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  • Textual Patronage in English Drama, 1570-1640
  • Elizabeth Zeman
David M. Bergeron . Textual Patronage in English Drama, 1570-1640. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2006. viii + 248 pp. index. append. bibl. $89.95. ISBN: 0-7546-5405-2.

Too many literary historians, David M. Bergeron argues, accept an inaccurate notion of the linear progression of English printed texts from an older system of aristocratic patronage to a new commercial marketplace. Textual Patronage in English Drama, 1570-1640 demonstrates that an emerging reading public served to expand, not supplant, textual patronage. Finding evidence that dramatists sought noble patrons into the 1630s, Bergeron stresses the intertwined rela-tionships of patronage and commerce as he defines and studies the genre of paratexts — epistles dedicatory and addresses to readers — within printed drama of the Renaissance. The book's careful, stimulating analysis of paratexts will likely inspire others to look more closely at prefatory matter.

Although its title stresses patronage, Textual Patronage is first and foremost concerned with authorship and the way an author's voice is "openly displayed and on display" in dedications (211). Bergeron dismantles the view that print carried a stigma for playwrights, pointing to several playwrights who expressed the desire to publish. The printed paratext allowed writers to define authorship and establish authority. According to Bergeron, playwrights seem to have engaged with the system of textual patronage more for social status and protection than for monetary reasons.

He begins by analyzing a constellation of paratexts by printers and publishers that expose various reasons for printing plays, including the extension of a warmly [End Page 1315] received performance or the recuperation of a neglected play. Some printers underscore the connections between performance and printing; others express an anti-theatrical agenda. I am left wondering, though, if Bergeron's view of printing as a way for "entrepreneurs [to] exercise their agency" within "a marketplace of ideas" might be a bit too idealistic (45-46).

The book's second chapter offers an exciting contribution to work on the social and political functions of printed court entertainment. Bergeron argues that dedicatory material in printed pageants and masques "[does] not so much seek support as respond to it" (49). Authors legitimate their texts by imitating paratexts in other books; in turn, Bergeron legitimates the study of lesser known entertainments as important printed drama. Bergeron uncovers several reasons for printing these texts: to reach a larger audience than could have attended the event, to preserve a historical record, and to establish a precedent for future entertainment.

The remaining chapters all center on specific authors or patrons. The third chapter catalogs female patrons of drama, finding that dedications to women did not substantially differ from those written to men. Although this chapter stops short of a full exploration of these paratexts and the texts they preface, it lays important groundwork for further study. Chapter 6 presents Shakespeare's First Folio as a model example of Bergeron's claim that paratexts spoke to coexisting marketplace and patronage economies, and chapter 8 surveys dedications of the 1630s to demonstrate that a growing marketplace did not necessarily rid authors of the need for noble patronage. Three rich chapters focus on authorial self-fashioning, including Jonson's idealization of readers and Heywood's identity as a defender and writer of the theater.

Bergeron's central argument — that paratexts "have a richness, full of information and insight that provide us with unique ways of understanding these playwrights" (212) — perhaps places too much emphasis on authors. As Bergeron's own analysis implies, paratexts also teach about printing, the theater, class differences, gender expectations, and reading practices. He treats paratexts as texts in their own right, calling them "authorial soliloquies, discrete, introspective, set-apart rhetorical musings that allow the author's voice to be heard" (16). At the same time, he continually remarks that paratexts serve as a threshold through which to read the text that follows. It seems unfortunate that Bergeron only mentions this second purpose. However, his book implicitly invites others to analyze these paratexts not just as soliloquies, but also as portals.

Textual Patronage contributes to a richer understanding of dedicatory material and the struggle of authors for authority through aristocratic...


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pp. 1315-1316
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Archived 2009
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