Bound to Read

Bound to Read: Compilations, Collections, and the Making of Renaissance Literature

Jeffrey Todd Knight
Series: Material Texts
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Bound to Read
    Book Description:

    Concealed in rows of carefully restored volumes in rare book libraries is a history of the patterns of book collecting and compilation that shaped the literature of the English Renaissance. In this early period of print, before the introduction of commercial binding, most published literary texts did not stand on shelves in discrete, standardized units. They were issued in loose sheets or temporarily stitched-leaving it to the purchaser or retailer to collect, configure, and bind them. In Bound to Read, Jeffrey Todd Knight excavates this culture of compilation-of binding and mixing texts, authors, and genres into single volumes-and sheds light on a practice that not only was pervasive but also defined the period's very ways of writing and thinking. Through a combination of archival research and literary criticism, Knight shows how Renaissance conceptions of imaginative writing were inextricable from the material assembly of texts. While scholars have long identified an early modern tendency to borrow and redeploy texts, Bound to Read reveals that these strategies of imitation and appropriation were rooted in concrete ways of engaging with books. Knight uncovers surprising juxtapositions such as handwritten sonnets collected with established poetry in print and literary masterpieces bound with liturgical texts and pamphlets. By examining works by Shakespeare, Spenser, Montaigne, and others, he dispels the notion of literary texts as static or closed, and instead demonstrates how the unsettled conventions of early print culture fostered an idea of books as interactive and malleable. Though firmly rooted in Renaissance culture, Knight's carefully calibrated arguments also push forward to the digital present-engaging with the modern library archives where these works were rebound and remade, and showing how the custodianship of literary artifacts shapes our canons, chronologies, and contemporary interpretative practices.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0816-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction: Compiling Culture
    (pp. 1-18)

    William Thomas’s Historie of Italie is one of the more important surviving documents of the literary and political culture of the Renaissance in Europe.¹ Written by a clerk of England’s Privy Council and published in 1549 by the royal printer, the book offered a pragmatist’s guide to governance through firsthand accounts of Italian social organization. It passed through multiple reissues and remained popular into the 1590s; modern editions of Shakespeare often include excerpts and references that conjure an image of the playwright mining Thomas’s book for characters in The Merchant of Venice, Othello, and The Tempest.² But if you call...

    • CHAPTER 1 Special Collections: Book Curatorship and the Idea of Early Print in Libraries
      (pp. 21-53)

      Bookbinding and collecting, like other aspects of the history of reading, are “on the order of the ephemeral.”¹ The acquisition, ordering and shelving, use, and conservation of texts in libraries are activities that leave little evidence behind. Firsthand accounts of text assembly and the organization of knowledge in early print are scarce and most often rooted in the perspective of producers, whether in manuals or as documentary by-products of printing-house accounting.² In modern rare-book rooms, we might find binders’ tickets or unusually detailed collectors’ notes in the flyleaves of texts showing later curatorial activities. But artifacts in special collections, particularly...

    • CHAPTER 2 Making Shakespeare’s Books: Material Intertextuality from the Bindery to the Conservation Lab
      (pp. 54-84)

      Among the most highly valued items in special collections at Oxford’s Bodleian Library is a volume of Shakespeare’s poetry containing quartos of Venus and Adonis, The Rape of Lucrece, and the Sonnets gathered together by an eighteenth-century owner named Thomas Caldecott.¹ So highly valued is the book that it cannot be consulted according to the usual procedures. One must first appeal for special permission at Duke Humfrey’s Library, then trudge across Broad Street to the New Library to read it under close supervision in the Modern Papers Room—and for good reason. The volume brings together rare early editions of...

    • CHAPTER 3 Transformative Imitation: Composing the Lyric in Liber Lilliati and Watson’s Hekatompathia
      (pp. 87-116)

      How do norms of textual organization influence writing itself? Over the past fifty years, in the course of a near-global transition from one dominant media platform to another, the question has been raised with more and more urgency.¹ Yet as we learn about the contemporary changes wrought in new media classrooms and literatures, perspectives on historical forms of composition remain largely inert. Particularly in the canon of Renaissance literature, in figures such as Shakespeare who are invested with notions of the “early modern” or the invention of modern subjectivity,² the familiar image of the solitary writer at his desk is...

    • CHAPTER 4 Vernacularity and the Compiling Self in Spenser’s Shepheardes Calender and Montaigne’s Essays
      (pp. 117-149)

      Near the beginning of his Defence of Poesy—the earliest major work of literary criticism in English—Philip Sidney revisits the idea of the writer as imitator of nature, but with a vernacular twist. “The Greeks called him [the writer] a ‘poet.’ ” The term “cometh of this word poiein, which is, to make: wherein I know not whether by luck or wisdom, we Englishmen have met with the Greeks in calling him a maker.”¹ Invoking the metaphysics of representation in which poetic “making” is secondary, Sidney insists on what he calls the substantiality, and also the generativity, of the...

    • CHAPTER 5 The Custom-Made Corpus: English Collected Works in Print, 1532–1623
      (pp. 150-179)

      In 1906, when Alfred W. Pollard reported in The Academy the discovery of two seemingly related quarto compilations, he hit on what would become one of the most enduring mysteries in Shakespeare studies.¹ One compilation had surfaced in a German library a few years before, still in its early seventeenth-century binding; the other had recently been broken up for sale at Sotheby’s. Their ten constituent play texts were identical: the two-part Whole Contention (1619), Pericles (1619), A Yorkshire Tragedie (1619), Merchant of Venice (1600), Midsommer Nights dreame (1600), Merry Wives of Windsor (1619), King Lear (1608), Sir Iohn Oldcastle (1600),...

  6. EPILOGUE: “Collated and Perfect”
    (pp. 180-188)

    It is a note familiar to readers of the most valuable early printed materials at today’s rare-book libraries. Typically scrawled in pencil inside the back cover of a collectors’ binding, “collated and perfect” was shorthand for an almost universal ideal in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century book culture.¹ It signaled to buyers and readers that the text had been examined, that all of its leaves were present and in the correct order according to a network of page signatures expressed in a formula.² The notion of a perfect, stand-alone copy reflected the system of industrial book production that was standard in...

  7. NOTES
    (pp. 189-246)
    (pp. 247-264)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 265-276)
    (pp. 277-280)