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MLQ: Modern Language Quarterly 65.1 (2004) 49-68

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Material Cavendish:
Paper, Performance, "Sociable Virginity"

Jeffrey Masten

MY Lord was pleased to illustrate my Playes with some Scenes of his own Wit, to which I have set his name, that my Readers may know which are his, as not to couzen them, in thinking they are mine; also Songs, to which my Lords name is set, for being no Lyrick Poet, my Lord supplied that defect of my Brain with the superfluity of his own Brain; thus our Wits join as in Matrimony, my Lords the Masculine, mine the Feminine Wit, which is no small glory to me, that we are Married, Souls, Bodies, and Brains, which is a treble marriage, united in one Love, which I hope is not in the power of Death to dissolve; for Souls may love, and Wit may live, though Bodies dye.—Margaret Cavendish, prefatory letter to her Playes (1662)

A "we" is not the adding together or juxtaposition of these "I's." A "we," even one that is not articulated, is the condition for the possibility of each "I."

—Jean-Luc Nancy, Being Singular Plural


Though Margaret Cavendish has been and continues to be a central figure in the discussion of Anglo-American feminism in time, 1 I [End Page 49] want to begin seemingly far afield, by drawing attention to a noted but underexamined material detail of her second published volume of plays. This 1668 volume, Plays, Never before Printed, includes a number of small slips of paper, pasted directly on the page, that are said to indicate passages "VVritten by my Lord Duke" (fig. 1). 2 There are six such slips in the Newberry Library copy, five in the Houghton Library copy; they appear in the Folger Library copy and in one of the two Huntington Library copies as well, 3 and James Fitzmaurice and Sophie Tomlinson have noted their appearance in other copies in the United States and abroad, though perhaps the most widely consulted copy (a second Huntington copy available online and in microfilm) lacks them. 4 [End Page 50]

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Figure 1
Printed slip pasted on page 47 of Margaret Cavendish, The Convent of Pleasure, in Plays, Never before Printed. Written By the Thrice Noble, Illustrious, and Excellent Princesse, the Duchess of Newcastle (London: by A. Maxwell, 1668). Courtesy Newberry Library.

One might think of these pasted slips as a kind of seventeenth- century Post-it note, subsequent and supplemental to the text, but they differ in at least two regards: they are not handwritten but printed, and they are not easily removed or mobile, though some have apparently disappeared in the course of more than three hundred years of humidity and use (see n. 3). Cavendish—if it was in fact she who imagined and deployed them, though they are written as if in her voice—does not use these notes indexically; they do not extend outward from the [End Page 51] edge of the page as guides to finding a passage, as in some early modern manuscript and printed codices. 5 But I will return to the question, for it is a question at the center of this essay, of just how these paste-on slips work to mark passages in the plays—how far, in a sense, these attributions rise up from the texture of the page.

What is clear about the paste-ons is that they are unusual in the evolving print practice of the seventeenth century. There has been no comprehensive study of the question, but I know of comparatively few printed books that include them. 6 More typically, a printer would correct errors by resetting type and printing a new page or gathering of pages; often, the price of paper being what it was, both the corrected and the uncorrected sheets would make their way into the bound volumes. 7 An example of a paste-on "cancel" slip appears in some copies of the 1651 edition of Thomas Hobbes's Leviathan, with the slip correcting a punctuation error...


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pp. 49-68
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Archived 2004
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