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The Book of the Play

The Book of the Play: Playwrights, Stationers, and Readers in Early Modern England

Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    The Book of the Play
    Book Description:

    The Book of the Play is a collection of essays that examines early modern drama in the context of book history. Focusing on the publication, marketing, and readership of plays opens fresh perspectives on the relationship between the cultures of print and performance and more broadly between drama and the public sphere. Marta Straznicky’s introduction offers a survey of approaches to the history of play reading in this period, and the collection as a whole consolidates recent work in textual, bibliographic, and cultural studies of printed drama. Individually, the essays advance our understanding of play reading as a practice with distinct material forms, discourses, social settings, and institutional affiliation. Part One, “Real and Imagined Communities,” includes four essays on playreading communities and the terms in which they are distinguished from the reading public at large. Cyndia Clegg surveys the construction of readers in prefaces to published plays; Lucy Munro traces three separate readings of a single play, Edward Sharpham’s The Fleer; Marta Straznicky studies women as readers of printed drama; and Elizabeth Sauer describes how play reading was mobilized for political purposes in the period of the civil war. In Part Two, “Play Reading and the Book Trade,” five essays consider the impact of play reading on the public sphere through the lens of publishing practices. Zachary Lesser offers a revisionist account of blackletter typeface and the extent to which it may be understood as an index of popular culture; Alan Farmer examines how the emerging news trade of the 1620s and 1630s affected the marketing of printed drama; Peter Berek traces the use of generic terms on title pages of plays to reveal their intersection with the broader culture of reading; Lauren Shohet demonstrates that the Stuart masque had a parallel existence in the culture of print; and Douglas Brooks traces the impact print had on eclipsing performance as the medium in which the dramatist could legitimately lay claim to having authored his text. The individual essays focus on selected communities of readers, publication histories, and ideologies and practices of reading; the collection as a whole demonstrates the importance of textual production and reception to understanding the place of drama in the early modern public sphere.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-167-0
    Subjects: Performing Arts, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION: Plays, Books, and the Public Sphere
    (pp. 1-20)

    In early modern usage, the “book” of a play was the printed or manuscript text as distinct from the play in performance. The term is used across a range of institutional and rhetorical settings, from the Stationers’ Company, where licenses to print dramatic texts identify the licensed material as the “book” of a particular play, to records from the Revels Office, where the “book” is censored and approved for performance, to the playhouse, where the “book” is used to guide performance, to printers’ and authors’ prefaces to published plays, where the matter presented for reading is specifically understood as the...

  5. Part One: Real and Imagined Communities

    • ONE Renaissance Play-Readers, Ordinary and Extraordinary
      (pp. 23-38)

      The 1616 folio edition ofThe Workes of Beniamin Jonsonhas long served literary theorists, historians, and critics as the critical moment in English literary history when the early modern English dramatist ascended from the stage to the page and took up the mantle of “author” by collaborating with his publisher-printer, William Stansby, to create an authoritative text on which the reader could rely. According to William W. E. Slights, “Jonson always felt that his work had a better chance of being properly understood by a reading audience. Publishing hisWorksin 1616 measurably increased his chances of being taken...

    • TWO Reading Printed Comedy: Edward Sharpham’s The Fleer
      (pp. 39-58)

      My focus in this essay is on early-seventeenth-century readers of Edward Sharpham’sThe Fleer, a comedy first performed by the Children of the Revels at the Blackfriars theater around 1606, and printed in 1607, 1610, 1615 and 1631.¹ I look closely here at three documents that present readers or reading contexts for this play. The first is a manuscript inventory of playbooks owned by Sir John Harington, compiled around 1609 (BL Add. MS 27632), in which plays are listed by the volumes within which they were bound.² The second is a jest-book,Conceits, Clinches, Flashes, and Whimzies(1639), compiled by...

    • THREE Reading through the Body: Women and Printed Drama
      (pp. 59-79)

      Humphrey Moseley’s preface to his edition of Beaumont and Fletcher’s plays famously identifies women as a major segment of the market for printed drama:

      Some Playes (you know) written by these Authors were heretofore Printed: I thought not convenient to mixe them with this Volume, which of it selfe is entirely New. And indeed it would have rendred the Booke so Voluminous, that Ladies and Gentlewomen would have found it scarce manageable, who in Workes of this nature must first be remembred.¹

      When Moseley made this claim in 1647 women were, indeed, avid play-readers, although the assertion that their interests...

    • FOUR Closet Drama and the Case of Tyrannicall-Government Anatomized
      (pp. 80-96)

      The channeling of performance into print and the realignment of the dramatic mode are timely subjects of inquiry in light of the scholarly interest in the book trade, publication history, and reading practices, including play-reading. The early modern theater had served in the Renaissance as a charged territory and site of affiliation, presenting opportunities for various kinds of social formation as well as critical commentary on current affairs. Stage productions in turn helped satisfy the growing hunger of early modern society for domestic news and information about affairs abroad.¹ In the Jacobean period, playwrights, including Thomas Middleton, Philip Massinger, Richard...

  6. Part Two: Play-Reading and the Book Trade

    • FIVE Typographic Nostalgia: Play-Reading, Popularity, and the Meanings of Black Letter
      (pp. 99-126)

      Part of what makes a history of reading so difficult to write is that reading occurs at the intersection of the material and the immaterial, the physical and the psychical, the letter and the spirit. Here I examine this intersection in one particular type of letter: the black-letter (“gothic” or textura) typeface. Black letter is suffused with nostalgia, both in the early modern period and in our own. The typeface has long enjoyed a privileged position among scholars because it seems to provide a material key to readership, in particular to “popular” readership and “popular culture.” Since the beginnings of...

    • SIX Play-Reading, News-Reading, and Ben Jonson’s The Staple of News
      (pp. 127-158)

      When Ben Jonson’sThe Staple of Newswas first performed by the King’s Men in February 1626, the audience apparently misunderstood the play’s third act, the only one in which the fictional “Staple of News” is open and selling news reports.¹ According to Jonson, “theallegory, and purpose of theAuthor,” had been “wholly mistaken,” so, in preparing the play for the press in 1631, he inserted an address “To the Readers,” not in the customary position among the preliminaries of the playbook, but rather within the text of the play itself. At the foot of page 36, immediately before...

    • SEVEN Genres, Early Modern Theatrical Title Pages, and the Authority of Print
      (pp. 159-175)

      When Heminge and Condell prepared the 1623 Shakespeare folio, they did not follow the example of Ben Jonson’s 1616 collection and call their volume Shakespeare’s “works” or deck the volume with a sculptural title page.¹ Instead, apparently as an alternative assurance of the weightiness of their enterprise, they announced “Mr. William Shakespeare his Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies.” Mockers of Jonson said that what others called “plays” he called “works.” The Shake-speare folio uses generic terms as though to efface the troubling pun. Genre seems especially powerful in the 1623 folio; the classificatory terms provide the principle of organization for the...

    • EIGHT The Masque in/as Print
      (pp. 176-202)

      As preparations unfolded for the long-exiled Charles II to return triumphantly to London in 1660, a masque titledThe Subjects Joy for the Kings Restoration, Cheerfully Made Known in a Sacred Masquewas already in print by the time he landed at Dover.¹ The cultural logic of welcoming the king with a masque is clear: as the Restoration heals the breach in continuity of Stuart rule, Charles should be celebrated in the same genre used so famously for festive occasions of state by his parents and grandparents. The masques of Charles’s forebears—the elaborate emblematic entertainments produced at the courts...

    • NINE Inky Kin: Reading in the Age of Gutenberg Paternity
      (pp. 203-228)

      Given the focus in this part of the book on the intersections between dramas—many of which were written to be viewed in performance, not read¹—and the early modern publishing industry, I want to concentrate in this chapter on a play that we might agree is rather readerly: Richard Brome’sThe Antipodes

      The plot of Brome’s play is centered largely on a character named Peregrine whose pathological obsession with reading travel narratives began, as his long-worrying father (Joyless) makes clear, when he was just a child:

      Joyless:In tender years he always lov’d to read

      Reports of travels and...

  7. Contributors
    (pp. 229-230)
  8. INDEX
    (pp. 231-237)
  9. Back Matter
    (pp. 238-238)