The Elizabethan Top Ten: Defining Print Popularity in Early Modern England, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

The Elizabethan Top Ten

Defining Print Popularity in Early Modern England, 1st Edition

By Emma Smith

Edited by Andy Kesson


284 pages

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pub: 2013-08-22
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Engaging with histories of the book and of reading, as well as with studies of material culture, this volume explores ’popularity’ in early modern English writings. Is ’popular’ best described as a theoretical or an empirical category in this period? How can we account for the gap between modern canonicity and early modern print popularity? How might we weight the evidence of popularity from citations, serial editions, print runs, reworkings, or extant copies? Is something that sells a lot always popular, even where the readership for print is only a small proportion of the population, or does popular need to carry something of its etymological sense of the public, the people? Four initial chapters sketch out the conceptual and evidential issues, while the second part of the book consists of ten short chapters-a ’hit parade’- in which eminent scholars take a genre or a single exemplar - play, romance, sermon, or almanac, among other categories-as a means to articulate more general issues. Throughout, the aim is to unpack and interrogate assumptions about the popular, and to decentre canonical narratives about, for example, the sermons of Donne or Andrewes over Smith, or the plays of Shakespeare over Mucedorus. Revisiting Elizabethan literary culture through the lenses of popularity, this collection allows us to view the subject from an unfamiliar angle-in which almanacs are more popular than sonnets and proclamations more numerous than plays, and in which authors familiar to us are displaced by names now often forgotten.


’The Elizabethan Top Ten is a rigorous, entertaining and provocative set of studies in the print culture of a defining era. Given the number of avenues it opens up, and the new lights it throws upon an apparently familiar scene, Smith and Kesson’s wish that it will prompt more debate seems certain to be amply fulfilled.’ Quite Irregular Blog ’It would be good if The Elizabethan Top Ten achieved some measure of popularity itself, as it is an interesting and engaging work which also combines and balances different elements.’ Times Literary Supplement '… The Elizabethan Top Ten offers more than ten compelling reasons for deserving popularity among humanities scholars and students.' Journal of British Studies '… the present collection contributes in a nuanced way to our understanding of print and its uses in early modern England.' 16th Century Journal 'Kesson and Smith are to be congratulated on bringing together this eclectic collection of essays on what constituted popularity in print in Elizabethan England.' CILIP Rare Books and Special Collections Newsletter 'This is an exceptionally important work that will challenge a number of assumptions scholarship has held about Elizabethan publishing for some time.' Publishing History

Table of Contents

Part 1 Methodologies: What is print popularity?

A map of the Elizabethan book trade

Alan B. Farmer and Zachary Lesser

'O read me for I am of great antiquity': old books and Elizabethan popularity

Lucy Munro

'Rare poems ask rare friends': popularity and collecting in Elizabethan England

Helen Smith

Shakespeare's popularity and the origins of the canon

Neil Rhodes

Part 2 The Elizabethan Top Ten: Almanacs and ideas of popularity

Adam Smyth

Print, popularity and the Book of Common Prayer

Brian Cummings

International news pamphlets

S.K. Barker

Spenser's popular intertexts

Abigail Shinn

Household manuals

Catherine Richardson

Damask papers

Juliet Fleming


Lori Anne Ferrell

The psalm book

Beth Quitslund

Serial publication and romance

Louise Wilson


Peter Kirwan

About the Author/Editor

Andy Kesson is Senior Lecturer in Renaissance Literature at the University of Roehampton, UK. Emma Smith is Fellow and Tutor in English at Hertford College, Oxford, UK.

About the Series

Material Readings in Early Modern Culture

Material Readings in Early Modern Culture

This series provides a forum for studies that consider the material forms of texts as part of an investigation into early modern English culture. The editors invite proposals of a multi- or interdisciplinary nature, and particularly welcome proposals that combine archival research with an attention to the theoretical models that might illuminate the reading, writing, and making of texts, as well as projects that take innovative approaches to the study of material texts, both in terms the kinds of primary materials under investigation, and in terms of methodologies. What are the questions that have yet to be asked about writing in its various possible embodied forms? Are there varieties of materiality that are critically neglected? How does form mediate and negotiate content? In what ways do the physical features of texts inform how they are read, interpreted and situated? Consideration will be given to both monographs and collections of essays. The range of topics covered in this series includes, but is not limited to:

-History of the book, publishing, the book trade, printing, typography (layout, type, typeface, blank/white space, paratextual apparatus)

-Technologies of the written word: ink, paper, watermarks, pens, presses

-Surprising or neglected material forms of writing

-Print culture


-Manuscript studies

-Social space, context, location of writing

-Social signs, cues, codes imbued within the material forms of texts

-Ownership and the social practices of reading: marginalia, libraries, environments of reading and reception

-Codicology, palaeography and critical bibliography

-Production, transmission, distribution and circulation

-Archiving and the archaeology of knowledge

-Orality and oral culture

-The material text as object or thing

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