argues that, owing in part to the careful strategy of Blount, the folio's paratexts appeal to and arise from the literary patronage network of the Sidney/ Herbert circle. Such a claim seems to rehearse a fairly obvious point, considering that the book features an epistle to the Herbert brothers. (20) But Massai goes one step further to suggest that the appeal to the Herberts places the folio in a lineage of literary authorization tracing back to Philip Sidney's new Arcadia (1590). Massai examines what she calls "metaphors of endogeny" deployed by Sidney and others for describing literary production, and asserts that the folio makes the same gestures. The use of "endogeny" puzzles me for several reasons. First, as a word referring to things "produced within," the term's points of reference seem inconsistent. Do only parental metaphors count? What is the difference between a metaphor of paternity (such as that used by Sidney in the dedicatory epistle of the Arcadia) and metaphors of maternity or surrogacy? Second, Massai claims that the epistle to the Herberts figures the brothers "as parents" to the plays and to Shakespeare (138). The epistle, however, uses such metaphors to describe Shakespeare (the plays' "parent") and the plays (his "orphans"), but not the Herberts. Third, given how common such metaphors were, why would Blount need such strained metaphorical links when the epistle heralds the Herbert connection proudly and explicitly? Despite these lingering questions, Massai nonetheless exposes the folio's embeddedness in longstanding patronage patterns, and Blount as the person responsible for exploiting them to accrue literary capital.
While Blount achieved the success he sought, other stationers failed. Alan Farmer and Zachary Lesser address two instances of such failure. Farmer's long essay narrates John Norton's career, one marked by various financial and personal crises including the dissolution of two partnerships and the failure to achieve the status of master printer. Amid bad luck and bad business decisions, Norton married Alice Wise, the widow of Andrew Wise; he thus inherited three Shakespeare history plays. Farmer discerns two main movements in Norton's career: in the first, Norton and his partners printed a consistent output of anti-Catholic writings. In the second, he printed and published mostly anti-puritan writings which tended to support the policies of Archbishop William Laud. In this context, Shakespeare's histories as they were published and received in the 1630s "would not have looked like radical deconstructions of royal authority or coded criticisms of Charles I" (174). Instead, Farmer posits, they "dramatized the dangers of civil war" and thus fit perfectly into Norton's pro-Laudian catalog. While Farmer analyzes a success amid patterns of failure, Lesser takes up a single failed book in the context of a failed bookshop. That book is the 1634 quarto of The Two Noble Kinsmen. The shop is the Crown, which enjoyed early success under the owner Simon Waterson but then suffered when Simon's son John took over the business. Lesser explores how Simon, who maintained Cambridge connections, associated his shop with elite university culture. John employed a different strategy when he took over the shop in 1634: despite having inherited several lucrative titles, John began selling professional plays and other "popular" forms. Simon had avoided dealing in drama, but John published ten plays, "more than half of all his first editions" (188). Turning to the failure of The Two Noble Kinsmen, Lesser argues that "its flop had at least as much to do with Waterson's larger failures at the Crown ... as it did with the play itself" (192). The essay concludes with a brief discussion of the different strains of literariness: TNK counted as literary for a courtly readership, but not "in the sense that university elites considered literary" (195). Yet perhaps timing played a more important role than literary evaluation: if Simon had the social connections Lesser suggests, then consumer confidence may have fallen when the shop passed to John. As one of the first books John published after taking over, The Two Noble Kinsmen's stock may have plummeted correspondingly.
Shakespeare's Stationers makes for a fine collection of essays and valuable appendices. Where it falls short, it does so because it is one thing rather than another. Readers expecting a collection with the word "bibliography" in the title to attend closely to the material qualities of the printed book will, for the most part, encounter disappointment. Similarly, readers seeking a new phase in what Gabriel Egan calls the "struggle for Shakespeare's text" will not find new editorial principles or theories of transmission. (21) We get, instead, scenes from the book business with regular appearances by William Shakespeare. Like Knight in its methods and Erne in its aims, the book studies markets of the past and provokes suggestive insight into the present, when markets seem exhaustively to convert ideas and artifacts into commodities.
These books, as wares themselves in a competitive book trade, have been well-served by their publishers. This fact bears itself out in their titles. Shakespeare and the Book Trade and Shakespeare's Stationers represent, with uncanny albeit unsurprising precision, exactly the range of their contents, no more or less. Even Bound to Bead discards the plasticity of its wordplay as soon as it evokes it; we know that the book addresses bindings and reading, not literary fatalism. All three titles have the effect of rehearsing the central thesis of the book to which they apply. Each book knows (so to speak) what it is and what work it must do. Each one, furthermore, relays that self-awareness to its readers with impressive clarity; it is impossible to get lost in these arguments. Such market savvy on the part of the agents involved also helps explain the use of straw man arguments. However justifiably, the current academic book market rewards a rhetoric of field transformation and innovation. The easiest way to achieve such rhetoric is to conjure opposing claims that shrivel in the light of research. This is not to say that the claims these volumes make do not matter. To my mind, they belong among the most important books of early modern scholarship published in the last two decades. Rather, I mean to suggest that the strenuousness of their arguments, a function of their status as commodities in a compressed market, threatens to efface the subtleties they contain.
These books also show signs of their origins in the internet age. Although the authors remain mostly faithful to the new textualism of an earlier generation, they also benefit from views of textuality made possible in the intervening decades. Knight's notion of the book as flexible and adaptable invokes the similar space of a Wiki page. His notion of the literary work as an assemblage implies the memes, parodies, and mashups afforded by digital technology. Erne's collection and representation of data, meanwhile, would have been much more difficult (if not impossible) in an age without the Electronic Short Title Catalogue and Early English Books Online--and, one might add with only a touch of irony, Microsoft Excel. The same goes for the bountiful appendices of Shakespeare's Stationers. The volume's contributors, moreover, gain stimulus from the way the internet renders networks visible and ideas susceptible to monetization. Although none of the authors reviewed here would fall under the digital humanities, their work certainly composes a digitized humanities.
If the books of Erne, Knight, and Straznicky represent the current intersection of textual and literary study, where do we turn next? As they flow in the stream of the new textualism, each volume gestures at the promise voiced by McGann in The Textual Condition that a study of the "laced network of linguistic and bibliographical codes" combines the best resources of bibliography and literary criticism. (22) If so, then these three books show that the drive to study bibliographical and linguistic codes together as a network has not reached its fulfillment. Although it is right and healthy that these books (with a few exceptions) steer clear of such methods as close-reading or stylistic analysis of the writings they take as their shared intellectual domain, such an absence also suggests how many fruitful connections remain to be made. To return to an example from Erne, if we grant that a given Beaumont playbook sold out more reliably than another writer's playbook, what might that suggest about the premium placed on Beaumont's words? What formal or stylistic markers correspond to stronger sales? How do the verbal qualities of a boutique Beaumont play relate to those of a more common Shakespeare or--heaven forbid--Dekker one? These and other questions, made possible by the work reviewed here, point to the next steps in studying books as idea-artifacts.
Many thanks to Claire M. L. Bourne for her insightful comments on this essay.
(1.) Stephen Orgel, "What Is an Editor?," Shakespeare Studies 24 (1996): 25.
(2.) These include, to name but a few, Jerome J. McGann, The Textual Condition (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991); Jerome McGann, A Critique of Modern Textual Criticism (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1992); Roger Chartier, The Order of Books: Readers. Authors and Libraries in Europe Between the Fourteenth and Eighteenth Centuries (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1994); Margreta De Grazia and Peter Stallybrass, "The Materiality of the Shakespearean Text," Shakespeare Quarterly 44, no. 3 (Fall 1993): 255-83; D. F. McKenzie, Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999); David McKitterick, Print, Manuscript and the Search for Order, 1450-1830 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003). Anyone wishing to explore the contentious history of Shakespearean textual studies should consult Gabriel Egan's rich account in The Struggle for Shakespeare's Text: Twentieth-Century Editorial Theory and Practice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).
(3.) Graham Holderness, Textual Shakespeare: Writing and the Word (Hatfield: University of Hertfordshire Press, 2003), 22.
(4.) See Leah S. Marcus, Unediting the Renaissance: Shakespeare, Marlowe, Milton (London: Routledge, 1996).
(5.) See Zachary Lesser and Peter Stallybrass, "The First Literary Hamlet and the Commonplacing of Professional Plays," Shakespeare Quarterly 59, no. 4 (2008): 371-420.
(6.) Pierre Bourdieu, The Field of Cultural Production: Essays on Art and Literature, ed. Randal Johnson (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), 46.
(7.) David Scott Kastan, Shakespeare after Theory (New York: Routledge, 1999), 18.
(8.) Straznicky, Shakespeare's Stationers, 3. See Zachary Lesser, Renaissance Drama and the Politics of Publication: Readings in the English Book Trade (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).
(9.) See, for example, the divergent claims of Sonia Massai's Shakespeare and the Rise of the Editor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007) and James Marino's Owning William Shakespeare: The King's Men and Their Intellectual Property, Material Texts (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011).
(10.) Bruno Latour, "Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern," Critical Inquiry 30, no. 2 (January 1, 2004): 225-48.
(11.) See Alan B. Farmer and Zachary Lesser, "The Popularity of Playbooks Revisited," Shakespeare Quarterly 56, no. 1 (2005): 1-32.
(12.) See Andy Kesson and Emma Smith, eds., The Elizabethan Top Ten?: Defining Print Popularity in Early Modern England (Farnham: Ashgate, 2013).
(13.) McKenzie, Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts, 4.
(14.) See, for instance, Seth Lerer, "Medieval English Literature and the Idea of the Anthology," PMLA 118, no. 5 (October 2003): 1251-60; Alexandra Gillespie, "Poets, Printers, and Early English Sammelbande," The Huntington Library Quarterly 67, no. 2 (2004): 189-214. I have heard several conference papers on Sammelbande in the last two years, many of them citing Knight's book.
(15.) In the Acknowledgments section, Knight testifies to the importance of libraries in preserving books. That gesture, however, suffers from the assembly practices of the University of Pennsylvania Press, which places the Acknowledgments section at the end of the book.
(16.) Sidney's in the authorized folio of 1598, Spenser's in the collected "works" of 1611, and Shakespeare's in Benson's quarto of 1640.
(17.) Sidney's in one of the unauthorized quartos of 1591, Spenser's in a 1595 quarto, and Shakespeare's in Thorpe's 1609 quarto.
(18.) This group includes Merry Wives, Much Ado, Twelfth Night, 2 Henry IV, and As You Like It, which was registered but evidently never printed.
(19.) See James K. Bracken, "Books from William Stansby's Printing House, and Jonson's Folio of 1616," The Library s6-X, no. 1 (March 1, 1988): 18-29.
(20.) See David M. Bergeron, Textual Patronage in English Drama, 1570-1640 (Aldershot, Hants, England?; Burlington: Ashgate, 2006), 141-58.
(21.) Egan, The Struggle for Shakespeare's Text.
(22.) McGann, The Textual Condition, 13.
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|Title Annotation:||review of three books|
|Author:||Lamb, Jonathan P.|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2015|
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