- The Book in History, The Book as History: New Intersections of the Material Text. Essays in Honor of David Scott Kastan ed. by Heidi Brayman, Jesse M. Lander, and Zachary Lesser
The editors of The Book in History honour Prof. Kastan with a thick collection of thirteen expansive articles under four headings, not including a general introduction and Peter Stallybrass's afterword. The volume's self-stated aim is to inaugurate "a second wave of early modern literary studies in book history and the materiality of the text" (9). The contributors pursue this goal mostly with inquiries in the centre of the canon, with five essays on Shakespeare, two each for Spenser and Milton, and such prominent men as Bacon and Elyot standing large in the remainder. The scholarly queries are more diverse, ranging from more traditional questions of book history such as rubrication and early-modern bibliophilia to less obvious inclusions such as German adoption of Shakespeare as a cultural icon. Moreover, editorial sensitivity to textual materiality and the physicality of printing can be identified in the volume itself. The paper stock is comfortably heavy, and, more importantly, many of the essays contain ample colour imagery of the texts, which much augments the studies in question.
The first section, "Past Impositions," contains three essays, and Alan B. Farmer's "Playbooks and the Question of Ephemerality" stands out. Farmer uses "quantitative methods of analysis" (87), following the example of D.F. McKenzie, in questioning whether early modern readers truly regarded playbooks as disposable, a fact often asserted to explain the scarcity of early editions, particularly of Shakespeare. His [End Page 492] methodology relies on establishing a baseline survival rate for any impression, which he establishes from works published in numbered editions. Farmer then adjusts for an impressive set of confounding variables en route to concluding that a book's "edition-sheet length," or "the number of sheets of paper it would take to print one copy of a book" (98), is the primary predictor of survival. Genre, Farmer shows, plays a secondary role, with utilitarian (textbooks) or topical (news) printed matter surviving less than literary or theoretical works of similar length. As for playbooks, they prove more resilient than expected: "Taken together, all of these features suggest that the bibliographical ephemerality of playbooks is an idea more grounded in assumptions rather than facts" (116). The only arguable weakness of Farmer's approach is the small sample size–the numbered editions that establish his baselines form a relatively small collection–but for that, there is no remedy.
The second section, "Textual Incarnations," looks to the book in history. Benedict S. Robinson examines early modern unease with the fetishized book, especially with practices of kissing and revering the printed matter of holy scriptures. Christian commentators derided such idolatrous practice among "the Turkes" (129), and he identifies a paradox for "Protestant iconoclasm" was that to give supremacy to scripture risked similarly "idolizing the book" and "turning the word of God itself into a fetish" (134). Daniel Vitkus's "Indicating Commodities in Early English Discovery Narratives" looks similarly outward from England, arguing that travel writing commodified exotic lands. He demonstrates that the book itself abetted colonial efforts in that early travel writing describes North America, the Middle East, and the Indies in terms of economic potential. Several images of detailed early modern lists supplement the discussion, but a beautiful full-spread map from the age of exploration dives into the gutter, leaving some interesting bits illegible. Finally, Sarah A. Kelen's "'His Idoliz'd Book': Milton, Blood, and Rubrication" identifies the monochromatic images of Early English Books Online as a limitation to the power of that scholarly tool. Kelen examines the role of rubrication in Eikon Basilike and Eikonoklastes, a feature neither visible on EEBO nor replicated in modern print editions of either text. Kelen (and the editors) takes the extra step of...