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The Book of The Play

Playwrights, Stationers, and Readers in Early Modern England

edited by Marta Straznicky

Publication Year: 2006

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 play-reading 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 black-letter 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.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press


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Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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p. v

List of Illustrations

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p. vii

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Introduction: Plays, Books, and the Public Sphere

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pp. 1-19

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...

Part One: Real and Imagined Communities

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pp. 21-33

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Chapter One. Renaissance Play-Readers, Ordinary and Extraordinary

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pp. 23-38

The 1616 folio edition of The Workes of Beniamin Jonson has 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...

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Chapter Two. Reading Printed Comedy: Edward Sharpham‘s The Fleer

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pp. 39-58

My focus in this essay is on early-seventeenth-century readers of Edward Sharpham’s The 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...

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Chapter Three. Reading Through the Body: Women and Printed Drama

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pp. 59-79

When Moseley made this claim in 1647 women were, indeed, avid playreaders, although the assertion that their interests have a formative influence on the design of the volume is undercut by the simple fact that the preface is addressed exclusively to “Gentlemen” readers and that they alone are projected as book buyers. The rationale for limiting the contents...

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Chapter Four. Closet Drama and ahe Case of Tyrannicall-Government Anatomized

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pp. 80-95

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...

Part Two: Play-Reading and the Book Trade

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Chapter Five. Typographic Nostalgia: Play-Reading, Popularity, and the Meanings of Black Letter

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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,...

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Chapter Six. Play-Reading, News-Reading, and Ben Jonson‘s The Staple of News

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pp. 127-158

When Ben Jonson’s The Staple of News was 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, “the allegory, and purpose of the Author,” had been “wholly mistaken,” so, in...

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Chapter Seven. Genres, Early Modern Theatrical Title Pages, and the Authority of Print

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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...

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Chapter Eight. The Masque In/As Print

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pp. 176-202

As preparations unfolded for the long-exiled Charles II to return triumphantly to London in 1660, a masque titled The Subjects Joy for the Kings Restoration, Cheerfully Made Known in a Sacred Masque was 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...

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Chapter Nine. Inky Kin: Reading in the age of Gutenberg Paternity

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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’s The Antipodes.2...


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pp. 229-230


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pp. 231-237

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781613761670
E-ISBN-10: 1613761678
Print-ISBN-13: 9781558495326
Print-ISBN-10: 1558495320

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2006

OCLC Number: 794701591
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Book of The Play

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Subject Headings

  • Book industries and trade -- England -- History -- 17th century.
  • Drama -- Publishing -- England -- History -- 16th century.
  • English drama -- Early modern and Elizabethan, 1500-1600 -- History and criticism.
  • Books and reading -- England -- History -- 16th century
  • Drama -- Publishing -- England -- History -- 17th century
  • English drama -- 17th century -- History and criticism
  • Book industries and trade -- England -- History -- 16th century.
  • Books and reading -- England -- History -- 17th century.
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