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Bound to Read

Compilations, Collections, and the Making of Renaissance Literature

By Jeffrey Todd Knight

Publication Year: 2013

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.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: Material Texts


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pp. c-ii

Title Page

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pp. iii-iii

Copyright Page

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pp. iv-iv

Dedication Page

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pp. v-vi

Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Introduction: Compiling Culture

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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...

Part I. Readers

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Chapter 1. Special Collections: Book Curatorship and the Idea of Early Print in Libraries

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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...

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Chapter 2. Making Shakespeare’s Books: Material Intertextuality from the Bindery to the Conservation Lab

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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...

Part II. Writers

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Chapter 3. Transformative Imitation: Composing the Lyric in Liber Lilliati and Watson’s Hekatompathia

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pp. 87-116

How do norms of textual organization influence writing itself? Over the pastfifty years, in the course of a near-global transition from one dominant mediaplatform to another, the question has been raised with more and moreurgency.1 Yet as we learn about the contemporary changes wrought in newmedia classrooms and literatures, perspectives on historical forms of composi-...

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Chapter 4. Vernacularity and the Compiling Self in Spenser’s Shepheardes Calender and Montaigne’s Essays

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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...

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Chapter 5. The Custom-Made Corpus: English Collected Works in Print, 1532–1623

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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 seventeenthcentury binding; the other had recently been broken up for sale at Sotheby’s.....

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Epilogue: ‘‘Collated and Perfect’’

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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...


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pp. 189-246


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pp. 247-264


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pp. 265-276


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pp. 277-280

E-ISBN-13: 9780812208160
E-ISBN-10: 0812208161
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812245073
Print-ISBN-10: 0812245075

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 33 illus.
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Material Texts
Series Editor Byline: Series Editors: Roger Chartier, Joseph Farrell, Anthony Grafton, Leah Price, Peter Stallybrass, Michael F. Suarez, S.J. See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 857711614
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Bound to Read

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Books and reading -- Great Britain -- History
  • Book collecting -- Great Britain -- History.
  • Literature publishing -- Great Britain -- History.
  • English literature -- Early modern, 1500-1700 -- History and criticism.
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